Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Killing blacks softly with their dirge.*

Let us agree from the outset: We do not, any of us, want to see one more black child shot in the face in reprisal for his parents' missteps in gang culture. We do not want to see any more black adults shot, either. Nor do we want to see blacks in disproportionate numbers suspended from schools, or incarcerated, or otherwise denied the multifarious blessings of our American society. At the same time, I am sick to death of hearing all of those ills, and others, blamed solely on white society and the enduring legacy of "America's original sin," slavery. Not only do I think we've reached a point where we must stop such talkReconstruction was a very long time agobut I'm quite sure it's counterproductive, as it gives young blacks a ready-made excuse for poor performance...a morose mantra to keep repeating to themselves. The worst kind of self-talk. This is analogous to my objections to the fundamental theme of Alcoholics Anonymous, as enunciated in SHAM: When you tell people that they're victims of an incurable disease, have you not made them feel like helpless victims and thus undercut the empowerment with which you're supposedly imbuing them? 
Even if there's a kernel of truth to it, why reinforce their inclination to descend into martyrdom? Mention it in passing, perhaps, and then move on to what they really need to know to do better.

This is why I get so impatient with the likes of literati darling Ta-Nehisi Coates or CNN's insufferable, one-tune Sunny Hostin. If nothing is the black man's fault, then whence the black man's motivation to pull himself up by his bootstraps? If it is always white America who bears the blame, then wouldn't that also make the problem white America's to solve? All we succeed in doing via this kind of thinking is altogether disenfranchising the black person, each individual black person, from any personal stake in his/her own outcome. 

(Interestingly enough, when blacks excels, we give them all the credit. We're only stingy when it comes to apportioning blame.)

That's why I'm so annoyed about this article that I recently came across on Pro Publica. Again here, it is the gun (and the lack of national action on gun control) that accounts for inner-city crime...not the black hand holding the gun. Just as it is racist teachers or uncaring administrations who are responsible for all those black kids who are suspended (or who, later, drop out of college), and it is maleficent cops, juries and judges who are responsible for mass incarceration. To listen to Coates and Hostin, or even slightly less histrionic black columnists Leonard Pitts Jr. and Clarence Page, you'd think no black dude ever actually held up a liquor store or shot up a rival gang hangout.

The federal prison system has its well-document DEA-based problems stemming from the infamous Crime Bill, but state prisons are not full of young men who were caught with a joint! And if blacks sometimes do receive harsher sentences for "the same crimes" committed by whites, research suggests it's because they arrive for sentencing with two or three priors. That makes a difference, folks.

You know, every single day in the American court system, people of all hues are found guilty of violent crimes despite horrific personal circumstances that are far more immediate and personally relevant than a three-centuries-old legacy of slavery. I've said this before, but look at Charlie Manson's upbringing, or the bio of so many violent sexual predators, and tell me that the contextual factors in their coming-of-age had nothing to do with their turning out as they did. But we've made a compact with ourselves as a society that people, especially felons, must be held individually liable for their actions. We can't incarcerate society or their parents or their siblings or the nasty SOBs who bullied them in the schoolyard.

If you transgress, you are responsible. And you must face the punishment. We accept this as it relates to white perpetrators.

It is long past time to take that same approach in dealing with black America. Yes, as that video of the killing of Laquan McDonald appears to show, we have a policing problem. And yes, as the video of that cop hurling that teenage black girl off her chair suggests, there are issues of fairness in schools as well. Few would dispute this. White privilege is real. But there are also issues with blacks themselves, and some of those issues are factors in the prejudices that blacks may encounter from teachers, cops and others in positions of authority. There are factors in the way too many black kids are raised, and in the peer pressure too many feel to reject supposedly white conventions like education, proper grammar, etc., and in the need (among some black youths) to be loud and lewd and rebellious and even belligerent...all of which we too often are wont to dismiss as "cultural differences." The girl who got tossed from her chair, after all, refused to get off her cell phone despite repeated requests, and also gave lip to both the teacher and the (overreacting) officer. Whether or not that's a cultural difference, it is also an unacceptable level of defiance that speaks poorly of her prospects going forward. That self-defeating nonsense must stop. And leading black voices must come out and say so, instead of reaffirming ancient resentments and effectively teaching black kids to be contemptuous of white society and its conventionas Coates, notably, does in his book, Between the World and Me, which he frames as a letter to his son. God help us all.

If #BlackLivesReallyMatter, such considerations must be a part of any legitimate "dialog on race" that leading black voices and the liberal elite keep calling for. Or else we'll still be trying to have that dialog on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and beyond. 
* If you don't get the reference, Google Roberta Flack and "greatest hits."

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Steve, please tune in to Tim Black's show,
here, 9pm eastern most nights. It streams live and you can also watch later. On YouTube. My heart breaks over how polarized people have become. Glad to see you still blogging! Difficult conversations must happen or the kind of change we want to see will not happen.