The futility of facts: A response to Stephanie Riegel

    In a new guest column, LSU Associate Law Professor Christopher J. Tyson takes issue with Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel’s latest column, “The futility of community dialogue.”

    “Riegel offers a strikingly pessimistic prediction for race relations after the imminent announcement in the Alton Sterling shooting investigation,” Tyson writes. “For Riegel, discussions around race have been hopelessly one sided. In her view, it is permissible to talk about racial bias in policing, but not about the underlying issues behind high crime in low-income neighborhoods. Those issues, she implies, include ‘teenage birthrates’ and ‘absentee fathers.’ She states that these two factors ‘condemn so many young people and their offspring to lives of generational poverty.’”

    Sadly, Tyson says, far too many agree with Riegel’s deductions.

    “They view them as a set of ‘hard truths’ that ‘political correctness’ has relegated to the margins of debate. The belief that individual choices are the primary drivers of persistent, intergenerational black poverty is nothing new,” he writes. “It has its origins in the ‘culture of poverty’ thesis. Many—white and black—view black communities as merely a concentration of people who are culturally and biologically predisposed to making poor life choices. The idea of black communities as sites of mass pathology predates emancipation. Despite having built the nation for free, formerly enslaved black people were widely regarded as inherently criminal, immoral and lazy.”

    Tyson says that by invoking “teenage birthrates” and “absentee fathers,” Riegel seeks “to link back to the long, sordid history of casting black communities in moral or cultural decline as a defense against the struggle for equality, equity and justice.”

    “Her point is cunningly simple: If black people would just make better choices, racial disparities would disappear,” he writes.

    If we want to have a frank discussion about the roots of black poverty, Tyson says we should start with demonstrable evidence as opposed to recycled stereotypes.

    Read the full column.

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