Polarized America?

Give them bootstraps

Bootstraps The Wall Street Journal's weekend "Review" is one of my favorite reads, despite its conservative bent.

Last Saturday's profile of Juan Rangel is a good example of its provocative fare.

Rangel is CEO of Chicago's United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), which runs an 11-school charter network in Chicago.

UNO serves 5,500 students, 98% of whom are Hispanic (mostly immigrant families from Mexico) and 93% of whom are at or below the poverty line. UNO's schools outperform the city's public schools handily.

Rangel and his organization are a natural for the Journal. First of all, the paper's editorial page has been a long-time fan of charter schools.  But even better, Rangel is a strong opponent of the "narrative of victimhood" that the Journal has long believed "Democrats are so intent" on promulgating. 

The profile quotes Rangel declaring, "Democrats are so intent on making Hispanics the next victimized minority seeking entitlement programs and all that, that the Republicans are starting to believe it! And they're wrong on both ends." 

Rangel is certainly entitled to his opinion.  And a friend who happens to be Hispanic tells me, "Rangel's cause has merit, especially if it's used to motivate."  

She acknowledges that it's tempting to attribute the social problems in any minority community to a uniform narrative of victimhood.  But social problems usually have multiple causes that vary among groups. "For example, she notes, "suicide rates are high in Japan and Russia, but I suspect the causes have little in common."

On the other hand, she also suspects "it's easier to eschew the identity of 'a victimized minority group' if you are a Cuban in Miami (which she is) than if you are a Chicano out West."

In other words, one shouldn't be too hasty to dismiss the lingering effects of past racism as one of those "multiple causes." 

And the Hispanic community does suffer significant social ills. For example, the UNO Mission Statement notes that Hispanics have "the nation's largest dropout rate, gang violence, and teenage pregnancy." 

That assertion surprised me so much I decided to do some research. The facts: 

The Hispanic dropout rate is nearly twice as high as Blacks' (17.6% vs. 9.3%) according to the U. S. Department of Education.

The Hispanic teen pregnancy rate is three times higher than for Non-Hispanic Whites (12.7% vs. 4%) according to the Guttmacher Institute

Gang membership is 47% Hispanic, 31% Black, and 13% Non-Hispanic White according to the Department of Justice.

It seems to me that these statistics are at least in part the legacy of past racism which put many Hispanics in substandard housing, poor schools, and bad neighborhoods with few job prospects.  (Cubans in Miami may be an exception.)  

All of which may sound like "a narrative of victimhood," I guess.  But addressing these problems has to go further than telling the victims to stop whining.

Those of us in the dominant culture need to treat these statistics as a "common evil" akin to pollution.  And to develop public policies that encourage the right kind of behavior while discouraging the wrong.

We need to break the cycle of poverty by reintegrating people who suffer the consequences of past discrimination into mainstream society.  That will require better inner-city education and more job training for starters.

I suppose telling Hispanic teens to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps may be a free-market appeal to rugged individualism.  

But kids who can't afford more than flip-flops don't have bootstraps. 





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