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Nation & World

John McWhorter: How Welfare Went Wrong

Writer and linguist John McWhorter says that what's gone wrong in black America demands rethinking. He suggests that African-American leaders excuse problems like crime and poverty, instead of solving them.

He says he's not talking about a "drive-time, right-wing talk show idea that black people just need to shape up."

In some ways, he says, African-American community life was better in the 1920s and '30s -- an era of open racism.

"Of course, it wouldn't be paradise by any means," McWhorter tells Steve Inskeep, describing his notion of the pre-World War II era. "There was out-of-wedlock birth, there were gangsters, there were gangs, people were poor, they weren't happy... There was segregation -- people had to live in those ghettos."

Still, McWhorter finds "a certain coherence" in those earlier days. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he says, welfare became "a program that had no time limit," a situation that "brought out the worst in human -- not black -- but human nature."

"Welfare has ruined communities of other color too," McWhorter points out.

He sees hope in the wake of the 1996 welfare reform law, which he describes as "the most important civil rights legislation that had happened since the 1960s."

McWhorter is the author of 10 books, including Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America. He's also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

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