Rep. Ryan (R-Wisconsin) really stepped into it this past Wednesday when he mused about the urban culture in America that contributes to poverty.
“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” Ryan lamented on Bill Bennett’s Morning In America radio program.
Ryan even went a step further by invoking Charles Murray, a social scientist and author of the infamously racist book The Bell Curve, which asserted that racial differences in intelligence are determined by genetics. In other words, he thinks blacks are dumb and are born that way. Murray claimed, “One reason that we still have poverty in the United States is that a lot of poor people are born lazy.”
Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, subsequently issued a statement, perhaps after some GOP leader took him to the proverbial woodshed: “After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community but of society as a whole,” Ryan said.
“We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities. The predictable result has been multi-generational poverty and little opportunity. I also believe the government’s response has inadvertently created a poverty trap that builds barriers to work. A stable, good-paying job is the best bridge out of poverty.”
Ryan added, “The broader point I was trying to make is that we cannot settle for this status quo and that government and families have to do more and rethink our approach to fighting poverty. I have witnessed amazing people fighting against great odds with impressive success in poor communities. We can learn so much from them, and that is where this conversation should begin.”
The Republican lawmaker made the comments right before unveiling legislation requiring men in the inner cities to work.
And most of all, finally, Rep. Ryan called Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) to express these sentiments, because when you’re in trouble over something you said about black people, you want to show that some of your best friends are black, I suppose. To her credit, Rep. Lee had slammed Ryan for his comments, calling them “statistically inaccurate” and “deeply offensive,” and showing a lack of understanding about the black community.
“Instead of demonizing ‘culture,’ and blaming black men for their poverty, Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America,” she added. According to the congresswoman, Rep. Ryan’s “uninformed” proposals increase poverty rather than solve it.
Obviously, this is not the first time the congressman has talked junk. After all, we had to listen to him run off at the mouth during his days as the vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney.
But the larger issue is how easy it is to tar and feather black men over joblessness — or anything, for that matter. Black men have remained America’s longstanding scapegoat. Their bodies fill the prisons and make other people wealthy. Race-card-dealing politicians have made beating up on black men their mainstay, with Willie Horton and the grotesque stereotyped image of the sexual monster. Today, in a post-n word society, black men are called “thugs” as a matter of course, and their communities are called the “inner city,” which are simply replacements for the time-tested slur.
What is troubling is that powerful lawmakers such as Paul Ryan are in a position to translate their prejudices into harsh, cold, punitive policies.
Black unemployment is nothing new. In reality, it has consistently remained twice the rate of whites for six decades, which means that black folks live in a “perpetual, slow-moving recession.” Blame it on an opportunity gap and the hoarding of opportunities by the privileged, segregation and white flight from areas with large black populations, and a less developed network for African-Americans.
And Mr. Ryan, rather than scapegoat black men for being unemployed, and use them for fodder for your base like Reagan’s “welfare queen,” why don’t you help them find a job?