One Black Hand Clapping

Have you ever heard the sound of one hand clapping? That's the sound I seem to hear from those who should be celebrating wildly now that the venerable National Urban League has issued the cheeriest assessment in years of the state of black America, an assessment confirmed by other recent findings.

The white-black income gap is narrowing. The percentage of blacks living in poverty is falling. Blacks are the only group whose inflation-adjusted median income exceeds what it was before the last recession. The black unemployment rate is down. So is the murder rate.

Life expectancy is up. The percentage of 25-29-year-old blacks completing high school is the same as that for whites. And blacks' verbal SAT scores and those on similar tests are rising faster than whites'.

As if this progress weren't remarkable enough, those who feared the Supreme Court's invalidation of racially gerrymandered congressional districts would decimate the ranks of African-American members of Congress were proved wrong.

The only black member who did not regain his seat in a reconfigured, whiter district was one who believed his own apocalyptic press releases and chose not to stand for reelection. Even ultraliberal Cynthia McKinney was reelected with a stunning 59 percent of the vote in a redrawn 65 percent white Georgia district.

Black victories in whiter districts were not simply a demonstration of the power of incumbency, as sheepish victors claimed the morning after. A newcomer won in a majority white district in Indiana.

But despite these signal socioeconomic and political gains, the reaction of the black establishment and its liberal white allies has been, well, understated, to understate the case. It reminds me of the legendary undertaker, the only guy in town who's disappointed when the paper says the death rate has dropped.

Black leaders have taken pains to show that, far from being half full, the glass is really half empty. Millions of African-Americans remain in poverty, they remind us. Unemployment, crime, drug abuse, and dysfunctional family life are all too common in the black community. And racism is a real and present danger, even in those executive suites, dean's offices, and union halls where people aren't stupid enough to verbalize and then tape-record their prejudices.

That's all true, unfortunately. But isn't there cause for at least some celebration?

To be fair to the party poopers, it's probably tough to wear a happy face comfortably when there's egg all over it. Clinton's election and reelection to the contrary notwithstanding, the '90s have been a decidedly conservative period. There's every reason to believe that the foreseeable future will be even more so.

Balanced-budget amendment or no, government spending has been slowed, notably in the social services area. If not by 15 percent, taxes are being cut. Welfare as we have known it is ending. Minority preferences are on the way out.

And, still, the state of black America is dramatically improving. Texaco and the polarized reaction to the Simpson verdict notwithstanding, race relations on the whole are getting better, not worse.

But to salute these salutary developments would be to call into question the traditional black spin doctors' stock-in-trade prescription for what ails black America - even more government spending and perpetual minority preferences.

Conservatives, especially we black ones, so long pilloried by the black establishment and its sympathizers for pollyannaism, now have irrefutable facts to buttress our claim that the conservative tide in America does lift all boats.

Clark Kent Ervin is assistant secretary of state of Texas.

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