Un article du Boston Globe fait depuis quelques jours beaucoup de bruit aux Etats-Unis. Son auteur, Richard Thompson Ford, est professeur de droit à la Stanford Law School et l'auteur d'un ouvrage très controversé,"The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse" dans lequel il démontre que la discrimination positive a des conséquences désastreuses pour ceux-là même qu'elle ambitionne de privilégier.
L'article a été rédigé dans le style habituel de ceux qui paraissent dans la presse américaine concernant la question noire et, pourtant, il sort des sentiers battus en avançant quelques idées sinon originales, peu connues du grand public.
L'auteur explique que l'ère des droits civiques arrive à son terme. Il est difficile d'argumenter que les Noirs souffrent de discriminations quand un mulâtre est président des Etats-Unis. En revanche, la ségrégation entre Noirs et autres races non seulement ne faiblit pas mais a tendance à s'aggraver, notamment par le fait que les Noirs des classes moyennes s'installent volontairement dans des beaux quartiers à majorité noire.
Il ne s'agit là que du résultat d'un instinct grégaire, mais il choque la bienpensance conventionnelle. En raison d'un racisme inconscient, la gauche américaine pense qu'un Noir qui gagne bien sa vie n'a qu'une idée en tête: aller vivre au milieu des blancs aux revenus comparables aux siens. Il s'agit du type d'idée fausse qui ne peut germer que dans l'esprit de gens qui n'ont jamais vécu aux côtés des minorités raciales qu'ils prétendent défendre.
Le constat tragique est qu'aujourd'hui, il s'est formé une population noire marginalisée au cœur des grandes villes qui n'a aucune chance d'intégrer la société américaine. Ce n'est pas le résultat d'une politique délibérée, les lois contre la discrimination ont été votées et sont appliquées. Ce n'est pas le résultat d'un manque de moyens, on n'a jamais autant dépensé pour l'éducation et la formation des Noirs. Ce n'est pas le résultat d'un manque de volonté, la loi « No child left behind » le prouve, mais d'un ensemble de facteurs dont les causes internes, propres à la communauté noire, sont probablement majoritaires.
La faillite des mouvements communautaires noirs, de leurs chefs autoproclamés, est patente. Ils refusent de s'attaquer aux causes internes des maux dont souffre leur communauté car cela ne rapporte aucune prébende. Il est bien plus rentable d'accuser les Blancs (et les Juifs, dans quelques cercles extrémistes) de tous les maux. De mettre sur le compte de l'esclavage toutes les insuffisances de leur communauté.
Mais le résultat est là. Des générations entières de jeunes noirs vivent dans une société en marge, caractérisée par un langage propre et un gestuelle qui non seulement les différencie de la majorité de leurs concitoyens mais qui les écarte de toute possibilité d'intégrer la société américaine (notons que c'est moins vrai pour les filles).
L'auteur remarque qu'une des raisons de l'incapacité des jeunes noirs à trouver du travail ne réside pas dans le racisme intrinsèque des patrons, comme veulent nous le faire croire les associations de professionnels de l'antiracisme, mais dans l'incapacité de ces jeunes garçons à jouer le jeu de la société industrielle et de services, à faire preuve des « compétences douces » indispensables, comme la capacité à créer du lien social dans l'entreprise, à générer l'empathie, ou tout simplement à avoir du charme.
Le résultat de cette catastrophe sociale est visible dans les rues. Les jeunes noirs ont plus de chances de générer un revenu par le crime que par le travail. Voilà pourquoi le taux de condamnation des Noirs est si élevé aux Etats-Unis, ce n'est nullement la preuve que la justice est raciste.
Cet article ne souligne pas, car c'est impossible à le faire sans se suicider professionnellement, que la communauté noire aux Etats-Unis est une société vulnérable. Le raisons de cette vulnérabilité sont complexes et méritent d'être détaillées ailleurs. Toutefois, une des conséquences de l'égalitarisme ambiant est qu'elle est privée des attentions particulières dont elle aurait besoin pour sortir de la crise dans laquelle elle se trouve.
