What should we do about the alarming trend of unwed mothers in the United States? Don’t ask Heather Mac Donald, a lawyer/journalist who writes for New York’s City Journal. Despite devoting much of her career to decrying a problem she argues is the chief reason for crime in the United States, she really has nothing.
Mac Donald spoke Tuesday afternoon and evening at LSU, programs jointly sponsored by the Manhattan Institute (where Mac Donald is a resident fellow) and the LSU Department of Political Science. I moderated a discussion with Mac Donald at LSU’s Journalism Building Tuesday afternoon.
I didn’t record Mac Donald’s talk, but she essentially gave her audience a distilled version of what she’s been writing for years, beginning with her 2003 book, Are Cops Racist, an apologia for beleaguered police officers who, Mac Donald argues, are the people in our society most dedicated to the proposition that “black lives matter.”
Here’s a good distillation of Mac Donald’s views from her March 23, 2014, article in National Review,
[O]n Friday, the New York media reported that a 14-year-old boy riding a bus in Brooklyn the previous night had opened fire on the bus and fatally shot an innocent 39-year-old passenger in the head. Did anyone doubt the race of the killer, even though the media did not disclose it? Blacks commit nearly 80 percent of all shootings in New York City, even though they are only 23 percent of the population; whites commit less than 2 percent of all shootings in New York City, though they are 35 percent of the population. The chance that that young bus killer was a model pupil, quietly paying attention in class and not disturbing his fellow students and teacher, is close to zero. (Follow-up stories revealed that the shooter was a member of Bedford Stuyvesant’s Stack Money Goons crew, and had been moved to open fire when three members of the rival Twan Family boarded the bus.)
If the civil-rights industry refuses to acknowledge the behavior that leads to disparate discipline rates, it is even more resistant to confronting the root of both the black school discipline and crime problems. In many urban areas, the black illegitimacy rate is well over 80 percent. Boys growing up without fathers are overwhelmingly more likely to lack self-discipline and the ability to control their anger than boys growing up with married parents. And those behavioral problems show up early. School administrators have been reporting rising violence among ever younger students for years. “We see aggressive behavior from kindergarten up,” Lawrence Jointer, the director of hearings for the Alexandria, Va., school district told the Washington Post in 2012. Student behavior has been worsening over the last four decades, he said.
None of the federal studies mention or control for single-parent households, of course. Instead, we are supposed to believe that well-meaning teachers, who have spent their entire time in ed school steeped in the doctrine of “white privilege” and who are among the most liberal segments of the workforce, suddenly become bigots once in the classroom and begin arbitrarily suspending pacific black children out of racial bias. Oddly, the civil-rights industry never accuses schools of being biased against boys, even though males are as over-represented among disciplined students as blacks. In this case, there would actually be a colorable basis for making such a bias charge, since teachers are indoctrinated in anti-male ideology throughout ed school. Nevertheless, everyone accepts gender disparities in discipline, and not only because no one gives a damn about males these days. It is simply common sense that boys are more likely to be aggressive and impulsive than girls. Given the black–white crime disparities, it is equally common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive in class as well.
Mac Donald’s thesis is this: Blacks are a small percentage of the overall population, but they commit most of the crime in the United States. Police who target blacks and engage in racial profiling aren’t part of racist institutions and are clearly not racist themselves. They are passionately dedicated to the proposition that black lives matter. That’s why they spend so much time in those black neighborhoods valiantly fighting black-on-black crime.
The problem, Mac Donald says, is that black women are having too many babies out of wedlock. Black boys are growing up without fathers and becoming criminals. Solve the problem of single mothers in the black community and you’ll solve the crime problem. Oh, and for good measure, allow the police to double down on their highly successful crime-fighting tactics and the problem will get better, too.
For just a moment, let’s stipulate that Mac Donald is correct in pointing out the explosion of unwed mothers and fatherless children in the black community – which is exactly what I did in my questioning of her on Tuesday evening.
I asked her, "So you’ve identified what you claim is a serious problem in the United States that is responsible for most of our crime. If children of unwed mothers are the problem, then why aren’t you offering solutions? What do you suggest we do about it? Surely, you don’t suggest it’s ok to just point out the problem and leave it there? You must have some suggestions on what we can do to reverse this dangerous trend you’ve identified."
Hearing Mac Donald struggle to answer that simple question, you would have thought that despite spending more than a decade studying, writing and talking about this massive problem, she’d never really considered what we could do to solve it.
After talking for about two hours, she had proposed nothing in the way of ideas to help those single mothers better raise their children.
