I think that, as people in the current era, one of our biggest issues is our inability to consistently work with people who think differently than we do. It seems like our fear and hatred of the “other” and its effect on our way of life trumps any impulse for community or empathy. That fear may be best showcased right here in the American political sphere, a world where it seems that every vote for a liberal idea is a vote against a conservative one, where every ad seems to be an attack ad, and where the best way to isolate yourself from the support of your party is to show some sort of sympathy or understanding for the ideas of the opposite aisle. Though it’s wrapped in data and personal anecdote, Jason L. Riley’s Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed is a book so shaped by the fear of the political other that it offers no real solutions, making it harder for everyone to succeed.
Perhaps my biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t really offer any help of its own. As indicated by its title, Please Stop Helping Us goes into detail about how liberal agendas and political policies have held back black American progress since the Civil Rights era. Riley’s data, gathered from sources like Ivy League economists and well-known historians, concludes many typically-liberal policies hold Blacks back from improving their state in life by attaching them to the government teat. Alongside his criticisms of liberals he calls out a lack of accountability for Black people themselves, highlighted by his quote from prominent CNN anchor Don Lemon who asks blacks to “stop having children out of wedlock, finish high school, respect where you live, stop using the N-word, and pull up your pants.” I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many conservatives to disagree with those points; to Riley’s credit, much of his information appealed to me as a liberal and a black man, too. I just wish he’d spent less time talking down liberals and instead suggested solutions for the problems he saw, because I can’t very well suggest his material for study otherwise.
Riley’s book reads like a giant finger-point, at liberals, at Democrats, particularly Obama, with no realistic actions suggested. Maybe that plays to his point, as he quotes Frederick Douglass’s call for whites to do “nothing” for blacks during the era of slavery. But data is just data; for just as many economists and historians you can find to claim that minimum wage hurts people you can find others that claim it helps. If improving the lives of an entire community of people was as simple as saying “stop having children out of wedlock and pull up your pants,” those things likely would have happened years ago. But in each chapter, whether he talks about affirmative action, voting rights, welfare, or any other topic, Riley stops short of suggesting viable alternatives to the current state, instead just calling out the implied stupidity of liberals. The only solution anyone could see proposed in this book is a revocation of every liberal policy he criticizes, as if the sudden freedom from the chains of government would propel black Americans to new heights unforeseen.
Rhetorically, “stop helping us” might be a nice sentiment, but realistically there’s so much more complexity to the issue of helping any group of people improve its lot in life that it’s actually an insult to think there’s a simple solution. Taking away welfare doesn’t feed the children already born to rough situations. Revoking the minimum wage and letting Walmart set up shop in underprivileged neighborhoods doesn’t teach employees to read or gain other skills they may have missed from quality education. And letting kids go to charter schools in other areas doesn’t handle transporting kids to and from those schools, or building communities in those underprivileged areas.
It’s great to think that stopping the help will solve problems, partially because it means that nobody has to do anything other than wait for the troubled to either fail or pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But if, in fact, there’s an entire community of people wanting to help blacks become successful, then the best option is to leverage that help for the betterment of everyone. Now, more than ever, disparate groups of people need to learn how to work together, to learn together, and to respect each other.
Please Stop Helping Us, unfortunately, doesn’t reach out to the liberals who might learn from ideas contained within, nor does it inspire conservatives who already subscribe to those theories to work with anyone other than other conservatives. It pretends that, like both factions pretend in the political spectrum, that the only problem with the world is the presence of the other group. Eradication, not cooperation, is the focus of not just this book, but much of modern discourse as a whole; until creating viable, cooperative solutions become the focus of our energies, the anger and dissatisfaction expressed by Jason’s book and others like it will continue, and that will be no help at all.