Par exemple, les études démontrent que le QI moyen des enfants de la communauté noire est différent de celui des Blancs. Les études démontrent également que les garçons noirs n'obéissent pas aux mêmes règles de comportement social que les garçons blancs du même âge. Les mélanger aboutit au chaos. C'est comme si ont mêlait sur un terrain de sport des joueurs de rugby et des joueurs de football, toute partie est impossible.
Comme l'ont démontré des expériences encourageante, les jeunes Noirs réussissent mieux à l'école dans des classes qui leur sont réservées, sans enfants d'autres races et sans filles, sous la direction d'éducateurs noirs, dans un cadre de discipline très stricte. Seulement sous ces conditions, la spirale de l'échec, si répandue dans les écoles pour les garçons noirs, peut être arrêtée.
The end of civil rights
If we really want to fix inequality, it's time for a new approach
America's racial problems are persistent and vexing, and since the 1960s, the nation has used a powerful weapon to fix them: the ideas developed during the civil rights movement. Courts and government agencies enforce legal prohibitions against discrimination; private businesses and universities fashion their own diversity policies based on civil-rights principles. Even private individuals think about race relations in civil-rights terms: we aspire to the ideal of "colorblindness," and condemn the evils of discrimination and bias.
For a long time this way of thinking made perfect sense. In the past, the biggest impediment to racial justice was overt discrimination, inspired by a widespread belief that blacks were inferior to whites. And in fighting this kind of outright prejudice, civil rights have been an astonishing success. Race discrimination in restaurants, theaters, and hotels was quickly and thoroughly eliminated by the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. Discrimination in employment - while still a problem - has been dramatically reduced and is widely and roundly condemned. Public figures who make overtly bigoted statements typically suffer widespread contempt and often lose their jobs. As a result, each successive generation is less bigoted than the preceding one. Polls suggest that racial animus today is at an all-time low, and Barack Obama's election demonstrates that race is no longer the impediment it was in the recent past.
But in dealing with the worst racial problems we now face, the civil rights approach is no longer the right tool for the job. Today's most serious racial injustices aren't caused by bias and bigotry; instead they stem from racial segregation and the many disadvantages that follow from living in isolated, economically depressed, and crime-ridden neighborhoods. These problems are a legacy of past racism, but not, by and large, the result of ongoing discrimination. Civil rights litigation and activism have hardly made a dent in these formidable obstacles. It's tempting to believe that we just need more of the same - that we've only been too timid in enforcing civil rights laws or too conservative in interpreting them. But the real problem is inherent in the civil rights approach itself: faced with racial inequities that are not caused by discrimination, civil rights law is impotent and civil rights activism too often a distraction from the real work we need to do.
To say discrimination is not the cause of our worst racial problem is not to deny that racism is still a serious problem. Even today, too many people distrust or belittle others based on casual stereotypes; racial tensions continue to trouble social interactions in schools and workplaces, and the racial hatred and contempt that underlay the Jim Crow system is far from gone. Civil rights are an important response to these problems.
But, today, the biggest racial problem facing the country isn't discrimination, but rather the deep inequality that has created almost two different Americas, one black and poor and the other a more prosperous, multi-racial mainsteam. Many poor inner-city blacks have no contact with the mainstream of American society or with the conventional job market. Fathers who are unable to support their families walk away from them; young single mothers, overwhelmed with the challenges of parenthood, abandon education and any hope for upward mobility. In isolation, ghetto residents develop distinctive speech patterns and affectations that can be off-putting to potential employers, exacerbating the lack of economic opportunity. Deprived of legitimate job opportunities, many hustle in the quasi-legal gray market; others turn to full-fledged crime.
