When San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem he sparked a national outrage. Now, his movement is spreading. To the NFL’s discredit, Kaepernick’s disrespect for the colors and anthem has been mimicked throughout the league as a form of protest against alleged institutional racism in city, state, and federal police forces.
As a matter of persuasion, Kaepernick’s tactics are bizarre. You don’t sway people to your cause by insulting things they love, or take pride in, or cherish — like the American flag and the national anthem. But put that aside for a moment.
I’ve seen racism up close, and I’ve seen it how it can dig into an organization. In my case it was the military, not the police. In the 1950s and early 1960s, I flew F-100 fighter jets with the U.S. Air Force. While the military desegregated in 1948, we were still working out the kinks a decade later. At the same time, Jim Crow raged in the south. Discrimination was entrenched.
Only a few years earlier, the War Department had claimed that African Americans couldn’t understand a machine as complicated as an aircraft. It was proven wrong by the pioneering pilots of 332nd Fighter and 477th Bomber Groups, more commonly known as the “Tuskegee Airmen.”
I flew with African-American pilots. Racism existed in our ranks of course, but the prejudice was muted by the shared challenge of flying a difficult jet with nuclear bombs strapped to its belly. Shared trials and adversities have a remarkable way of eliminating petty differences like those of race, sex, creed, or orientation.
I learned a lifelong lesson from the experience. Institutions, when properly wielded, can lessen and in some cases eliminate inequity. They can offer shared goals and demand shared standards.
In the 20th century, the Armed Forces cracked that code. In the 21st century, no institution has more potential to alleviate racial tensions than our educational system, where conservatives have been at the forefront of reform efforts for years.
It is there, in the schools, that this fight must be fought, rather than meaningless gestures on the sidelines of pro-football games.
The gripe of some NFL players is that African Americans feel the brunt of law enforcement. And from a purely statistical perspective, that may be true. Compared with whites, African Americans earn 24 percent less, live five fewer years, and are six times more likely to be incarcerated. Further, blacks are shot and killed by police at a rate two and a half times higher than their white neighbors.
But consider how these number shift when adjusted for scholastic accomplishment. A seminal study by Derek Neal of the University of Chicago and William Johnson of the University of Virginia found that when educational achievement was considered, the wage gap between African Americans and whites nearly vanished.
What do wage gaps have to do with education and imprisonment? Everything. Education leads to jobs. Jobs lead to opportunity. And with opportunity comes significant reductions in incarceration rates.
A 2010 Harvard study builds off of Neal and Johnson. In “Racial Inequality in the 21st Century,” Roland Fryer found that the wage gap between blacks and whites plummeted from 17.9 percent to 10.9 percent after factoring in education. For women, the gap was reduced from 15.3 percent to 4.4 percent after an identical adjustment.
While African Americans have triple the incarceration rates of whites, that daunting figure shrinks by a whopping 80 percent when an educational-achievement control was introduced.
Some NFL players and many in the Black Lives Matter movement see the police as the enemy, an institutional villain that victimizes African Americans without consequence.
But the real institutional adversaries of U.S. minorities are the failing schools that populate America’s inner cities. They are the politicians that support them and the teachers’ unions which oppose any and all change to the status quo.
Nearly 70 percent of inner-city students are African American or Hispanic American. There, the dropout rates are astounding. In Cleveland, the graduation rate was 38 percent compared with 81 percent in the Cleveland suburbs. In New York City, 54 percent of students graduated compared with 83 percent in the suburbs.
These aren’t just statistics. Every young man or woman who fails to earn a high-school diploma immediately disqualifies himself or herself from the vast majority of U.S. jobs. When honest work isn’t an option, at-risk youth have few choices beyond crime or government assistance. It is this dynamic, not institutional racism, that drives police into the inner cities.
Throughout my career, I’ve supported educational reform like school choice and wider opportunities for America’s lower class, for those held down by the harsh tyranny of hopelessness. If these athletes truly want to stop injustice and inequality — and I believe that they do — I would humbly suggest a change of course.
Silly virtue-signaling at sports events doesn’t do a single thing to pull an at-risk African American youth out of poverty. Vapid gestures offer no opportunity to a struggling young man or woman in Cleveland or New York, many of whom know no option in life other than crime.
But professional athletes do have a unique advantage in both fame and resources. If they get off the sidelines, if they roll up their sleeves and get to work fighting this problem by figuring out ways to inspire kids to complete their educations, they can make a difference.
Until then, they should keep America’s anthem and our colors out of it.
Thursday, October 06, 2016
Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem Protests -- Education a Better Solution | National Review