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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Race in America

It would be foolish to claim that America is a nation united these days. We thought we were after 9-11, but that has receded pending the next terrorist attack. Since then, we have slipped back into our everyday political and social differences, such as the divide that exists between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Since we are an ethnically diverse nation, we are far from being united in this area as well. Often, it seems as though we Americans are made up of competing tribes fighting over our fair slice of the American pie. Virtually all of our ethnic minorities have faced struggles and discrimination over the course of our history. The group that suffered the most in our history has been our African-Americans, first starting with slavery, the darkest chapter in our history, then post-Civil War segregation and discrimination, leading to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Since then, things have improved dramatically for our black citizens in terms of exercizing their basic rights. Indeed, America has been transformed so dramatically since the 60s, that I doubt any other society could have made such an achievement. Yet, all is not well in Black America today. Without neglecting the issues of other minorities, I would like to focus on the state of black-white relations in our country today. I should state at the outset that mine is the opinion of a white male in his 60s. Having said that, my thesis is that the troubling state of affairs in black America is something that must be addressed and solved by blacks themselves.

Let us start with a basic question. Is America a racist country? Since I am 62 years old and remember the Civil Rights Era, I would state unequivocally that America was a racist country when I was growing up. Segregation in the South was enforced by local laws, while discrimination was practiced on a more subtle scale in the rest of the country. The N-word was used commonly in all-white company, especially by teenagers. So much of that has changed in the last 40 or so years. Yet, many, if not most African-Americans feel that racism is still a big problem in the US, and that the system is stacked against them. Charges of racism are frequently made against individuals or institutions by other individuals or institutions like the NAACP. In response, many whites say that racism charges are often imagined or fabricated by blacks to gain an advantage or quiet criticism or disagreement. What is the truth? In my view, America is-in 2007- a country with many racial issues-but not a racist country in the mold of Nazi Germany or South Africa under Apartheid.

I have often heard black spokespersons say that America needs to have an open and frank dialogue about race. I agree wholeheartedly. However, I would add that we have been having a dialogue ever since the 1960s and the Civil Rights Era. That dialogue has had a consistent theme: that whites have committed many injustices against blacks, beginning with slavery, and continuing with segregation and discrimination. To that point, whites can only agree-because it is true, and nothing can justify that part of our history. In that regard, American society has done its proper duty in educating new generations about this fact, much like the Germans have done in educating their youth about the Nazi era (at least since the 1960s). In addition, in my view, our country has gone to great lengths to remedy that past with programs such as welfare and affirmative action (which, in the opinion of many including myself have had negative consequences for black America). Yet, any observer of the American scene can see that black America is not in good shape. Any trip through a large American inner city will tell you that.

As we all know, in spite of progress and the rise of an educated black middle class that has been able to overcome poverty and racism due to the opening of numerous doors, the black inner-city seems to have been left behind. There are gangs-deadly gangs, guns, drugs, crime, schools that cannot hope to educate because of the problems that their pupils bring with them to the classroom. There has risen a culture among black youth that education and speaking standard English are for "white people". There is the insidious influence of hip-hop music, whose lyrics often use foul language, defame women, defy authority and glamorize drug dealing and violence. Many of the rappers themselves are horrible role models for youth since they often live the life style they rap about-in many cases since they grew up in that life-style themselves.

Then there is the problem of single-parent families. The illegitimite birth-rate among American blacks today stands around 70%. In the worst days of Jim Crow, that figure was about 25%. In the opinion of many, including libertarian radio talk show host, Larry Elder, himself African-American, this is the single most serious problem-the root of all the other problems. But how is it that as Civil Rights has progressed and many blacks have seized the new found opportunities, that this number has risen so dramatically? I am not sure, but could it have something to do with the massive welfare state that was created by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, a system that actually discouraged having 2-parent families? I have to assume that Johnson's intent was noble since he was the man who pushed through the Civil Rights Act that will always be his monument. However, as we know, good intentions can often lead to bad results.

