Wealthy and white, or poor and black, entitlement is not help

Wealthy and white, or poor and black, entitlement is not help
© Stefani Reynolds

It is interesting, but largely unnoticed, that the college bribery scandal occurred at the same time that Democratic candidates for president were issuing statements supporting reparations to blacks to compensate for slavery. There are striking similarities between what wealthy white parents are doing to injure their children with their supposed “help,” and the potential injury that would be inflicted on black youngsters who would be the supposed beneficiaries of reparations.

The youths share the notion that they are entitled to unearned benefits — either because their parents are rich and powerful, or because their parents are poor, black and powerless. The entitlement premise upon which these wealthy parents and the Democratic candidates engage with the larger society is detrimental to those they purport to help, and it undermines the values and norms of human interchange that can be built only on the foundation of meritocracy and concern for the content of our character. “Helping” in any other way than building upon this foundation does not help; it harms.

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The scandal of buying one’s child’s way into college and the agenda of the race-grievance industry are two sides of one coin. The common denominator is that each begins with the premise that someone is entitled to something he or she otherwise might not earn. Everything goes downhill from there.

First, treating people as if they are entitled teaches them the morally odious lesson that they do not have to work hard to achieve. Second, entitlement teaches the recipients to be uncertain or doubtful about their own real capacities. They never can tell when they go through a door whether it has been opened because of what they have done, or what their parents have done on their behalf. That robs them of the knowledge that they have agency and control over their lives.   Third, because there are no advances without setbacks, offering entitlement robs the recipients of the valuable lessons that failure teaches. We must master setbacks and disappointments; they create moral muscle, the foundation of good character.

Is it any wonder why children are growing up in America today without the capacity to withstand life’s setbacks, large and small? When they lose a friend or get rejected in a love relationship, they are not equipped to handle it. That is part of the reason the suicide rate among wealthy youths is so high.

On the other side of the coin, consider how we treat low-income people, particularly low-income blacks. Politicians from the race-grievance industry point to the problems of low-income blacks, from crime and violence to out-of-wedlock births and lack of economic opportunity. Their answer is reparations? This is condescending and cheap virtue-signaling for the purpose of garnering votes. The call for reparations presumes that something must be delivered to blacks because on their own they have no agency.

If they do not exhibit agency, it is a consequence of the legacy of slavery or Jim Crow — therefore, any destructive behavior they exhibit is dismissed as not their own. “Don’t blame the victim,” the purveyors of entitlement declare. This victim-mentality assumes blacks are not in control, that their lives are defined by somebody the entitlement-peddlers say hates them and who must deliver the goods (reparations). “Until and unless white America gives you something, it’s cruel to expect you to achieve on your own,” they say.

This thinking, so prevalent among those on the left today, ignores the fact that when racism was enshrined in law and visibly embedded in the culture, black Americans achieved. Who today knows this history? Like the books in Ray Bradbury’s masterful novel “Fahrenheit 451,” it has been removed from the bookshelves of our collective memory. This history lays out the inconvenient fact that blacks achieved against the odds under de jure segregation. This achievement is not being taught today; you won’t find books with such stories in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program of hobbling our young people with entitlements requires that those books cannot be found.

The merchants of the racial grievance assume the same thing that upper-income white parents do about their kids: They assume young people have no agency. Although different cases, the belief in entitlement that they share contributes to the destruction of a generation that is frightened of failure because they have been protected from it. In both cases, however, the entitlement impulse amounts to attempting to give our children what we did not have, rather than what we did have — namely, the character to understand that real achievement must be earned.   

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the president and founder of the Woodson Center. Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.