To fight this entrenched racial inequality, we need to move beyond civil rights to an approach that is both more circumspect and more ambitious. We should be more circumspect in blaming racism, and hidden racists, for problems with more subtle causes. But we must be more ambitious in directly confronting the decline of inner city neighborhoods and the isolation of the urban poor. And many of the reforms needed to improve the ghettos - job creation, more effective schools, better public infrastructure - would benefit poor and working class people of all races, striking a blow against class stratification as well as racial inequality.
If we confront and overcome these last vestiges of America's racist past, if we can break the cycle of poverty and dysfunctional behavior, we can not only turn the corner on America's shameful racist history; we can also turn millions of people who now drain resources in our jails and on public assistance rolls into productive citizens who will contribute to a vibrant economy and healthy civic culture.
For those who have inherited the benefits of the civil rights struggle, it's hard to imagine the deprivation, oppression, and humiliation that millions of African-Americans suffered just a few decades ago. Africans were forcibly brought to this country as slaves, legally defined as chattel and treated as less than human. It took a bloody civil war to secure emancipation, but the Jim Crow laws enacted soon thereafter codified the inferior social position of blacks. State-sponsored race discrimination was reinforced by private vigilantism: white mobs and organized racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan terrorized blacks throughout the American South, and the nation's first race riots were sparked by racist whites in Northern cities such as Obama's adopted hometown of Chicago.
Using civil rights as a tool, generations of lawyers, activists, and intellectuals challenged and began to uproot these deeply entrenched laws and practices. Their struggle culminated in the comprehensive civil rights laws of the 1960s, which outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, and most businesses open to the general public. Today, both government agencies and individual victims can sue employers, landlords, and proprietors for discriminatory practices. Most importantly, the civil rights movement changed social attitudes: civil rights groups can fight many discriminatory practices without legal action, by inspiring public pressure for change.
But in the face of today's most severe racial inequities, the civil rights approach is nearly powerless. For example, many civil rights activists have begun to condemn the criminal justice system as "a new Jim Crow," a system overtly designed to privilege whites over blacks. As evidence, they point to racial disparities in the prison population, racial profiling, and harsher sentences for possession of crack than for powder cocaine. Last year's civil rights march on Jena, La., was inspired, in large part, by the idea that the criminal justice system is chronically biased: the "Jena Six" were stand-ins for the hundreds of thousands of young black men currently behind bars, on parole, or awaiting trial.
But the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, as stark and as troubling as they are, can't be blamed on the kind of deliberate bigotry that once fueled Jim Crow laws. Instead, they are largely the result of the lack of opportunities for lawful employment and the resulting prevalence of crime in many inner-city neighborhoods.
When civil rights activists complain that police detain innocents for "driving while black," for example, they evoke a bigoted cop who harasses blacks based on their race alone - a version of the problem that suits the civil-rights framework. This occasionally does happen, of course, and almost every public official readily and loudly condemns it. But the larger problem is that the demographics of crime in America mean that race-based profiling can be a rational and effective law enforcement tool - even though it threatens to unfairly burden innocent people who happen to fit the profile.
Similarly, the crack cocaine trade brought with it especially violent turf wars in poor, inner-city neighborhoods. When it did, black civic organizations in many cities called for more assertive law enforcement: an especially harsh penalty for crack cocaine possession was an understandable, if flawed, response. The result of these and other policies has been an explosion in the number of arrests and prosecutions of blacks - especially young black men. Calling the racial disparity in arrests and incarceration a "new Jim Crow" is certainly rhetorically dramatic, but it distracts attention from the real source of the problem: isolated and impoverished inner cities, where crime is a constant threat and a constant temptation for people who have little hope of finding honest work at a living wage.
Or consider employment. Is it because of corporate racism that many workforces are disproportionately white? Most jobs today are filled through interpersonal networking, and a large and growing share of jobs require not only objective technical skills but also "soft skills" such as charm, good demeanor, and that ineffable "can-do attitude." Poor people - many of them black - in isolated ghettos are cut off from the social networks that might lead to job opportunities, and they lack the role models and socialization that teach the attitudes appropriate for the work world. Bigots can use such criteria as an excuse to reject black applicants, to be sure. But employers who insist on interpersonal "soft skills," and thus wind up eliminating a disproportionate number of minority applicants from consideration, aren't necessarily racists.
