I know I haven't been maintaining this blog on a very consistent basis, which I'm sure you're also aware of. Between work and other hobbies, I have let this site diminish to nothing more than an avenue through which I rant about random topics that come to mind and require more writing than Facebook or Twitter will allow. I'm fine with that, because the other day I had another conversation that inspired me to revisit this website.
Black people in America are generally undereducated, underprivileged, and underpaid when compared to the majority (read: white) race in this country. This isn't news, so I'll spare the statistics. However, there are various differences of opinion when we think about why things are this way.
Some black people feel that White America actively tries to keep us down in every possible aspect because they all secretly wish we were still slaves. Other black folks feel that black people's position in this country is due to their own failure to better themselves. These are usually blacks who are either upper- or middle-class and feel that no other black person should be given an excuse because, after all, if they made something of themselves, then why can't we all?
I look at both of these viewpoints as skewed and ignorant.
On the one hand, I don't think that every white person is a racist. And although I do believe that we suffer from institutionalized racism, I also believe that most white people don't even recognize it, because it doesn't affect them at all. To believe that every single inconvenience in your life is a result of racism is silly and will get you nowhere. On the other hand, to blame blacks for their own struggles without taking into account the multitude of factors influencing the Black American experience is just as silly. The person I had the aforementioned conversation with was defending this elitist viewpoint, and it led to an argument (debate?) that dragged on for a while until we both recognized that neither of us was going to convince the other and we both just gave up. But the conversation rubbed me the wrong way, so much so that I decided to write this post.
This topic of conversation reminds me of Obama's comments for which he received a good amount of scrutiny three weeks ago. When Obama said that people can't accomplish their goals without help, he was right. (The fact that some people were offended by this and failed to recognize that their success was influenced by the help of others further proves that many whites don't see the advantages that they receive, but that's another topic for another post altogether.) I think what bothers me the most about black people who look down on other black people is that they speak with an "I'm-better-than-that" aura that assumes that the blacks who "just don't get it" are a lost cause. I feel like we educated blacks have an obligation to figure out why we're in a better position instead of simply looking down at them.
Now, let's try to analyze a couple of stereotypical examples. First, let's take the 22-year-old black girl who has two babies by two different men. She has nothing more than a HS diploma and a minimum wage job, and she still lives with her mother. The elitist looks at her and calls her ignorant for failing to use birth control, calls her a bad mother, and says she needs to be smarter about who she sleeps with. However, could it be that she got pregnant twice because the importance of birth control was never stressed to her, neither at home nor in her community? Could it also be true that she only had the kids because she refused to have an abortion (which many pregnant white girls choose to do)? Did she grow up with a father? And if not, is it possible that she doesn't see fathers as a necessary part of raising children? Could she even be benefiting financially from having no father around? Furthermore, what example has her mother set?
Next, let's look at the HS dropout who involves himself in street crime and can't seem to stay out of jail. Again, the elitist says that he doesn't care about his future and that he shouldn't be afforded the opportunity to get a well-paying job, because his jail record indicates that he hasn't learned his lesson. When considering his lack of an education, do you think he dropped out because he was lazy, or because he didn't see any benefit in graduating? What motivation would an inner city kid with no collegiate influences have to even think that college was a reasonable option? Why did he and his peers think dropping out was OK, yet no one dropped out of the neighboring suburban HS? Why does his school lack the resources and programs that the suburban school has? Why is he involved in street crime? Does he just enjoy getting in trouble, or does he see it as the best option considering what is available in his neighborhood? Who are the biggest influences in his life: black professionals, or black drug dealers? Does he have a father? And if he eventually reforms, should every potential employer disregard him for the rest of his life because he has a record?
Now, I'm not saying that we should accept these situations for what they are. Neither is ideal, and obviously both present a number of problems. However, I think that young single mothers and uneducated thugs are often products of a system that lacks the proper structures necessary to make them successful. The fact that black neighborhoods and schools are often marginalized is no coincidence, and the impact cannot be overlooked. Personally, I was able to go to college, avoid having any illegitimate kids, and stay out of jail despite growing up lower-middle class. However, I also had a lot of advantages that a lot of other black kids don't have (both parents at home, opportunities to travel, educated friends & family members, positive experiences in school, etc). It would be completely short-sighted of me to expect every other black person to achieve what I have achieved, because many of them do not have the experiences that I was afforded.
We love to look at people who get caught up in these negative situations and call them "ignorant." Actually, that's the perfect adjective to use. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. I would argue that most problematic black stereotypes aren't just "lost causes," but instead are individuals who simply weren't shown a better way. It is impossible to "do better" if you don't think that "better" is realistic. Instead of blaming all of Black America's problems on the disadvantaged, maybe we should be doing more to help them. The quicker we realize that they are products of their environment, the quicker we can collectively point the finger at the real culprit: the governmental systems that allow these stereotypes to exist in the first place.