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My Turn: It’s about social capital, not race

For the Monitor
Published: 9/16/2017 12:10:05 AM

Ask the wrong questions, get the wrong answers. That’s a clear and straightforward maxim, but when people try to be socially fashionable, they tend to eschew clarity, diving deep into the murky waters of ideologies designed to misdirect and obfuscate.

The height of social fashion today is forging the words “race” and “equity” into a weapon to be wielded by social-justice warriors.

New Hampshire is 94 percent white. Yet there are those dedicated followers of fashion who think it’s a productive use of time and energy to talk about race and equity in the third-whitest state in the nation.

If you’re one of them, you’re in luck: Endowment for Health is hosting a symposium in October titled “Race & Equity in New Hampshire: Building Foundations for the Future.”

Of course, if you really want to build foundations for the future, you’ll skip the continental breakfast and breakout sessions and do, well, pretty much anything else.

Doing nothing is preferable to being coached into asking the wrong questions and acting on the wrong answers. Rake leaves, tackle an item or two on your honey-do list, help your neighbor with an item on his list – anything would be better than sitting in a conference room looking through the lens of “race and equity” at topics such as civic engagement, criminal justice, economic development, education and health.

Those topics seem benign. Where’s the harm in “a day of inter-generational proactive engagement” bringing together “Granite Staters from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds for a frank and deep dialogue about creating a more equitable New Hampshire”?

Let’s start with the premise – namely, that we have a problem in New Hampshire that can and should be bounded by race or ethnicity, and that “equity” provides a meaningful conceptual framework in which to solve that problem.

Ignoring the statistical challenge of sample size (we just don’t have many racial minorities), we should examine the issue of intent. The anodyne wording on the event’s website tells us we need to “address racial inequities and engage in a dialogue that includes the leadership voices of everyone,” to develop “genuine respect and appreciation for the contributions of our diverse community,” which “entails more than just tolerance.”

Here’s the money-quote: “It requires the creation of systems, policies and programs that support racial equity and fairness so that everyone can prosper.”

And there’s the harm. In a state where the “diverse community” is about 6 percent of the population, some people are pushing the laughably false idea that, if not for the scourge of racism and lack of access to the right mix of government policies and programs, everyone could prosper.

They’ve learned nothing from decades of costly failure of Great Society, War on Poverty and affirmative action programs.

Our challenges in New Hampshire – from more racially diverse cities like Manchester and Nashua to more monochromatic places like Franklin or Laconia – are not based on race or notions of equity.

The problems of our struggling citizens and communities are grounded in the loss of “social capital,” which crosses racial and ethnic lines.

In a recent article at Inside Sources, Leo Doran defines social capital as “the health of interpersonal relationships in American communities,” including the “strengths of public and private institutions like the family, the church and community organizations.” Doran writes that experts, from Robert Putnam on the left to Charles Murray on the right, generally agree that “Americans are increasingly isolated and unhappy,” resulting in the “weakening of the ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’ forces in society.”

Low marriage and high out-of-wedlock birth rates, drug addiction, less civic engagement and weaknesses in our school systems all contribute to our deteriorating stock of social capital.

The three simple rules for avoiding poverty – work hard and finish high school; get a full-time job; wait until age 21 to get married and have children, in that order – are more difficult to achieve for an increasing percentage of our population.

But here’s the key: The poor, regardless of race, are hardest hit by our social capital deficit.

Issues of race swirl around the national stage. But if we truly want to build solid foundations for New Hampshire’s future, we need to ask and answer questions germane to our state. Rather than segregating solutions by race, we should integrate our efforts to regenerate social capital by strengthening family, church and community.

If we do that, we’ll go a long way toward advancing opportunities and equity for all.

(Ken Gorrell lives in Northfield.)


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