Bloomberg to Aid Minority Youth

The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a blunt acknowledgment that thousands of young black and Latino men are cut off from New York’s civic, educational and economic life, plans to spend nearly $130 million on far-reaching measures to improve their circumstances.

The program, the most ambitious policy push of Mr. Bloomberg’s third term, would overhaul how the government interacts with a population of about 315,000 New Yorkers who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed.

Yet another example, as if we needed it, of a well-meaning white billionaire trying to save the world by writing a check but completely missing the point.

I don’t fault our mayor for trying to do something about the catastrophe that is our “inner city youth” (I loath that term). How could I? I am certain he is moved by good and benign motives. Looking around the city he governs, Bloomberg certainly sees that young minority man are disproporationately troubled and troublesome. But I do fault our mayor for thinking he can do anything about it, or at least that he can do anything meaningful, by throwing money at the problem, even a shitload of money.

The problem with young black and latino men is not a problem money can solve. The problem is too complex. That is to say, the problem is simple but the solution is complex.

The problem is that young minority men grow up in homes most of us would not recognize as homes. Homes without fathers, without structure, without the culture that shapes children into adults who can participate fully and lawfully in society.

The solution, therefore, is to give them new homes. Simple, right?

And while you’re at it, give them fathers, mothers who can cope, neighbors who work for a living. Take away their belief that they are victims of forces beyond their control, that the world is racist, that they are entitled to something, that the government exists to give them food and pay for their apartments, that they have no responsibilities except to get the most they can get, and that the highest one can aspire to is to be a rap “artist” or athlete or at the very least to own ten pairs of sneakers.

I have known hundreds of young men of the type the mayor wants to help. Most of them had been charged with a crime, sometimes a horrible crime. But very few am I willing to write off. Almost all were sympathetic. You get the sense, in speaking with them, of 1) how similar they are to you (which is surprising, right, because how can a murderer be like me?), and 2) how dissimilar they are to you — dissimilar in the sense that you always, inevitably, come up against an unbridgeable divide between your mutual conceptions of the world. They just don’t get it, and if you ever saw how they were brought up you would never wonder why they don’t.

In my experience, the question is not why so many young black and latino men turn to crime, but rather why do so few?

It is interesting to note, as an aside, that just a few years ago the mayor would have been criticized as a racist for publicly identifying this problem. Remember Bill Cosby? Usually such statistics are quickly swept under the rug so they do not offend those who make a living out of being offended by such things. I’m encouraged. Being able to talk about this issue is, at least, the first step toward an eventual solution.

Full story in the New York Times here.

 

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