No increased funding for childcare programs. Nothing about creating more after-school programs. Nothing about more funding for job training programs to help those single mothers find better-paying jobs. Nothing about better health care services for their children. Nothing about universal pre-school. Nothing about early intervention and better counseling in schools to address teen pregnancy. Nothing about helping black churches do a better job of reaching out into their communities.
Heather Mac Donald has devoted much of her career to alerting America that hordes of fatherless black youth are to blame for our nation’s crime, and the solution when I finally pressed her for one? The Boy Scouts.
No, seriously, Mac Donald believes the solution to fatherless mothers is the Boy Scouts. They teach kids to tie knots and stuff like that, she said. The scoutmasters serve as father figures. Then, when she was done with her brief ode to Scouting, Mac Donald went quickly back to talking about the problem and ignoring the solution.
So, I pressed her again. All you have is the Boy Scouts? Surely, there is something else we can do?
Her answer? More charter schools like Kip Charter Schools.
Perhaps she was offended by the chuckles in the audience to her paltry, half-hearted attempts at solving a problem that so deeply concerns her.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think she was more interested in blaming black people for being moral degenerates and criminally prone than actually asking tough questions about how we could solve the problem.
Mac Donald also seemed taken aback that anyone might find her statement that all children need a mother and a father just a bit homophobic. I don’t know if she usually just speaks to adoring crowds of social conservatives, but in the real world there is the reality of homosexuality. Perhaps she believes the Boy Scouts could help rehabilitate young gay men? (But, of course, the Boy Scouts generally won’t allow homosexuals.)
When pressed, Mac Donald reluctantly acknowledged the reality of gay marriage, but still insisted that children are better off with a father and a mother. Apparently, all those lesbian couples raising children should divorce and marry a man to help them raise their pre-criminal children?
I never could get Mac Donald to acknowledge that gay couples are just as able to raise well-rounded, well-adjusted children as straight couples.
All in all, I’m not sorry that Mac Donald came to LSU and spoke. What she had to say was uncomfortable. Not every point she made was invalid. Liberals need to engage on these issues with conservatives, even those like MacDonald.
What surprised me, however, is that someone like Heather Mac Donald was so totally and completely devoid of ideas for how to fix or address the problem she thinks is destroying America. A cynical person might conclude Mac Donald doesn’t really care about solving the problem.
Absent any real solutions to the problem of unwed pregnancy, Mac Donald’s message seems to be that black people need to improve themselves, beef up their morality, be more responsible, act better. They should quit being so violent and crime prone. In other words, she seems to believe blacks would be better off if they started behaving more like the inherently moral white race. (She also dismissed poverty as a contributor to violence in these communities and said nothing about the nation’s rampant gun culture.)
The problem here is that even if you agreed with Mac Donald that the Boy Scouts and Kip Academy are good ideas to help young, fatherless black men, there is a fatal flaw in her proposed “solutions.” Neither of these programs addresses the problem of single mothers. At best, they are mild, spotty treatments of the symptoms. They might help the children in some way, but they do not address the supposedly fundamental problem that MacDonald has pointed to for many years — unwed mothers.
My question was simple. It was not a trick question: What can we do to address the problem of unwed pregnancies?
Again, wouldn’t you think that a so-called scholar who had spent most of her professional career studying this problem might have spent five or 10 minutes trying to develop something to offer as a potential solution? Wouldn’t you think she would be embarrassed that after making two, hour-long presentations on the problem, someone like me would finally be forced to say, Hey, you’ve now spent two solid hours talking about a problem and you’ve offered not a single solution to that problem?
How can we take someone seriously who pretends to be deeply concerned about the impact of unwed mothers, but when pressed for solutions can only come up with the Boy Scouts and charter schools?
Later, at dinner, Mac Donald intimated that she thought some faculty members and students who aggressively challenged her views had treated her rudely. Given the intellectual bankruptcy of her presentation, I thought the reception of her ridiculous and intellectually dubious presentation was actually much kinder and respectful than necessary.
At the end of dinner, Mac Donald smugly told me, “Let me know when you come up with some ideas for government programs that will solve these problems.”
I ignored the remark. No need to end the evening on a sour note, so I didn’t say what was really on my mind. Which was, “Why don’t you get back to me when you come up with something better than the Boy Scouts.”
I don’t know if Mac Donald is a racist or not. But if she would prefer that people not view her as one, she might spend less time urging black people to improve themselves and offer some serious, realistic ideas about how to solve the problems she has identified.
By papering over the real and amply documented problems in police departments and blaming black people for the violence brought down upon them, she undermines her credibility. By labeling blacks as moral degenerates, she gave LSU students a pretty good impression of a racist.