I know from experience that I'm going to upset some folks by saying this, so brace yourselves: Marriage is very important and beneficial to the raising of children, but there's little evidence that it fights crime.
I bring this up in response to the sincere, well-meaning readers who say that we won't be able to do anything — anything — about urban violence until we reverse the decline of marriage in African-American households.
I'm as troubled as any other concerned black parent about the rise in out-of-wedlock births in black America since the 1950s. But I am even more troubled when I hear people who should know better try to lay every social problem, including the nation's current gun violence debate, at the feet of single-parenting — as if nothing else mattered.
Heather Mac Donald, a writer and analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, helped set this tone in a widely circulated 2010 essay in City Magazine on black-on-black violence in the Chicago neighborhood where Barack Obama famously worked for four years as a community organizer.
Her conclusion: Obama and “decades of failed social policy” in crime-plagued low-income neighborhoods on the city's far South Side “ignored the primary cause of their escalating dysfunction: the disappearance of the black two-parent family.”
For those who read down far enough, she does mention that Obama is aware of the problem. She quotes his call for cultural change in a widely covered Father's Day speech in Chicago during his 2008 campaign.
That's the speech, you may recall, that upset the Rev. Jesse Jackson as too condescending, although most black voters didn't seem to mind.
Mac Donald wants more than that. She dismissed Obama's “bromides about school spending, preschool programs, visiting nurses, global warming, sexism, racial division, and income inequality.” Such spending will be wasted, she said, until poor black Chicagoans curb unwed pregnancies and stop the “culture of illegitimacy.”
I believe quite the opposite, that we can't expect to see much of a turnaround in out-of-wedlock births as long as we have rising educational and income inequality — and not just in black America.