This leads to an important point. The problems I have listed above cannot be simply blamed on white racism and discrimination. They may be a part of the legacy of slavery, but these are unique problems that have mostly taken hold since the Civil Rights Era. Yes, there are white drug dealers-every nationality and ethnic group has its drug dealers, but being retired from DEA, I am not aware of any black drug user who obtained his drug from a white dealer. Yes, there are white music executives (and black) who are involved in hip-hop music, but the music also appeals to all ethnic groups. Nevertheless, it is created and performed almost exclusively by black artists. What I am trying to say is this: These problems that exist in black communities have been created by blacks themselves and only blacks can solve them. White people can not solve them. The Government cannot solve them. Blacks-at the grassroots level- I mean family, church and community must take responsibility and deal with these issues and leave the charge of white racism out of the equation because white racism is one of the least of the problems that blacks in America face today. It pales in comparison with the problems listed above.

Yet, the so-called black leaders in America are still fighting the battles of the 1960s. I am talking about the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, the Louis Farrakhans, the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP, a once-great organization that has devolved into nothing more than a branch of the Democratic Party. To them, everything is white racism in action, and only because of their leadership can blacks avoid being put back into chains. Most of these figures only concentrate in rooting out that last great white bigot hiding under the bed while paying scant attention to the problems they should be addressing. Much easier to convince today's black Americans to buy into the victim mentality (which has become fashionable for many in our society-across racial lines.) It is their way of holding on to power. The last thing that they want is for the notion to take hold among African-Americans that they can succeed in America based on their own talents and work. Of all the ethnic groups in America, it is African-Americans who arguably have the worst "leadership". I put the word leadership in quotation marks because I question whether any ethnic group in our country needs a "leadership". Many blacks would agree.

In recent decades, whites have been reluctant to confront people like Jackson and Sharpton. Why? Well, for one reason, there is white guilt, which is real. Another reason is that whites are afraid of being called "racist", a charge which can destroy one's career or even life. People like Jackson and Sharpton and others know this full well and will not hesitate to use the charge, either to carry the debate or silence critics. Fortunately, some folks have gotten weary of the tactic and will not allow that charge to stop them from making their point. Similarly, many black conservatives, who have rejected the tired old arguments of the traditional black leaders, have to stand up to charges of being an "Uncle Tom"-a sellout to whites. Just think of the grief that people like Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Condoleeza Rice, Michael Steele and Clarence Thomas have had to endure for their independent thinking. It is scandalous.

I want to say a word about "Hate Crimes" here. Being a retired law enforcement officer, I tend to think that there is something inherently unconstitutional about "Hate Crime" legislation to begin with. Under our law, we punish the act, not the thought. Why a person commits a crime-their motive- goes to proving guilt. It should not be part of the charge itself. It is the substantive act that matters, and it is that act that should be punished under the law. Another problem is that "Hate Crimes" are being charged selectively, basically when a white person commits an assault against a minority or gay. When whites are victims, hate crime charges are rarely applied, in spite of the fact that this kind of assault happens frequently. (In fact, black assaults upon whites are much more frequent today than the reverse.) It is hardly constitutional when a statute is applied selectively according to the race of the victim and perpetrator. But it is happening today in America. We have seen recent incidents like the current controversy in Jena, Louisiana, where a white student was put in the hospital after an attack by a group of black students. (To be fair, there are side issues to this story, such as white students hanging nooses from a tree and the question of unequal prosecution.) About a year ago, a group of white girls in Long Beach, California were savagely attacked by a mob of blacks. (Hate crimes were in fact charged, but the punishment was ridiculously light.) The point is that these types of crimes are wrong regardless of the race of the victim or the perpetrator, but it is undeniable that whites have been singled out by blacks for assault because of their race, something that many, including our news media, would like to slide under the rug. Does this mean that some blacks are also racist? Some would argue that only the "Oppressor", namely whites, can be racists. I disagree. When Al Sharpton calls Jews "diamond merchants", that is racist. When Jesse Jackson calls New York "Hymietown", that is racist. If you want to hear racist diatribes, listen to the words of the leaders of the New Black Panther Party, most notably its chairman, Malik Zulu Shabazz.

In concluding, I wish to go back to the idea of having a "true dialogue about race" in America. We should, indeed, have it. But any meaningful dialogue must get past the litany of charges of past discrimination and include the ideas and complaints that whites have as well. It must be stated that whites fear black crime and violence, that we dare not travel into black communities. It must also include the statement that we are weary of continuously being called racists if we disagree with the "black agenda" or dare to criticize someone like Jackson or Sharpton. We also feel that there is a double standard for controversial statements on race. Also, as I stated above, we should have the courage to tell blacks that they must accept responsibility for their own individual failures and the problems that plague their communities. Only they can effectively deal with them.

