Tuesday, December 27, 2005

White People This, Black People That

If there's one thing about coming home to Detroit that I can always count on, it's that the issue of race will more than likely rear its head up sooner rather than later. I believe it took about a day for the first inkling to be heard, and by Christmas Day, it was white people this, white people that. It gets to be so tiring to hear it, but I have to ask myself, is it perception or is it truth? And does one person's perception of the truth make it invalid or not? Is it real or not? I just don't know anymore.

Let's start off first by saying that if you get a chance to read Bob Herbert's New York Times op-ed from today ("A New Civil Rights Movement"), he brings up some interesting points. (Hopefully Truthout will pick up the op-ed and rescue it from the behind the New York Times selectwall.)

Herbert starts off his op-ed thusly:

One of the cruelest aspects of slavery was the way it wrenched apart black families, separating husbands from wives and children from their parents.

It is ironic, to say the least, that now, nearly a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation, much of the most devastating damage to black families, and especially black children, is self-inflicted.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that some of the most serious problems facing blacks in the United States - from poverty to incarceration rates to death at an early age - are linked in varying degrees to behavioral issues and the corrosion of black family life, especially the absence of fathers.

Another devastating aspect of slavery was the numbing ignorance that often resulted from the prohibition against the education of slaves. It was against the law in most instances for slaves to even learn to read. Now, with education widely (though imperfectly) available, we have entire legions of black youngsters turning their backs on school, choosing instead to wallow in a self-imposed ignorance that in the long run is as destructive as a bullet to the brain.
Herbert essentially says that many of the plights of blacks today are self-inflicted wounds, particularly "behavioral issues and the corrosion of black family life," and choosing to "wallow in a self-imposed ignorance," when it comes to the issue of education.

OK, Bob, you've hit on some very raw, vibrant and essential points. And luckily, Herbert acknowledges that a large portion of the black population is not poor and are leading productive lives. At the same time, he goes on to say that millions are being left "out in the cold, caught in a cycle of poverty, ignorance, illness and violence that is taking a horrendous toll."

Yep. I see it in Detroit. I see abandoned houses, boarded up, on many city streets. I see the signs of poverty everywhere, mixed in here and there with middle and upper-class affluence. I see my adopted sisters and brothers trying to grab the golden educational ring, but are struggling to make it academically. Not necessarily because they are 'wallowing in a self-destructive pattern' regarding education, but mostly because they weren't given the proper tools to survive academically in the first place. Partly that's a matter of were they came from, and how tough it is to play catch up by the time they got to my parent's house. You stop trying after a while when it becomes too tough, especially if you're a teenager dealing with those precious hormones.

Anyway, Herbert goes on to sound the clarion call, that there's a crisis in the black community, and though racism is still rampant, he believes that...much of the suffering in black America could be alleviated by changes in behavior. What's more, those behavioral changes would empower the community in ways that would make it easier to successfully confront opponents in government and push the society in a more equitable direction.

I'm not quite sure about this last point. I really want to believe that one could empower the community from the inside and therefore force the outside community to work in a more equitable fashion, but I think part of the problem is that there are too many black folks who believe that nothing, not one thing in the system is going to give them a break in order to rise up and stand on their own two feet. And I believe that there are too many white people who are tired of trying to mollify and understand the black community anymore. Either side is just about fed up with each other. (Of course, this is just probably because I've been beaten down this week with issues of white and black... it always happens when I come home.)

I've had to listen to my dad this week say numerous times that he doesn't understand why Detroit is ranked the poorest city in the country, when everywhere you look people have new cars. He actually said that it might be a conspiracy because white folks are always trying to keep black folks down. I don't know. I look around and see a poor city. He looks around at the city he's been in for fifty years and sees great things, every where.

Yet my niece is home from college, and she believes that she almost failed a class (after getting good grades from every other teacher, and good grades from this class as well) because of possible racism. Her school is pass/fail and her teacher thought of failing her because she mistakenly placed a period outside of a parentheses in a final term paper. I don't know, I wasn't there, but the school is in Milwaukee, and I've heard time and again how segregated and racist that city can be. Was it racism? I have no idea.

I have a friend I went to high school with who can't stand the Mayor of Detroit. And yet my father thinks he's great. Both are black, with different viewpoints of what would make a good Mayor of Detroit. My dad, bless his heart, basically said that only the white folks were for the current Mayor's former opponent, so I guess, if you voted for the opponent and you were black, you were actually white.

Or something like that.

I can't say much about any of this. Truthfully, I'm a bit too lightskinned to really get involved. Does that sound crazy? You bet it does; you bet it is... but once you've been accused of being a honky, an oreo, a white girl, a sell-out, a whatever, believe me, you just don't want to be called those names again. My views are basically that everyone sucks and needs to step back and stop the bullshit and start all over again. I'm tired of blacks crying racism and I'm tired of whites being racist. Chicken or egg, which comes first? Plus, I like alternative rock too much.


Bob Herbert ends his op-ed by proposing a new civil rights movement summit. (God, please let it be with different leaders... uh... did I say that...? well Bob sorta says the same thing...):

The problems facing black people today are comparable in magnitude to those of the Jim Crow era of the 20th century. There were leaders in those days who were equal to the challenge. I believe that nothing short of a new movement, comparable in scope and dedication to that of the civil rights era, is required to bring about the changes in values and behavior needed to halt the self-destruction that is consuming so many black lives. The crucial question is whether the leadership exists to mount such an effort.

A good first step would be a summit meeting of wise and dedicated men and women willing to think about creative new ways to approach such problems as crime and violence, out-of-wedlock births, drug and alcohol abuse, irresponsible sexual behavior, misogyny, and so on.

Addressing issues of values and behavior within the black community should not in any way imply a lessening of the pressure on the broader society to meet its legal and ethical obligations. It should be seen as an essential counterpoint to that pressure. (emphasis added)

Most important, it should be seen as a crucial component of the obligation that black adults have to create a broadly nurturing environment in which succeeding generations of black children can survive and thrive.

Despite the sometimes valiant efforts of individuals and organizations across the country, we are not meeting that obligation now.
And that's because there's a vacuum where our leadership should be.

Oohhh... you go, Bob. You know you gonna catch some flack for that...

I was just speaking with my mother and my nephew, and my ma brought up a good point. The world can throw you a lot of curveballs, a lot of hassles, a lot of turmoil, but mostly it's how you deal with all those curveballs, hassles, and turmoil that separates you from those who make it, and those who don't. If you don't have the will inside of you to better yourself, there is no amount of work that anyone can do to make you push yourself. If whatever forum Mr. Herbert is talking about can address the essential problem of self-motivation and will to power, then that's a good place to start. Though how you teach and instill motivation and will without sounding hokey or authoritative, I just don't know.

And how you teach these things with the generation of leaders we have now, I just don't know either. It is time for something new. The leadership vacuum is immense and it's not going to be filled by some Baptist Republican with a "you are all sinners" speech. Nor is it going to be fulfilled by black Democratic Mayors who are either so firmly ensconced in the monied community (black or white) or so firmly ensconced in a self-perpetuating mythos of the "white man this, the black man that" sensibility as to be locked into a neverending cycle of recrimination.

Who is going to fill the void... well, I just don't know that either.

And that's the problem. I just don't know. Do you?

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