Paul Ryan and the Language of the Disaffected

So, for some reason, Representative Paul Ryan has spurred a lively national debate about race, racism and poverty. Some people have labeled his comments as racist; some people have labeled him as an unfortunate truth-teller.

Last week, Paul Ryan was a guest on Bill Bennett’s radio show “Morning in America” where he discussed, among other things, conditions that create poverty conditions in much of the country. During a part of the interview, Paul Ryan noted that:

“we have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have called out Paul Ryan; Congresswoman Marcia Fudge stated that Paul Ryan should be “ashamed” of his comments; Congresswoman Barbara Lee casted the comments as a “thinly veiled racial attack.”

However, National Review Online argued that “Paul Ryan Is Right,” noting in their blog that “for speaking a true thing that must never be said, Ryan was ritually denounced as a racist by such inspiring figures such as Representative Barbara Lee.” If we assume as Ryan’s critics do that “inner city” is a synonym for “black,” then consider the facts: Unemployment among inner-city men of all races is estimated to run roughly twice the national rate, while unemployment among black inner-city men in cities such as Milwaukee and Detroit has been estimated to exceed 50 percent; 71 percent of working-age white men are in the labor force, but the corresponding number for black men is only 63.6 percent — and going down. New York City manages to graduate barely half of its black male students from high school — and among high-school dropouts, two-thirds reach the age of 26 without ever having held a full-time job lasting at least one year. And perhaps most significant, the vast majority of blacks are born out of wedlock. You could not come up with a more effective system for producing poverty if you tried. If Paul Ryan is a racist for criticizing those conditions, what shall we call the people who run New York City’s public schools or those who govern Detroit — the people who help create those conditions?”

But there is more going on here – and it warrants a different discussion.

An “inner-city” is not by any means a homogeneous one; inner cities are racially, ethnically, politically and culturally diverse. As such, there are many within the inner-city that agree with Paul Ryan; just ask many single-mothers and others who, with their own eyes, view the excess of inner-city men as unemployed, unemployable, lazy and lost. These are men who they bore children with; they are men who, among other things, do not show-up for PTA meetings. These are men who have done stints in prison, who they see every day at the corner all dressed up with nowhere to go.

This segment of the inner-city wants more for themselves, and for their children. They do not believe that it is impossible to get a job, be responsible and take care of oneself, family & children – And, it is to this segment that the intent of the Paul Ryan analysis quietly appeals to. Not to be ignored, however, is the intent of any elected official, including Paul Ryan, which is to gain voters – and this inner-city bloc represents opportunities to gain new and future voters. For, as children of this potential voting bloc are reared by a parent, parents, or family members, their political ideology is cultivated and affirmed, potentially creating a new pipeline of ideological adherents and lifelong voters.

While many may understandably dismiss the Paul Ryan analysis as well crafted spin for self-haters and potential Republican voters in the inner-city, it does something more if looked at carefully: it speaks the language of the disaffected.

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