This past Thursday, the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics hosted, “A Conversation about Race and Immigration in America,” with Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. The event was held in the Murray Room of the Yawkey Center. Coffee, cookies, and enthusiastic conversations were on full display. Professor Heather Cox Richardson introduced Riley, mentioning his role as a commentator for Fox News.
Although various undergraduates have expressed their discomfort with his talk, Riley clearly notes that his goal is not to convince anyone of his opinion, but rather share his opinion in an intellectual environment in order to open and encourage effective dialogue about race in America.
Noting the liberal nature of most universities, Riley says, “I am grateful that schools like Boston College continue to welcome people to campus to provide different perspectives, which is needed today perhaps more than you realize.” He adds that his intent is to offer a thoughtful point of view that students may not otherwise encounter on a liberal arts college campus.
Delving into the content of his most recent book, False Black Power?, Riley begins by making a statement regarding the Obama presidency that certainly grabbed the attention of the audience, “President Obama needed black voters much more than black voters needed President Obama.”
His main assertion is that political representation for a certain race or ethnic group is not the best way to advance that population economically. He notes, “Political success does not always lead to economic success.” Riley cites the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s as times during which Black mayors created, “unstoppable political machines,” but, “the poor became even more impoverished on their watch.” He concedes that Black citizens have made excellent gains in recent decades but, “government programs, whether they are implemented by black or white politicians aren’t the solution to many of the problems the black poor face today.”
In discussing ways to advance the social and economic status of Black Americans, Riley claims, “We ultimately must help themselves...Ultimately, blacks will have to do what other groups have done. Develop the same attitudes and habits and behaviors that other groups have developed in order to rise in America.” In his opinion, the government welfare systems are well-intended but actually interfere with self-development and the development of work ethic. He makes the assertion that it can do “more harm than good...and often does.”
Using the controversial Affirmative Action policy as an example, Riley says, “History shows that racial preferences in college admissions mismatches students with schools with results in lower black graduation rates and few black professionals than we would have in the absence of these policies.”
So, what does Jason Riley propose to improve the situation of Black Americans? He promotes a focus on the development of human capital rather than political capital. He defines human capital as, “the collective skills and knowledge that create economic value,” and believes that human capital explains the “success” of blacks in the mid-to-late 1900s. Riley notes, “Prior to the 1960s, blacks were more focused on developing this human capital. We saw racial gaps narrow in income [and] educational attainment… [increased] black representation in skilled professionals and elsewhere. Blacks were not only making gain in absolute terms; they were gaining on whites. It was steady progress.”
Riley’s talk included various other topics, points, and a plethora of statistics that he used to support his viewpoints. If you are interested in learning more about the opinions of Jason Riley, I would suggest reading his books Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for blacks to Succeed, and False Black Power?. Furthermore, his articles for the Wall Street Journal can be accessed here. If you strongly agree or vehemently disagree with Jason Riley, consider reading his works or perhaps messaging him on Twitter to engage in a dialogue.