*376 C. The Cult of the Civic Ethos and the Realities of the Free Market Economy

The sizeable disparities in income and employment, as well as in educational achievement, between blacks and whites are in large part the result of the discrepancy between the civic ethos as a set of principles and as a concrete way of life. This failure to translate it into a lived reality reflects, in turn, the tenacity and persistence of the white supremacist discourse and the culture that it has sustained for centuries. In this culture, which color-blind integrationists assume is propitious for integration, equal partnership between the different ethnic groups is still difficult to achieve, simply because the ethnic and racial barriers have not been completely dismantled. Growing subtle, these barriers have, on the contrary, become even harder to overcome. So long as African American income, employment, and educational figures are not even close to whites', the civic compromise, as it currently stands, is still considered unfavorable to African Americans. The fact that color-blindness and equal opportunity have not helped change much of the socioeconomic reality of the African American community gives us reason enough to suspect that, in fact, they are not meant to serve its interests in the first place. What commitment to the liberal ideals and principles of American republicanism--to the detriment of ethnic cultural values and ways of life--has very often meant for white purists is the antecedence of an archetypal mode of existence that is basically Eurocentric. Within the framework of this mode of existence, allegiance is meant to be exclusively to a set of universals which whites themselves have designed. All existence outside the sphere of these universals is straight away annihilated and otherwise vilified and denigrated. The current civic discourse, which preaches a return to the original spirit of American republicanism, does nothing to change the status quo. Quite the opposite, it reintroduces the same ideological agenda that has served the interests of the white majority for centuries.

*377 Yet again, black/white disparities in economic performance over the nineties and 2000s, decades that witnessed the resurgence of the civic discourse which was championed by key classical liberal figures such as Sowell and Hollinger, direct us to speculate on how a return to the civic credo would possibly help minorities better integrate. The fact that African Americans continue to have lower income levels and higher poverty rates than whites means that commitment to the civic ethos alone was of very little help to them. Figures from the last decennial census illustrate the continuing socioeconomic discrepancies between African Americans and the other groups in a supposedly color-blind, free market system. The difference in income per household between the former and white Americans in 1999, for example, amounted respectively to more than $15,000--$29,400 and $45,400. Asians had the highest income, with $51,900 per household. Moreover, households with an African American/black householder (the census uses both terms interchangeably) accounted for 19.1% of households with incomes below $10,000. As for poverty rates, African Americans were over-represented in the poorest category, with 24.9%, compared to white Americans whose poverty rate was as low as 8.1%. At the time, $13,410 was considered to be the poverty threshold for a family of three with one member under 18 years of age. Considering that economic recession often more seriously affects African Americans than white Americans, economic analysts expected that the impacts of the 2009 recession would be particularly hard on this group. Unemployment, for instance, was expected to rise to an estimated 20% or more. Between 2000 and 2007, black employment and income already decreased by 2.4% and 2.9% respectively. But, while blacks in 2009 earned a bare 15 cents of every white *378 dollar, 30% of black households have “zero to negative net worth,” meaning that these households which are already living well under the poverty line are expected to sink even deeper in poverty. The black middle classes are, in turn, expected to decrease by 33%. There are a number of reasons why African Americans are more seriously affected by economic recession than whites. Lack of competitiveness as a result of inferior educational achievement is, as argued earlier, the most probable cause. However, to deny the responsibility of the free market environment for at least part of the problem is to ignore the existence of a culture that favors the groups that are already socioeconomically advantaged and that this culture is vindicated in the name of commitment to the civic ethos. The ultimate objective is to equalize the civic ideology with the free market ideology (which is inherently deficient because, as observed earlier, it favors the privileged over the less privileged), and therefore, if you criticize the mechanisms of the free market, you are accused of being hostile to the very principles of the civic ethos. This explains, to a large extent, why African Americans are often accused of anti-citizenship. They have nothing against the civic credo or identity. Their reservations are, rather, against the distortions made to the civic culture--the misapplication of the liberal standards so that they meet the expectations of the privileged groups. If this were not the case, how could one then possibly explain the fact that, in almost all markets, blacks are treated differently from whites, from having to pay higher prices for the same services to being sold low-quality products for the same prices?