A lot of folks have e-mailed me recently about the Cosby piece. I would say they fall into two camps--black followers of Booker T. Washington, or white people who believe that black folks have consigned themselves to the demographic basement. Better, smarter, more literate folks than me have hit this one out the park. Kenneth Jackson's incredible Crabgrass Frontier includes some devastating chapters on how black folks were essentially excluded from FDR's housing programs. Ira Katznelson's book, When Affirmative Action Was White, does a fine job showing how FDR was forced by Southern Democrats to exclude black people from many of the other programs which basically subsidized the middle class in this country.
There are reams of stats showing blacks lagging behind whites. I think virtually all of them are irrelevant save one--the difference in wealth between black and white America. The great Dalton Conley (who I had the chance to interview, but regrettably, not quote) has written movingly about how many of the differences between blacks and whites are actually differences in wealth. Social scientists who simply try to control for income, and then wonder why blacks still lag are missing the point. As arguably the greatest black intellectual of our time, Chris Rock, once noted, "Shaq is rich, the white man who signs his check is wealthy...Wealth is passed down from generation to generation, you can't get rid of wealth. Rich is some shit you can loose with a crazy summer and a drug habit."
That was the message of Booker T, and from that perspective he was right. The Du Bois faction overlooked the great power of economics, and how wealth allows you to bend society and--if your cause is just--make things right. But, equally, Booker T took an incredibly pollyannish view of America at large, and the white South in particular.
Nothing else so soon brings about right relations between the two races in the South as the industrial progress of the negro. Friction between the races will pass away in proportion as the black man, by reason of his skill, intelligence, and character, can produce something that the white man wants or respects in the commercial world.