There's the time when, speaking to an audience of Ayn Rand acolytes, Ryan's solution to "the victimization class" was "trying to recruit a lot of minority legislators to work with us." That makes pretty clear who he thinks "the victimization class" is. Most crucially, Ryan's recent finger-pointing at inner-city (read: black) culture is nothing new. In 2012, for instance, he said:
... the best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity in the inner cities, is to help people get out of poverty in the inner cities, is to help teach people good discipline, good character.Please read below the fold for more on this story.
Bring opportunity, help people get out of poverty ... good. But how? Ryan's answers always circle back to this culture argument, the "good discipline, good character." It just so happens that, in a recent debate with Jon Chait over Chait's liberalish version of such a culture argument, Ta-Nehisi Coates has laid waste to such claims. First, Coates argues, the idea that culture can be separated from the conditions that created it—white supremacy, in this case—is just wrong:
... when the rising number of arrests for marijuana are mostly borne by African-Americans; when segregation drives a foreclosure crisis that helped expand the wealth gap; when big banks busy themselves baiting black people with "wealth-building seminars" and instead offering "ghetto loans" for "mud people"; when studies find that black low-wage applicants with no criminal record "fared no better than a white applicant just released from prison"; when, even after controlling for neighborhoods and crime rates, my son finds himself more likely to be stopped and frisked.You just can't talk about black culture in America independent of this context. Moreover, Coates argues, if anything was going to instill in African-Americans a culture that did not value families, education, or work, it would have been slavery. Yet history shows us that is not what happened; looking back at that history, "you find black people desperate to reconstitute their families, desperate to marry, and desperate to be educated." And still today people are struggling for something better—but they're struggling not against their own culture but against actual, vicious barriers. Telling people to overcome that only through their own moral strength is a way to stay where we are:
Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society.Of course Paul Ryan would deny that white supremacy is still in effect. Indeed, it's his business to continue it, to make appeals to conservative white voters by assuring them that it's not racist to think that there's something wrong with black people, because that thing is inner-city culture. And, as the fact that Coates is here responding to a writer generally identified as liberal reminds us, the idea that black culture is what is keeping black people disproportionately poor and imprisoned is not restricted to the Paul Ryans of the world. He may use that idea in more damaging ways, but it gets its power because it goes beyond him and his supporters.