Heart wrenching review of a heart wrenching book
Read it here from the NY Times Book Review. It is an excellent review and made my heart break.
Still, my quibble with the review is the equivalency argument against "liberals" and "conservatives." I'll let "conservatives" defend against the critique of "conservatives" but I will defend the "liberals." Contrary to the reviewer, liberals do understand cultural issues behind the structural economic ones. For goodness sakes, does the reviewer not see who the social workers are? By and large, they are liberals. And sometimes radical liberals.
Michael Harrington's critique of the Great Society, in book form, appeared in "Toward a Democratic Left" in 1968, and that left critique was immediately lost in the American corporate media, despite the fact that it was Dwight MacDonald's review of Harrington's "The Other America" that inspired JFK's administration and then LBJ to try and do something to alleviate poverty. Harrington's original critique to Sargent Shriver was that $1 billion was not nearly enough and the programs were paying people while they were not doing anything, waiting for the private sector to rescue them. Shriver memorably, but still glibly responded, "Have you ever spent $1 billion before?"
Harrington wrote and said at the time that people needed to have social workers work with men, women and children in these impoverished areas to reacquaint them with time management, thinking about and pursuing long term goals and to stop beating on each other. He wanted more marriage counseling. He wanted a society that truly cared about the most vulnerable and met them on a cultural and economic level. He wanted to see money directly spent to rehabilitate buildings and homes, build new buildings and homes, and give people a chance to learn to police themselves.
And really, what solution does the reviewer want? The reviewer does not really say. For the reviewer must know that any solution is going to be seen as "liberal" because the conservative solution is "tough luck," "cut taxes of rich people," and "stop affirmative action." Those are not solutions. Those are public policies of indifference, recklessness and cruelty.
And while both the review and the book tell a powerful human real life story, it is a story too perfect in symmetry, isn't it? How many people went from ghetto to Ivy League who went on to rather normal lives and even successful lives? Shouldn't those examples count for something, especially against the conservatives' argument that culture trumps economics every time. Those examples should count a lot more than what happened here with the lamented Robert DeShawn Pearce. One may sometimes find the perfect example does not explain anything more than the example itself.
I would hope admissions directors at Ivy League schools are not going to deny the next poor minority student a chance based upon what happened with Pearce. Jeff Hobbs, the author of the book and Pearce's Yale University roommate, should feel bad about his own indulgence in marijuana and his lack of an example of someone who eschewed narcotics didn't help. Hobbs would nearly always be safe as privileged white person. Pearce, not so much it turns out.
America is not a hospitable place for a black man. I like that more and more white folks are understanding that fact. However, a bad response is to simply shrug our shoulders and say nothing else can be done, or anything we try to do will backfire. It might. But like with love, if at first you don't succeed, love, love again.