President Obama announced last week a new race-based initiative, My Brother's Keeper.
According to the White House, the program will coordinate government agencies and private foundations to help young men and boys of color. "Of color" basically means blacks and Latinos. In fact, it's pretty obvious the program is aimed at young black men.
This fact has invited some conservative criticism. The Weekly Standard's Terry Eastland notes that the program is likely unconstitutional. Doling out benefits explicitly based on race is generally a no-no, according to the Supreme Court
Even more frowned on: discrimination against women. The program will categorically exclude women and girls. In 1996, when the court (wrongly, in my opinion) ordered the historically single-sex Virginia Military Institute to admit women, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled that blanket sex-based discrimination requires an "exceedingly persuasive justification."
For me, My Brother's Keeper meets that bar. The statistics are gloomy and familiar: 1 out of 15 black men is behind bars; 1 out of 3 can expect to be incarcerated at some point in his life.
The simplistic talk about how this is all the result of white racism misses the scope and nature of the problem. The vast majority of interracial violent crime is black on white. But most violent crime is actually intra-racial (i.e., black on black or white on white). Still, blacks are far more likely to die from homicide; half of murder victims are black, which may partly explain why black men in prison have a higher life expectancy than black men out of prison. And this leaves out all of the challenges -- educational, economic, etc. -- facing black men that don't show up in crime statistics.
Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, also thinks the program is unconstitutional because there is no "compelling" government interest here: "It may be that a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos are at-risk, but many are not, and many whites, Asians and others are. This is just another kind of 'profiling.'"
Yes and no. Obviously there are at-risk youth of all races, but the problems facing young black men are so disproportionate, the difference of degree becomes a difference in kind. Yet, I also think Clegg is obviously right that this is another kind of profiling.