HENDERSON: Are N.C. Republicans bad for black families?

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger

In a recent op-ed in another newspaper (“The NC GOP have failed to address racial issues in the state,” June 29) UNC Chapel Hill professor Gene Nichol displays the usual condescending hysteria of white elites who claim to care deeply about African Americans. He portrays the entire black citizenry of North Carolina as impoverished, poorly educated serfs being viciously subjected to “systemic racial subordination” by their evil Republican overlords.In the same breath, Nichol lauds Rev. William Barber — a bombastic advocate for public school monopolies, coercive wealth redistribution and abortion on demand — as “the nation’s paramount rising civil rights leader.” Like so many whites in positions of power, Nichol assumes that blacks — unlike whites — are unable to hold diverse opinions about these controversial issues.I am a lifelong resident of North Carolina who survived the “terror-enforced Jim Crow” that Nichol speculates Republicans might not remember, and I participated in the 1960 Woolworth sit-in in Greensboro. (I also remember such atrocities occurred under Democratic rule in the statehouse and governorship, a fact Nichol conveniently forgets to mention.) While I share Nichol’s concern for our most vulnerable citizens, I do not share his conviction that the North Carolina Republican Party is the villain in this story. In fact, I think several Republican policies hold the key for the improvement of black lives in our state and our nation as a whole.Let’s take one of Nichol’s concerns that I share: “Black children attend high-poverty, troubled schools very, very disproportionately.” We are to believe that Republicans have failed to respond to this tragic reality when in fact it is North Carolina Republicans who have been fighting tirelessly for school choice.Only the legislative freedom for all parents — regardless of income — to choose the school their children attend will liberate them from being forced to attend failing public schools simply because such schools serve the neighborhoods where their parents can afford a home. Yet such measures have been consistently opposed by Democrats and men like Barber, the “hero” Nichol exalts.Nichol mourns that “Almost 40 percent of black kids are poor, compared to 12 percent of white ones.” True enough. Yet he fails to note that black children with married parents fare almost identically to white children.In 2009, 40.6 percent of single-parent families with children in North Carolina lived in poverty, while only 7.2 percent of married couples with children were poor. Seventy-two percent of black children in North Carolina are born to single mothers, compared to 26.5 percent of white children. The best weapon against black child poverty in North Carolina is strong black marriages.The issues Nichol raises around criminal justice reform are very complicated, and I cannot do them full justice in this short response. But it is worth pointing out that a third of the murderers who have used The Racial Justice Act to challenge the death penalty were white. Because the law is so ambiguously written, white men, convicted by white juries, have been able to log-jam the justice system by arguing that they were victims of discrimination, based on minute differences between themselves and their jurors. So clearly the “systemic racial subordination” Nichol feels Republicans promote is a little more complicated than he is letting on.Republicans gained control of both houses of the North Carolina legislature in 2010 for the first time since 1896. Would Nichol really have us believe that life for blacks in North Carolina was a blissful paradise before the evil Republicans began oppressing them? Or perhaps he feels we would be better off back in the hands of the party that subjected us to Jim Crow?Democrats have long been professionals at rehearsing grievances and acting like they care. The black citizens of North Carolina don’t need the pity of academics. They need policy changes that will strengthen black marriages and families, encourage economic growth, and allow them to choose the schools their children attend.Clarence Henderson is chairman of the N.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of North Carolina, and a Republican. He lives in High Point.