Most discussion of minority failure blames racism and discrimination. I m an old civil rights lawyer and such racism and discrimination clearly still exists. But the problem is, I fear, deeper than the current dialogue. We need to think honestly about these problems with new sophistication. One of these new areas is to recognize that increasingly scholars are saying culture matters.
I m impressed, for instance, that minorities that have been discriminated against earn the highest family incomes in America. Japanese Americans, Jews, Chinese Americans, and Korean Americans all out-earn white Americans by substantial margins and all have faced discrimination and racism. We put Japanese Americans in camps 60 years ago and confiscated much of their property. Yet today they out-earn all other demographic groups. Discrimination and racism are social cancers and can never be justified but it is enlightening that, for these groups, they were a hurdle, not a barrier to success.
The Italians, the Irish, the people from the Balkans America has viewed all these groups and many more with hostility and suspicion, yet all have integrated and succeeded. Hispanic organizations excuse their failure rates solely in terms of discrimination by white America and object vociferously when former Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos observes that Hispanic parents don t take enough interest in education. But Cuban Americans have come to America and succeeded brilliantly. Do we discriminate against Hispanics from Mexico but not Hispanics from Cuba?
I suggest that those groups whose culture and values stress delayed gratification, education, hard work, success and ambition are those groups that succeed in America regardless of discrimination. I further suggest that, even if discrimination was removed, other groups would still have massive problems until they develop the traits that lead to success. Asian and Jewish children do twice as much homework as Black and Hispanic students, and get twice as good grades. Why should we be surprised?
A problem well defined is a problem half-solved. We must recognize that all the civil rights laws in the world are not going to solve the problem of minority failure. Ultimately Blacks and Hispanics are going to have to see that the solution is largely in their own hands.
The solution was taken out of their hands because Hispanics and Blacks (especially Blacks) have been the preferred targets of welfare and affirmative-action programs. Yes, culture matters, but Black and Hispanic culture has come to include a heavy dose of dependence on government. Dependency breeds dependency, not initiative. I wonder if Lamm can see that, or if he thinks the solution is simply a different kind of special treatment?