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Michael Bennett, Confederate statues, and uselessness

Incentives reward posers whose actions will do nothing to help poor blacks

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Some people look at Michael Bennett, the defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks who is now kneeling during the national anthem, and see someone who is heroic. 

Others look at the people working to remove Confederate statues from public parks and see people who are earnest.

But what matters about such actions people isn’t whether people engaging in them are brave or sincere. What we should be asking is whether their actions will actually make any difference? Black Americans lag behind most other ethnic groups in income and education. Will the actions of Bennett and others help close those gaps?

Bennett regularly protests the police shooting of black men, and those who agitate for removal of Confederate statues claim that the memorials venerate a legacy of slavery and racism. Imagine, for a moment, that starting tomorrow no black man was ever shot by a police officer again and that all marble images of Confederate generals disappeared. What impact would that have on black Americans catching up to other groups in terms of income and education?

Would it do anything to change a culture that is often hostile toward education and entrepreneurship? Would it help reverse the high rate of illegitimacy that does so much to trap blacks in poverty? Or would it save black children from the utter disaster that is inner-city public schools? The answer is a pretty obvious “no.”

Alas, that is why the protests of the likes of Michael Bennett and the efforts to remove statues are so useless. They are aimed at issues that will do nothing to improve the lives of most blacks.

So, why don’t Bennett or other activists address issues that will make a difference? 

For starters, fixing those problems is difficult and will take many years, if not decades, to achieve. By contrast, the rewards for kneeling during the national anthem or removing a statue are almost instantaneous. There is the sense of empowerment one gets from protesting. You will see your actions and maybe even your name in the media. And many, many people in the intelligentsia will cheer you on, telling you how courageous you are.

If Michael Bennett speaks out against, say, the high rate of illegitimacy, the intelligentsia will castigate him, accusing him of “blaming the victims.” Other blacks like the NBA’s Kevin Durant or Al Sharpton will call him an “Uncle Tom.” Why put up with that when it’s so much easier to protest a dubious “epidemic” of racially-biased police shootings?

As long as those are the incentives that people face, expect more national anthem protests and more statues coming down. Insofar as such activities actually help blacks, though, they are useless.

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David Hogberg

David Hogberg is a writer living in Maryland. He is author of the book, "Medicare’s Victims: How the U.S. Government’s Largest Health Care Program Harms Patients and Impairs Physicians."

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