Finally, let us not forget our history, but whites cannot be blamed for every problem that afflicts black America today. More than ever before, we all need to come together, rejecting those that would divide us. That the problems that plague black America be overcome is in all our interests as a nation and as a people. The dialogue must be open and frank on both sides. Whites should not be hesitant or afraid to speak frankly. After all, I really believe we are not the enemy.

9 comments:

Anti-Racist Blog said...

Very enlightening.

The Uppity Negro said...

I know you wrote this before Obama's speech on March 18th, but I think he's the only one who has legitimately acknowledged that there are issues that both whites and blacks have that need to be acknowledged and fairly talked about.

Usually, we don't listen to or read what we hear in soundbytes because our senses are so violently offended when we hear it. Most white people will never attend Operation PUSH's Saturday morning services in Chicago because of what they perceive Jesse Jackson to be; many whites will never tune into Al Sharpton's radio talk show because of what they perceive him to be, and the same goes for a Jeremiah Wright. Many have already perceived them to be anti-white (although just because I'm pro-black doesn't mean i'm anti-anything else).

The same holds true for me, I probably won't ever read a book by Shelby Steele and I certainly don't listen to a Pat Buchanan. Now I do watch FoxNews, which was a big step for me and I yell at the TV everytime I watch it though.

I guess what the issue for me is context. We all fail to put things in context and in perspective--when I step into a white man's shoes, I'd probably agree with what you wrote 110%. But, when I step into the shoes that I'm already walking in, then I have some issues.

Nothing really big, but I have a definition of racist/racism, and that implies that one has the power to act on their prejudices and that there is a feeling of superiority involved in that as well. I'm not convinced that Jesse saying "hymietown" was him feeling superior to Jews and trying to assert that superiority over the Jewish community. But again, that's one statement for Jesse Jackson--shall I call the role for Bill O'Reilly or Pat Buchanan.

Granted there is a lot the black community can do for themselves (please understand that I'm ONE black person speaking from MY perspective, and I speak for NO OTHER black person in America), there always exists the fact that blacks have to work twice as hard just to get half as far. Is it really a young black child's fault that the school they go to is/was in the midst of a public housing development, but the school depends on property taxes for funding, therefore they have far less resources with which to get ahead? So having to deal with not enough books in the classroom or deal with not being able to take the books home, but yet and still be required to pass the same standardized test that other kids (black, white, latino, asian and otherwise) who just happen to go a better school. So does it all boil down to personal responsibility of the child and parents suffering through the disparities or is this where the government (be it city, state or federal) needs to step in and say something needs to be done?

This was a nice sanitized version, of your reality. And I think you acknowledged that by saying your the product of 60's, so is my mother, she was born only a year after you, but the two realities of life are vastly different.

Gary Fouse said...

As for Obama's speech, your point is well taken. Let's face it. Obama is walking a thin tightrope. On the one hand, he wants to keep those white voters who see him as some sort of healer. On the other, he doesn't want to alienate more militant black voters (for lack of a better term.) If he throws Wright completely under the bus and leaves his church, he loses a lot of support there, doesn't he?

You are mostly correct about Jackson and Sharpton. At least Sharpton will go anywhere and debate his point of view with anyone. I respect that part of him. Jackson will not do that.

As for paragraph 4, as I stated, we have different perceptions on the state of affairs today. Your point regarding your mom is right on because almost certainly her experiences are different from mine-and probably yours as well.

I may not agree with you on your definition of racism. I know the argument, but today we can all act out our racism to the detriment of others-if nothing else through violence. As for being in a position of power-along with the changes we have seen, as minorities rise into government and corporate America, the chances for them to discriminate will grow proportionately.

Yes, the disparity in schools is obvious, and, in that respect, people in poorer neighborhoods are at a disadvantage. It's a chicken or the egg situation, but if there were no socio-economic disparites, then the neighborhoods would be equal and the schools would be equal wouldn't they? Yet, it is education that should be the cure-all for our disparities. If I had the answer, I would be collecting my Nobel Prize about now. At any rate, the government sure has intervened trying to solve the problem-with lots of money and lots of regulations (No Child Left Behind). I don't see a lot of results.

The Uppity Negro said...

