Once and Future Remedies: The Future of Civil Rights

The following are notes taken from Amy Wax’s talking points at the US Civil Rights Commission’s event “A New Era: Defining Civil Rights in the 21st Century.”  Amy Wax is the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Victim Must Rehabilitate Himself

Dr. Wax begins by comparing the “bad guy” in civil rights, “white society,” to the wrongdoer in a Torts suit.  When a doctor tells the victim of a truck accident:  “You will not walk again without a strong, sustained effort to walk,” the injured pedestrian might complain: That’s not fair!  The truck driver who hit me should have to cure me!

Just as the truck driver cannot cure our injured pedestrian, White Society cannot cure the statistics gap that represents the past and future of civil rights.

This is not economics; this is behavior.

Black Americans are married at much lower rates than white Americans.  The breakdown of the family is no longer related to economics; this is behavior.  This is culture.

Similarly, the educational test score gap has been amply documented.  But the black/white achievement gap does not stop at the schoolhouse door; it translates into job performance.

It is not enough to blame the achievement gap on the idea that blacks go to worse schools, because indeed the same gap exists across races in the same school.  This is not attributable to opportunity; this is behavior.

Helping v. Transforming

There is a world of difference between helping people who are worse off and utterly transforming their behavior.  We believe in a noblesse oblige whereby we can fundamentally rebuild children from the ground up.  This is impossible.  No institution can transform behavior.  No institution can replace the family.

Behavioral Issues Blamed on Race

Later, in response to a question, Dr. Wax reiterated: This so-called “racial disparity” is no longer a racial problem.  It is a decision problem.  You do not need a PhD to grasp the underlying precepts of success.  Don’t break the law.  Study for your exams.  Use a condom.  These are not racial issues, they are behavioral issues we habitually blame on race.


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