In a sense, civil rights have become an attempt to address these deep-seated social problems on the cheap. The civil rights focus on bigotry is attractive, even when it's a poor fit, because it seems to offer a shortcut to consensus. Almost everyone - Democrat and Republican, Marxist radical and Burkean conservative - agrees that racism is both morally wrong and socially destructive. Prohibiting discrimination and condemning racism is much less costly and less controversial than confronting the fundamental inequities of our economy and our use of public resources.
Viable solutions to poverty, joblessness, failing schools, and crime will necessarily involve building a consensus in support of policies that are both bold and highly controversial. For example, to promote job creation in the inner city, Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson has called for a WPA policy for poor neighborhoods; others have suggested that loss of American jobs should be discouraged through trade, tax, and immigration policy. All of these ideas are controversial: fiscal conservatives balk at what they consider expensive "make work" programs; free trade advocates oppose restrictions on outsourcing; and liberals dislike constraints on immigration.
Fixing failing schools may require dramatic changes in school financing policies that tie funding to property taxes, as well as the expansion of alternatives to neighborhood-based schools, such as magnet school programs and charter schools, or the revision of seniority systems that perversely give the ablest teachers the least challenging assignments, leaving troubled inner city schools to the least experienced. There is fierce opposition to these ideas from local governments, school boards, and teachers unions.
To reduce crime in inner cities, and the incarceration of inner-city residents, we'll need to consider new approaches to law enforcement. Some insist that the war on drugs has become a quagmire and advocate decriminalization of some less dangerous drugs. Proponents of the famous "Boston Miracle" argue that we can break gang affiliations and patterns of criminal behavior by offering potential criminals a stark choice: help in finishing school and finding employment if they turn away from crime; tough criminal sentences if they don't. Both ideas will meet with resistance: conservatives oppose decriminalization of drugs, and liberals are suspicious of "tough love."
Fortunately, the time may be ripe for new and unsettling ideas and unconventional solutions to the problems of our inner cities. With the economy in crisis, even many conservatives see the need for aggressive investment in public infrastructure and for greater regulation of the economy. Liberals and conservatives in many cities have come together in favor of school choice in charter schools. States from Texas to Connecticut have reformed school finance, devoting more funds to underperforming schools in poor neighborhoods. Libertarian-leaning conservatives support decriminalization of drugs, while some "New Democrats" embrace law enforcement innovations like the Boston Miracle.
For American of all races, the civil rights movement embodies the best of American ideals. The Freedom Rides of the 1960s are as central to the American story as Paul Revere's midnight ride; the Montgomery Bus Boycott as emblematic of American virtues as the Boston Tea Party. After generations of legally sanctioned discrimination and exclusion, Americans began to make good on this nation's defining promise of equality regardless of ancestry or accident of birth.
Yet America's racist past retains its grip, trapping many blacks in circumstances that are little better than those of their ancestors. It is tempting to think that we must simply press for more sweeping and dramatic applications of civil rights, or argue more inventively and search more tenaciously for the hidden racism that will justify legal intervention. Martin Luther King Jr. himself understood that racial inequality was as much a problem of poverty as it was of white racism: near the end of his life he promoted a multi-racial Poor People's Campaign. This campaign never achieved the same attention as King's earlier civil rights efforts, and it disintegrated after his assassination, but it was just as vital to the ultimate goal of racial justice as his more familiar civil rights agenda. Now, we must not simply continue in the tradition of the civil rights movement: to complete its work and honor its spirit, we must move beyond it.
Richard Thompson Ford is a professor of law at Stanford Law School and author of "The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse" (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), now out in paperback.
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