Home/Rod Dreher/The Charlotte Fallout

The Charlotte Fallout

This was once a small business in Ferguson, Mo. -- before the riots. Is Charlotte facing the same? (Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com)

I presume all of you have seen the news reports about last night’s rioting in Charlotte. Yesterday I asked in this space which of the related events in Charlotte is politically the most consequential, the shooting or the riots that followed. The second night of rioting, which culminated with the governor activating the National Guard, answers the question. There’s no question now that Trump will take NC in November (it had previously been a toss-up state). Depending on how long the riots go on, it can only benefit Trump. People may be troubled about cops shooting civilians, but keeping rioters from burning down one’s city it’s a far, far more elemental concern.

By the way, I think it is extremely foolish for the city to decline to release (absent a court order) dashcam and/or bodycam footage of the confrontation that ended with Keith Scott’s killing by police. If their hands are tied by NC law, then I hope a judge will order its release. If the footage confirms the police version of events — that Scott emerged from his car with a gun, and refused multiple orders to put it down — then that might do something to quell the rioting.

But probably not. This is pretty clearly not a riot as a protest against perceived injustice. People don’t loot stores and destroy other people’s property to make a political statement. They do it because they can. Yesterday afternoon, I saw this short essay on the website of Charlotte Magazine, reflecting on the first night of rioting. Excerpts:

A man drove a car behind the protest and cranked up the stereo system, blaring a track by the rapper Boosie Badazz, its chorus anchored by a line quickly picked up as another chant: “Wit’out dat badge, you a bitch-and-a-half nigga/F*ck da police! F*ck da police!” The protesters began pushing forward. The cops backtracked but held the line. The dance stopped after 100 feet. Things calmed a bit. Then people began taking the plastic bottles of water neighbors were distributing and using them as missiles—empty bottles first, then full ones. The bottles were tossed, then hurled, then, increasingly, fired. The cops still held the line.

The crowd began to move again. A few of the protesters had sticks now—big ones, three or four feet long and as thick as the fat ends of pool cues. “Where the bricks at?” a man remarked.  Another man, shirtless, with a blue bandanna around his mouth, tried to swipe a television news tripod, which a cameraman had left leaning against a tree. “Hey, hey!” the cameraman yelled, chasing after the thief with his camera on his shoulder.

The crowd began pushing forward again, seeping off the road and onto private property. The crowd grew edgier, restless. Gestures and words flew toward the blue line. As with most protests, it was impossible to tell who was there to exercise their First Amendment right to protest peacefully, who was there out of idle curiosity, and who just wanted to start some sh*t.

Boosie Badazz is from Baton Rouge. He is 33 years old, and has already done a stint in Angola State Penitentiary on a drug conviction. He was found not guilty in a murder trial. He has six children, and is not married. Fine, upstanding citizen, our Boosie Badazz, a real paladin of justice. Here is a 2010 video, filmed in Baton Rouge and released around the time he went to prison:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuiNG6yzDJs]

I think it fair to say that young men who look to the man who recorded and stars in that video as the voice of their inner rage are not eager to take a stand for justice, or to have their grievances redressed. They just want to start some sh*t.

The writer of the piece, Greg Lacour, also said in it:

It was clear in the aftermath that this had been a long time coming. Charlotte has polished uptown, built light rail, thrown up a few thousand new apartment complexes and mixed-use developments for affluent newcomers—and encouraged, or at least acceded to, an economy in which it’s harder than in any other large American city to rise from poverty, and a public school system that in all the ways that matter has resegregated itself back to the 1960s. Does anyone really need to spell out what we all know, that the majority of people who have thrived in Boomtown Charlotte are moneyed and white, and the majority who have suffered in the other Charlotte are poor and black? “The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” a portion of the crowd of 300 or so, nearly all black, chanted in the dark on Old Concord Road on Tuesday night, and they weren’t wrong.

Of what, exactly is “the whole damn system” guilty? I’m asking honestly. Lacour references this much-discussed 2014 paper by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, et al., in which they discuss their findings on intergenerational mobility in the US. Excerpt:

In the final part of the paper, we explore such factors by correlating the spatial variation in mobility with observable characteristics. To begin, we show that upward income mobility is significantly lower in areas with larger African-American populations. However, white individuals in areas with large African-American populations also have lower rates of upward mobility, implying that racial shares matter at the community level.