I think when there is only one U.S. Senator out of 100 who is black, two black govenors (one by default) out of 50, and only four black CEO's of Fortune 500, then I fail to see the big rise and blacks being in position to discriminate.

And my hope is that those who get those positions are qualified and have ethics. After growing up in Chicago, and watchin nepotism at its best with the Daley's I could really care less, my problem is that when you discriminate and pick the people you want, but they're totally unqualified for the job--regardless of race.

Not saying that education would be the panacea for all of our problems, but I am MORE than convinced that equality in education would go a looonnnnnng way in helping this situation. Frankly, I think the No Child Left Behind Act, as I know about it, was a pretty damn good idea, but again, it did nothing but exacerbate existing problems. By using test scores as an incentive for schools to do better to open up for federal funding. Well, again, the problem exists that if the school was underperforming as a result of a lack of resources, NCLB acts as a double punishment for not receiving money to adequately change the situation.

Also, another thing as far as education is concerned, we expect school districts and principals to go into these deeply troubled schools and work a miracle in one school year. Of course these miracle stories happen, but they are few and far between. In real life how do we expect teachers and administrators to change and shap the conscience of these young children AND attempt to educate them to what the state and the city requires?

Gary Fouse said...

I don't disagree with your point, though minorities are certainly rising up through the ranks in government.

NCLB seems to have a fundamental weakness in that schools can fool with the tests, scores and grades in order to qualify for $$$, what do you think?

I agree that schools and teachers cannot be fully blamed for all the issues tghat pupils bring with them into the schools. They can't be miracle workers.

Chicago??!!- Yes, you are absolutely right that the city has a long tradition of corruption that transcends race. Daley-Washington, whatever.

If only they could fix it so the Cubs could win a pennant.

The Uppity Negro said...

Now come onnnnn....there has been absolutely NO shred of evidence that even remotely suggested that Harrold Washington was involved with any corruption. I personally think that if he had been, you wouldn't have had white alderman climbing up on their desks at city council meetings trying to hold up proceedings--because then they would have had some dirt on him.

Now, as far as some of the other city alderman/women--yes, it transcends race, white, black, mexican, italian, puerto rican etc.

Gary Fouse said...

OK, Fair enough, I should have left Washington's name out of that sentence (notwithstanding the failure to file income tax deal). I think it's fair to say he was divisive and controversial etc. but I will retract any reference to corruption.

I do remember watching him make a complete fool out of himself on TV at a Dem convention, jumping into an interview with his political opponent, Ed something or other. I was really turned off.

But you must admit, Chicago politics has never been anything to write home about. Kind of like its baseball teams. (I am a frustrated Cubs fan).

The Uppity Negro said...

Whoa...hold up!!!

Now I draw the line at Harrold Washington. If divisive is defined as having a Bernie Epton use a campaign slogan "Vote for Bernard Epton...before its too late." Or having to withstand Nigger written on the doors of the places he spoke. The only division that was done, was by the white citizens of Chicago.

Secondly, there was a substantial amount of white voters who voted for him, the black vote alone would not have garnered him the guarantee of the Democratic Nomination.

Thirdly, he was re-elected and ran against a young states' attorney with the last name of Daley.

I mean, Ed Vrdolyak (sp?) was the nutcase that stood up on his city council desk and held up parliamentary procedures. It should be no shock that Washington would respond to Vrdolyak in such a way. And clearly, as we see from Hillary, tax evasion is not even remotely a sign of corruption.

And yes, I'm pulling the race card on this one. The controversy on opposing Washington on nearly every single issue he tried to bring up in his first term, I'm convinced was intricately tied into racial issues and tensions.

Honestly, it seems to me (and I could be wrong) that you're suggesting that Washington's mere presence caused controversy. I mean he said in his acceptance speech that "it will not be business as usual" much to the chagrin of Jane Byrne who was standing right there. And to deny that there was a definite racial undertone to the initial campaign would be plain blindness and ignorance to the blatant truth.

Gary Fouse said...

Since you are a native of Chicago, and I am not, you are much more knowledgeable than I. I don't know who Bernie Epton was, and know next to nothing about Ed Verdolyk (sp?)

Would it be accurate to say there was a ton of infighting between Washington and other Chicago pols? If you want to make the case, that Washington was 100% the good guy, I have an open mind-I can be convinced.