The Sequence of Life
I finally got around to seeing the latest Marvel super-hero epic, Black Panther, which, given its box office success, many of you probably have already seen. The movie features Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther otherwise known as T’Challa, King of the reclusive but wealthy African nation of Wakanda. But the purpose of this essay is not to review the movie. If you want a movie review you can find 55 very favorable reviews on the Metacritic website. My purpose is more about the potential impact that this movie may have on the black community. T’Challa, as portrayed by Boseman, is an admirable person, well spoken, educated, honorable and many other superlatives.
What’s more, King T’Challa is surrounded by a bevy of very admirable black women including his mother, his sister, his fiancé and his general (some of the other men in his kingdom are not quite as honorable but movies have to have some drama). These are heroes and heroines that young black boys and girls can look up to and, hopefully, follow.
My interest in writing about the impact of the movie was kindled because on the same day that I saw the Black Panther in the movie theater, I had read a very interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Wendy Wang with the title of “The Sequence” Is the Secret to Success. Dr. Wang is the Director of Research at the Institute for Family Studies.
The Sequence she describes is the path to adulthood comprised of education, work and marriage before children. She and fellow researcher Bradford Wilcox reviewed the income levels of Millennials that followed and didn’t follow “the Sequence”. A majority of the Millennials that failed to complete any of the steps of "the Sequence" were poor. Poverty rates dropped as each step of "the Sequence" is completed. The poverty rate for Millennials that had completed all the steps of "the Sequence" was only 3%. "The Sequence" also worked for Millennials from low-income families and minority groups. Young adults from low-income families that followed all the steps of "the Sequence" had a poverty rate of only 6% compared to that of 35% for their peers who had missed one of more of the steps. The problem is that low-income kids are twice as likely as kids from better-off families to not follow all the steps and are more than twice as likely to have children outside of marriage.
Dr. Wang had started her op-ed piece by referencing how she grew up in China and noted that only 4% of children in China are born outside of marriage and that "the Sequence" of education, work and marriage was the path to success in Asia. She then smugly closed her piece by asserting the US could “learn a thing or two from the wisdom of the East”.
But the US knows "the Sequence" very well. Here we call it Middle Class Values. Growing up in the Mid-West in the fifties as I did, these Middle Class Values were accepted wisdom of how to live your life. That was the lesson taught to us by the Greatest Generation and it led to the great success of the Baby Boomers. So what happened? Why are Millennials expected to be the first generation of Americans that will not be as well off as their parents’ and grandparents’ generation?
A while back, University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Amy Wax wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer (along with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego Law School) under the title ”Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture”, which stated that the ills that beset America today are the result of a departure from the Middle Class Values that had been so successful. The Middle-Class Values she enumerated in her article were education, hard work and marriage before children (i.e.: "the Sequence").
Professor Wax also had the temerity to express the opinion that all cultures are not equal and that some are not well suited to modern society. Hippie counter-culture may be fine for a small section of the population but they, like Thoreau on Walden Pond, are basically mooches living off the productivity of mainstream society. The black community’s rejection of Western (white) culture and its Middle Class Values has not served them well. As Jason Riley, a black journalist, noted in a recent podcast, the black community made greater advances economically and socially in the first half of the twentieth century – despite living under the Jim Crow laws of the South - than they have since Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty and the myriad of other welfare programs supposedly created for their benefit.
For her temerity, Professor Wax has been excoriated by the progressive left including by many of her academic colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania. Despite all their talk of multiculturalism the progressive left hates and fears the Middle Class American Values that have brought prosperity and happiness to so many Americans including those of color who have adopted those values. The actions of many black leaders and politicians (as well as leaders of other minority groups) seem designed to maintain their people as victims rather than lifting them up.
At the end of the movie, King T’Challa and his sister travel to inner city America in order to use Wakandan riches to open a cultural center for the benefit of the inner city inhabitants. If they encourage them to adopt Middle Class American Values such as "the Sequence" then they will have a chance to make real change.
We have allowed the left to undermine our ability to raise our children and grandchildren according to Middle Class American Values. We need to reject the multiculturalism and identity politics of the progressive left and proudly assert our Middle Class American Values. Because they work.