We then identify five factors that are strongly correlated with the variation in upward mobility across areas. The first is segregation: areas that are more residentially segregated by race and income have lower levels of mobility. Second, areas with more inequality as measured by Gini coefficients have less mobility, consistent with the “Great Gatsby curve” documented across countries (Krueger 2012, Corak 2013). Top 1% income shares are not highly correlated with intergenerational mobility both across CZs [“commuting zones,” or, generally, neighborhoods] within the U.S. and across countries, suggesting that the factors that erode the middle class may hamper intergenerational mobility more than the factors that lead to income growth in the upper tail.

Third, proxies for the quality of the K-12 school system are positively correlated with mobility. Fourth, social capital indices (Putnam 1995) – which are proxies for the strength of social networks and community involvement in an area – are also positively correlated with mobility. Finally, mobility is significantly lower in areas with weaker family structures, as measured e.g. by the fraction of single parents. As with race, parents’ marital status does not matter purely through its effects at the individual level. Children of married parents also have higher rates of upward mobility in communities with fewer single parents. Interestingly, we find no correlation between racial shares and upward mobility once we control for the fraction of single parents in an area.

So, the five factors: segregation, income inequality, school quality, social capital, and family structure.

In their research, Chetty and his colleagues found that Charlotte is one of the hardest cities to live in regarding upward mobility, just as Lacour says. But here’s something fascinating: they also discovered that the problem in general is local — that is, where you live is key. You might be thinking, duh, but don’t miss the point, which is this: the same set of factors observed at more or less equal levels can lead to a worse outcome in some places than others — even in places that are geographically close.

The worst places to live for social mobility are the South, and Appalachia. See this map based on Chetty’s findings.  In a subsequent paper, Chetty and a colleague found that this is actually a neighborhood-by-neighborhood thing, and that the longer a child lives in a bad neighborhood, the less his chances are of ultimately escaping poverty. This suggests that to be socialized in a bad neighborhood — that is, to absorb its culture — is a key factor in predicting adulthood poverty. In other words, a neighborhood where young men lionize and absorb the values of Boozie BadAzz is not a neighborhood likely to produce anything but poverty.

Here are some other key points from the Chetty paper:

Places with large black populations have less social mobility — but this is also true for whites in those places. Why? Because, they say, “areas with a larger black population exhibit greater income segregation.” The problem could be more a matter of class than race. Poor people of all races are more likely to live in ghetto-like conditions in these places, separated from the middle and upper classes. And, when Chetty et al. weighted for the other factors, race faded as an explanation. That is to say, poor white children born into single-parent households and who grow up in dysfunctional neighborhoods/societies, and go to lousy schools, are just as trapped in poverty as poor black children. It’s the Hillbilly Elegy story. 

The nature of local industry probably matters. That is, are there plenty jobs that make it possible for poor people with less education to rise? In Charlotte, the main (but not sole) economic dynamo is banking. The loss of an industrial base in the US, and with it a gateway to the middle class for the proletariat both black and white, plays a role.

The worst thing you can do for your child is raise him without a father. The researchers write, “The fraction of children living in single parent households is the single strongest correlate of upward income mobility of all the variables we explored.” I can’t find statistics for the number of single-parent households in Charlotte, but the most recent available stats from the US Census show that 35 percent of Charlotte is black.  Nationally, 66 percent of black children are born into single-parent households (versus 25 percent of non-Hispanic whites). This suggests that at least 20 percent of the children born in Charlotte are to black single mothers. With whites at 50 percent of the overall Charlotte population and 25 percent of the single-parent child rate, that adds roughly another 12 percent to the fatherless child rate in the city. Latinos are 13 percent of the Charlotte population, and 42 percent of Latinos nationally are born to single mothers, adding 5 percent or so to the single-parenthood birth rate in Charlotte. No doubt the actual stats are somewhat different, but if this is generally in the ballpark, that means more than one in three children born in Charlotte come into the world with the greatest possible strike against them in terms of upward mobility. And this is a problem that affects the black community more than any other. It’s not even close.

Social capital matters. Chetty et al. write, “Religiosity is very strongly positively correlated with upward mobility, while crime rates are negatively correlated with mobility.” I don’t know anything about churchgoing among Charlotte’s black community. Crime is easier to track. According to the Charlotte Observer, homicides are spiking in the city this year. More:


African-Americans were disproportionately represented among 2015’s homicide victims, although the ratio decreased from 2014.

While blacks make up about 35 percent of Charlotte’s population, 70 percent of the year’s homicide victims were African-American, a total of 44 people. In 2014, 76 percent of the homicide victims were black.

Putney said the numbers are even grimmer for black men.

“Black males make up 17 percent of our jurisdiction,” the chief said. “But they’re 63 percent of homicide victims, and 68 percent of homicide suspects.”

