I am a native Baltimorean and my family has been here since the 1790s.

Baltimore was segregated, but in an odd way. There was a prejudice against living next door to blacks, but it was ok if they lived on the other side of the block. Around 1910 the city considered an ordinance that would have segregated the city by setting aside every third block as the city developed for blacks. This would have prevented the formation of ghettoes. Blacks and whites would have had separate school systems, but would have shared the same services and businesses. A long history of free blacks had led to numerous black businesses and institutions, like the ones on Pennsylvania Avenue. The boom in war jobs brought widespread prosperity in the 1940s and 1950s.

Factory jobs have disappeared, and middle-class blacks have left poorer areas for better neighborhoods of the city and county. They left behind those who could not or chose not to function in modern society.

Males are difficult to integrate into civilized life in any society, and poor black males are only somewhat more difficult than poor white males. Males were given a leg up and privileges in part to motivate them to stay out of trouble – but male privilege is a thing of the past. Employers who hire black women get a double affirmative-action credit and avoid the difficulty of male surliness.

The descent into social disorganization has become a vicious circle among poor blacks and increasingly among poor whites.  A niece informed me that at her public high school in Florida the life plan of most of the white girls was to get pregnant and go on welfare.

The first three years seem to be crucial to brain development. Children need to be talked to and read to – but middle class children hear millions more words by age three than welfare children do. Because of this stunted development, poor children have a hard time in school, which is a difficult environment for boys in general. Because they have such a hard time in school, poor black boys especially reject learning, and never develop skills which could make them employable. Because they are unemployable, they are not good marriage prospects. Black women have their children without husbands, and the children grow up in a stunted environment and the cycle repeats itself.

How to break the cycle? No one knows. Ending the war on drugs would stop the process of mass incarceration and criminal records that make it difficult to get jobs, but it would lead to wider drug use that would contribute to unemployability. How to get parents to talk to and read to their children? Sometimes the parents can’t read themselves, and their idea of discipline is to yell at kids to tell them to be quiet. If children are not raised in a middle-class way that helps them develop their minds, they will have grave difficulties in functioning in a middle class society.

The culture of poverty and unemployability is most severe among poor blacks, but is growing among poor whites. How to change a self-destructive culture? No one really knows. Perhaps a religious revival like that of Methodism in the English working classes, who were in a bad way before Wesley came along, but that does not seem to be on the horizon.



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