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We’re Telling the Wrong Story About Race in America

GUEST COMMENTARY - It's been a week since a mentally ill racist murdered 10 people, most of them Black Americans, in a Buffalo supermarket.

In the intervening days since this horrific tragedy, many have noted how often liberal journalists and politicians have tried to pin the blame for the mass shooting not just on the shooter and his far-right racist ideology, but anyone outside their progressive circles. In what was perhaps the most extreme example of this widespread trend, the cultural warriors of Rolling Stone insisted that the isolated and largely unhinged shooter was no outlier but "a mainstream Republican."

Of course, one finds no such blame game when a shooter comes from the far Left, or when he is an Islamic militant or a Black nationalist; the same people blaming all Republicans for the Buffalo shooter can somehow clearly see that killers like the Waukesha murderer or the Jersey City shooter are crazed outliers rather than some kind of politically charged weapon. But the minute they can blame their political opponents for murderous extremists, they lose sight of this reality.

This is because for American progressives, evil only comes in one color—white; woke progressives have bought into a worldview in which people are classified and persecuted entirely due to their racial genome.

This orthodoxy is dangerous and divisive. It's also fundamentally wrong. The truth of the matter is, Americans have never been less deserving of being called racist than we are today—the irresponsible embrace of "replacement theory" by some media figures like Tucker Carlson notwithstanding.  

Unlike the progressives who dominate our publications and airwaves, most Americans don't learn about race in college grievance classes but by experiencing the radical diversity of this nation firsthand, living in a country where salsa outsells ketchup and Modelo is about to surpass Budweiser as the nation's top beer brand.

Nor is our multiculturalism limited to cosmopolitan mega cities. Recent immigrants are flocking to the South, the Sunbelt and even parts of the Great Plains. Even as core cities have re-segregated, in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, 44 percent of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs, which are anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent non-whiteNationwide, in the 53 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 residents, more than three-quarters of Blacks and Hispanics now live in suburban or exurban areas. 

They are not "replacing" anyone; they are helping build new communities.

Nothing illustrates how ill-fitting the moniker of racist is to 21st century America like the rise in racial intermarriage, which has soared from barely 5 percent in 1980 to 17 percent today. Such shifts reflect seismic attitudinal changes. The notion of U.S. as enforcing a South African style-apartheid is more than a bit overdrawn in a country where one in 10 babies has one white and one non-white parent and 12 percent of all African-Americans are immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere. 

Critically, most Americans are not racist. Roughly three in four Americans—including whites, Republicans, and independents—regard racial diversity as "very good" for the country.

Such progress does not fit well with what President Biden promised in his inaugural address would be a central commitment of his presidency: to focus on the "sting of systemic racism" and encroaching "white supremacy." With these sentiments, the President was reprising an elitist vision that took hold during the Obama years which brought flush times almost exclusively to economic elites from minority communities—actors, lawyers, professors, media figures, corporate apparatchiks and non-profit functionaries—whose careers benefitted from the insistence that people be appointed to high office in large part based on race.

But what empowers minority graduates of Harvard and Stanford does little to improve the conditions for the Black middle and working class. Since the 80s, conditions for most African-Americans, particularly children, have worsened, with assets less than one-tenth those of whites. Black people and other minorities suffered grievously under the Obama policies that protected banks and targeted homeowners, wiping out most of their assets. The first Black president may have improved self-images, but he did little for the incomes of most minorities.

Obama's failure, like Biden's, lies in focusing on symbols rather than on material issues like class. Of course, it's good that legal and social barriers have fallen for racial minorities, but even in the best of times, our economy fails many minorities as well working people in general, and the pandemic further accelerated their economic pain; some 44 percent of Black households and 61 percent of Latino households have suffered a pandemic-related job loss or pay cut, compared to 38 percent of whites. 

These fundamental problems cannot be addressed by genuflecting to the increasingly discredited Black Lives Matter movement, which received millions from oligarch-funded non-profits, or by issuing confessional mea culpas about racism and embracing Critical Race Theory. The real problem—for minorities and many other Americans—lies in the economic challenge faced by working class people. Minorities make up over 40 percent of the nation's working class and will constitute the majority by 2032. Without them, our country's labor shortage and issues with aging would be far worse.

Instead of confessions about our inner racism, we would do better to focus on how to create better prospects for these Americans.

It is imperative that the Democrats make this their focus if they wish to hold power. No politician in American history owes more to African-American leadership and voters than Joe Biden. But left-wing pundits who have long assumed that a racial calculus will pay rich political dividends for them in the years ahead—something cited by replacement theory advocates—are in for a rude awakening. Biden's profound economic failures and rising crime have reduced his party's appeal for many working class minorities.

Meanwhile, Republicans have built on Trump's surprisingly large share of minority votersin 2020, and now command the highest support from Hispanics and African-Americansin recent history. Current migration patterns suggest that many minorities are also voting with their feet, heading to more conservative places in a reverse Great Migration; the Black population is declining in places like New YorkSan FranciscoLos AngelesSeattle and Portland, while rising in many red state metros, particularly Texas and Florida.

Ultimately, the solutions to our racial problems lie not with progressive agitprop or right-wing replacement theories but in addressing issues like the lack of skills, affordable housing, and job opportunities. This is how we shape a better racial future, however much our cultural and political landlords would prefer to see the emphasis elsewhere.

Let the Buffalo shooting be an opportunity to commit to equal opportunity for all and to start telling a truer story about America.

(Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.) The views expressed in this article are the author's own.