Putney said that reflects other disparities among the city’s crime victims. Blacks account for 52 percent of all crime victims, and for 62 percent of violent crime victims, he told city council in November.

Schools matter. Lacour says that Charlotte schools have resegregated. I don’t have stats on that, but it’s not surprising. This has happened all over the country. The question is, what role does that resegregation play in black isolation and hopelessness? And what prompts the resegregation? Is it solely a matter of white racists not wanting their kids to go to school with black kids?  That is, do middle-class white parents take their kids out of public schools to keep their kids away from black people per se, or does it have more to do with class and culture. I find it hard to imagine that many middle-class white parents would want their children to go to an all-white school where the predominant ethos among the students was towards beliefs and practices that exacerbate the likelihood that their children will fail to thrive socially and economically. Put more plainly, few middle-class parents of any race want their kids to go to school with Boosie BadAzz.

To what extent is that a factor in Charlotte’s schools? I don’t know. But it is unfair and inaccurate to say that white people (or any people) who refuse to send their children into a school where the culture is degrading are guilty of racism. In researching my Benedict Option book, I talked to Christian parents who pulled their kids out of public school not because of race, but because they did not want their kids acculturated by the values prevalent in those schools — even if the schools were predominantly white. I spoke to one orthodox Catholic mom who had been educated by the Catholic schools in her city, and who had made the decision that she was going to homeschool her children. Not only did she and her husband not want their kids acculturated by the public schools in their (predominantly white) area, but they didn’t want them acculturated by the Catholic schools either. She told me that having gone through those schools herself, she would fear for her children holding on to their Catholic faith if they were subjected to that kind of education. Does that make her anti-Catholic?

My point is simply this: as with the factors that go into reproducing poverty across generations, the explanation for why schooling in America has resegregated are not simple. To treat them as such is to choose to be ignorant for the sake of an emotionally satisfying narrative.

So: when we try to figure out why Charlotte rioted, and how to address effectively the problems that led to the rioting, keep in mind that the story is not as simple as black and white. It rarely is. In his great book Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance wrote about the structural explanations for why his people — Appalachian hillbillies — remain mired in poverty. But he also wrote about the cultural self-sabotage (bad habits, destructive ways of thinking, etc.) that kept them poor. Both can be true. And if both can be true for poor whites, why could they not be true for poor blacks?

UPDATE: And, here we are. Racist black mob descends on innocent white man begging for mercy:

UPDATE.2: Great reflection in the comments by Irenist (whose identity I know, and who has said to me privately and to readers of this blog that he grew up poor, white, and in a dysfunctional social environment):

We are often told we need to have “a conversation about race.”

That conversation should include the observation that 17% of the population of Charlotte is suspected of having committed 68% of the homicides.

Unfortunately, to openly acknowledge stats like that gets you labeled a “deplorable.” It seems like the only people willing to acknowledge such facts are the alt-right.

Moderate conservatives and people on the left must find a way to be able to confront such truths, or we will see more and more white voters turn to Trump, the alt-right, etc. out of desperation.

The “Vox” type sites list as a trait of “deplorables” that they think that black men are more violent. But the stats show that black men ARE more violent. Perhaps that’s because of the legacy of slavery, or red-lining, or the drug war, or all of the above. Many on the alt-right would claim it’s genetic.

Here’s the problem. If the only faction that will even admit that, statistically speaking, black men are more violent is the alt-right, then whites will start to listen to the alt-right. And the alt-right’s theory of where the greater average propensity to homicide and rape is coming from is that blacks are genetically inferior. And that view is gaining traction in the GOP and online.

If the left and the moderate right are to have any hope of getting whites to listen to alternative explanations for black violence rooted in socioeconomic deprivation, the history of structural racism, etc., then in order to get a hearing to do that, the left and moderate right must first acknowledge, and openly discuss, the greater statistical propensity to violence.

The video in the “update” is the sort of thing that the Derb was thinking of when he warned his kids in his infamous column not to allow themselves to be stuck in a large group of black people. If the only voices willing to talk to other whites about the reality here are voices like the Derb’s, then those voices–voices like Trump’s, voices like the online white nationalists, etc.–are going to command ever more listeners.

A generation ago, the left ceded the issue of crime to the Reaganite right. Is the left going to be too “triggered” to discuss American black male statistical propensity to violence openly, and again leave the issue of crime to the right–at a time when the right is no longer Reaganite, but instead Trumpian and proto-fascist?

When do we actually get that “conversation about race”?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

leave a comment

Latest Articles