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Washington — Dick Lamm, a former governor of Colorado, recently said that blacks and Hispanics are more victims of their own culture than of a discrimination that undeniably exists. You would have thought he called for a second Holocaust, considering the reaction his remarks elicited.
The head of a Latino community group called him “a hard core racist.” Gary Hart, a former senator and presidential candidate, is quoted as going nearly as far, saying the fellow Democrat’s statements appeared to “condone sophisticated kinds of … racial characterization.” A state legislator accused Lamm of “demonizing.”
The leader of a Denver ministers alliance called the remarks “appalling,” and the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League said they can lead to “greater prejudice rather than to greater understanding.”
A Denver official told a newspaper he was “outraged” that “someone would be so open with a sense of bigotry and extremism.”
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., told another newspaper Lamm’s words “belittle” Hispanics and blacks.
One or two people have piped up in the press in Lamm’s defense, but in the face of the verbal bombardment that has greeted a Vail speech based on a book he wrote, the main thing Lamm has going for him is far more important than a few voices of support or the narrow-minded, inquisitorial, anti-intellectual, ad hominem, speech-squelching, politically correct blather he has mostly encountered.
It is also true that blacks and Hispanics have high rates of dropping out of high school and low rates of graduating from college. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude — as Lamm does — that one explanation is that large numbers of them did not grow up in the same culture of learning as the Jewish and Asian children, that they did not hear over and over again that education is crucial in this life?
The point is not that all people in any given group will have precisely the same set of cultural values instilled in them, but that you can make broad generalizations that help explain inescapable statistical facts about different segments of American society.
The point is that, if you talk about these issues openly, you may be able to change some of what is emphasized in the raising of children and thereby afford them economic and other opportunities that would otherwise be elusive.
Nothing in this thesis alleges an inherent inferiority or superiority in any group, insists that other factors such as discrimination cannot possibly be at play in success and failure or suggests that the groups faring poorly should be unfaithful to a wide range of enriching and even ennobling ancestral traditions.
Strip it down to the essentials, and the idea is merely that a variety of behavior patterns, traits and attitudes acquired from family and community can have an enormous impact on what happens to you as you go through life, no matter what racial or ethnic group you happen to be a part of.
Deny this, and you deny a mighty part of what both the social sciences say and common sense tell us. You deny something as plain as the nose on your face, and you do something worse. You get in the way of change that could make the lives of literally millions of people far better.
(Posted on August 9, 2006)