Happy Monday, friends.
This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, and now the time has come.
Over the summer, a young teenager named Mike Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police. That event sparked weeks of protests and protracted violence that was extensively covered by the news. Yesterday a black actress was allegedly mistaken for a prostitute, and, according to her, wrongfully detained. Nearly every week there is a story about a black person being oppressed, or unduly suffering through poverty, police brutality, lack of education, and diminished economic opportunity. A spate of thinkpieces periodically pops up with the expected hand-wringing and the question, what is to be done?
Rarely do I see pieces written by black writers that suggest solutions for the deep-seated problems that plague the black communities in America.
The surface reason for this is somewhat intuitive: blacks are not only a minority in numbers, but also in professions such as journalism. There are exceptions such as superstar Ta-Nehisi Coates, but generally speaking there are few black voices, and even fewer who outline practical solutions. You can’t have a solution to a problem when it’s never your fault.
The second, deeper reason for this, I believe is the mentality of black victimhood. Though oppression of blacks was not perpetrated by blacks, I think that blacks buy into their own perceived helplessness and do not do enough to make waves that cause actual change.
What do I mean by this?
I’ve found black movements, on the Internet and in real life, to be largely reactionary. Every time a young black man gets shot, an outpouring of rage follows, accompanied by sympathetic editorials by white authors, and then everyone gets bored and moves on, until the next shooting. And the next.
But Marjorie, I hear the voices protesting, you just don’t understand black people.
Don’t I? My father is black. I’m from Brooklyn and Washington Heights. I’ve worked for members of Congress in Harlem and I’ve campaigned for black candidates. I’ve also worked low wage jobs in East Harlem where the whitest things in the store were the sweaters we were folding. My perspective doesn’t come from safe within an ivory tower. It comes from living among black people, and living with a black man who practically had a weekly special on How the White Man Tried to Screw Me Over and That’s Why I Can’t Get a Regular Job.
I’ve had black people tell me that they don’t vote in local elections because only the presidential elections are important. I’ve listened to college-educated black Democrats tell me that the reason why they and other blacks voted for Obama is because of the color of his skin. I’ve watched black parents spend money they don’t have on clothes and sneakers and gaming consoles and then complain that their kid can’t get a decent education. I’ve seen black women dress like backup dancers in hip-hop videos to job interviews and wonder why they can’t get an office job. I’ve seen flyers in offices commemorating the death of Biggie Smalls, a rapper who lay down some tracks, rather than for Malcolm X, who laid down his life for his beliefs.
And then when injustice strikes, as it inevitably does, it’s because of racism. No. Black America has its head up its ass. This does not make the tragedies anyone’s fault, but it is why I believe nothing changes.
Racism exists, but so does the power of community and personal responsibility. The immediate generation after slavery saw incredible prosperity in the black community and the establishment of the black middle class. Was there incredible racism? Sure. But somehow, blacks were more dignified and prosperous in spite of it. More on that in another blog post.
Ditch the television. Save the money on the sneakers. Stop complaining. Vote every chance you get. Every school board election, primary race, state senate race, mayoral race. There is strength and solidarity in unity. Don’t beg for justice. Expect it. Demand it. Teach your sons what their rights are when dealing with police. Teach them to behave better than the racist bigots. Help them to finish school and/or get a lucrative skill. Encourage the men to marry the women they have children with. Teach your daughters that they are worthy of a commitment before they bear children.
Oh, there goes another compassionless conservative, blaming the victim, the voices say.
Is that so? In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations“, he quotes the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, a black man, and a Democrat, telling young black men to pull up their pants and stop making babies they can’t afford. Coates dismisses this quote, because it doesn’t fit into the liberal narrative that blacks are being screwed over at every turn. But the fact remans that three out of every four black children are born out of wedlock. The statistics speak for themselves: children who are born to married parents, regardless of color, have better lives. The parents don’t even have to be educated. As long as the parents have finished high school, are married to each other, and wait until after marriage to have children, the kids have a two percent chance of growing up in poverty.
Coates is a truly gifted writer. There is no disputing that. I do, however, dispute Coates’ ability to run a city. My guess is that Coates is not willing to consider that the long history of black underachievement has not only to do with racist policies, but also the ignorance and defeatist attitude that plagues the black community.
Personal responsibility knows no party. If black Americans want change, we have to fight for it. Is it fair that we have to fight? No. But the alternative is living as we are now: blaming everyone else, and watching helplessly as black men ages 16 to 40 are killed and imprisoned, further destroying the black family and unraveling the fabric of black society.