We have to look beyond Baltimore to learn why Baltimore is burning.

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You’ve probably heard the findings of a now oft-quoted study claiming, “Poor teens in Baltimore face worse conditions than those in Nigeria.”

The important thing to take away from this study is that it focused the teens’ own self perceptions of their well-being, not on any quantifiable or external or “objective” evaluation of it.

What drives those perceptions? With such focus in this country on getting good test scores, I have to think that the teens in Baltimore are among the least well-educated, in terms of real-world knowledge of relevant history and ability to form a self-supporting world view, of all the groups polled, including New Delhi, Ibadan (Nigeria), Johannesburg, and Shanghai.

One thing they do learn, however – from their distance of 40 miles from the center of the world’s superpower in Washington DC – is the utter disparity between what they themselves might reasonably expect to achieve in their lives, and what those in power 40 miles away, and their families as well, might expect to achieve. Or not even to achieve, but to be handed, with no effort required. It’s not hard to understand the sense of futility they must feel.

This doesn’t justify the current situation. But I don’t think it’s a simple question of right vs. wrong. The wrongs are not only here, in Baltimore, tonight. The wrongs are far more widespread than that. Until those wrongs are remedied, we’re likely to see other Baltimores and Fergusons cropping up across the country with increasing frequency. At some point, it’s going to sound pretty fishy for the world to say, “We don’t know what would make them behave in this way.”

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