The Underlying Cause of Black American’s Unrest

It is imperative to look beyond racism, poverty, and police over reaction for the actual cause of Black American’s unrest. Of course, we are all angry at having unarmed Black Americans killed by police or anyone else. The litany of killings of unarmed Black American men is inexcusable. Racism and violence are horrific and demean us as a society. However, given the reasonable anger at police brutality, it is really poverty that is the overarching cause of Black American’s unrest. But fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, what is the underlying cause of Black poverty in America? The circular answer is racism. No serious person doubts that racism is part of the cause of Black poverty. The recent police actions and recent political maneuverings to limit Black voters both speak to unresolved racism in America.

Nevertheless, the problem is more complex than simply racism. The great majority of American people are not racists. The underlying problem that has caused Black American unrest and poverty is education. We all know that the federal government has spent an enormous amount of money on education attempting to target poverty children, who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic, to improve their plight. This effort over fifty years hasn’t closed the gap between Black and Hispanic student test scores and those of White and Asian students. It has become clear that adding money to poverty schools doesn’t equalize learning. There is no silver bullet in education that magically equalizes test scores of children of poverty families with those of middle class families.

Earlier, I pointed out that the underlying cause of Black unrest is education. But if using educational funding to compensate for poverty hasn’t worked to equalize test scores, how do we utilize our education system to solve poverty in America? The answer is that we have tried the wrong intervention in our education system with federal dollars. We have focused entirely on attempting to raise test scores. Since test scores are our sole criterion for success of education in America, this approach makes sense. However, it can now be agreed that compensatory education hasn’t worked and we need a better method of using education to solve this immense societal problem.

The remedy is to reinvent our education system to value non-college bound children. We can reconstruct our high schools to offer career academies that graduate ninety-five percent of our students. The single criterion of a high graduation rate would begin to change poverty in America all by itself. In addition, career academies provide a skilled workforce. And we need a skilled workforce right now. The economy is growing, baby boomers are retiring, and jobs are coming back from overseas. By creating a skilled workforce that includes Black and Hispanic youth, they will be able to fill these jobs and make a decent living. The improved self-esteem of these career academy grads will result in eliminating unrest, mixing races in the workplace, eliminating gangs, and substantially reducing poverty, crime, teenage pregnancies, as well as reducing incarceration and its associated costs. Over time, as we put more people who previously wouldn’t be in the workforce to work, they will spend their salaries and actually increase the American economy and create even more jobs.

When, over time, we use high school career technical education to eliminate the underlying cause for Black American’s anger, their economic integration into American society will resolve their unrest. When Black and Hispanic American populations reach income parity, their K-12 test scores and college graduation rates will rise to the same levels as White and Asian students. Eliminating this underlying cause of a lack of technical work skills will enable people to obtain and keep good jobs. Oh, and yes, one of the career academies that must be implemented all over the country is opening many high school police career academies to ensure a future flow of Black and Hispanic police officers.

Addressing the root cause of Black unrest is to create real change in their economic situation, which is the ultimate solution. It will take leadership over time to change American high schools into career academies. This reform is not a highly visible big time political event. It will require effort and coordination of different levels of government and the business community. However, once the underlying cause is addressed, Black people will live in a more just society.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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