Well here we are with a brand new year. What shall my first blog of 2014 be about? Oh I don’t know, how about race? I am concerned with what I see as a new push to blame the victim for many of the woes in the black community. The latest hypothesis is that inner city blacks (and probably other people of color, but I will stick with the blacks) are doing badly because they have bad attitudes, bad psychology if you will. They simply do not think right.
Those of you old enough will no doubt hear the ring of familiarity from the time when blacks were “proven” by scientists to have smaller brains and less intellectual power than whites. They were poor and slaves or servants because they simply did not, or could not, think right! Not much changes in the area of race does it?
In our PWI (Predominantly white institutions) many of my colleagues , black and white, spend their time grooming black students to be less black. This includes their speech, their dress, their manners, their personalities. These poor, well meaning souls actually believe that it is possible to make black students from their institution proof against discrimination and deprivation and lack of opportunity by having them pass for as close to white as they can. But, they have forgotten something, or never had anyone wise tell them, what my father told me when I was 12. “ You know what white people call a black man with a PhD? “ he asked me. “ No”, I replied.
“ A Nigger.”
He went on to explain that trying to make yourself over in the image of white people would get you nothing but a lack of respect from both them and your fellow blacks. My father owned his own business, was a jovial, intelligent man and made friends easily in all communities, but he knew that certain things were not fixable by education or position or even finances.
Unfortunately there is a thriving industry, usually under the guise of “leadership” where they teach black college students to be as white as possible. Not to fight for justice, not to insist on equal opportunity for everyone whether they are white are not, not to point out inequities and bias, no, talk like them, walk like them, dress like them, wear your hair like them, name your kids like theirs and they will love you.
No they won’t.
White people who need for you to be less black to love you are never going to love you. The ones who insist you not talk about race or ask questions about race because it makes them uncomfortable are not going to ever be your best friends.
There are plenty of white people who will like you even if you are more than a bit black.
Does that mean I espouse wearing a doo rag in the office and splitting a few infinitives? Of course not. But then the black people I grew up among did not do those things, nor have attitudes that were “ not thinking right” so presuming that you have to be white to speak properly or act properly or that you have to be trained to do so is fallacious. We were pretty sure we were black, that speaking standard English was the way people talked period, not just white people.
The danger is not in encouraging certain behaviors, it is the implication that they are preferable to “get ahead.” Instead of encouraging the students to examine why one has to act a certain way to get ahead, and who gets to decide and how come getting ahead only extends so far before your language, dress and demeanor can no longer make up for your brown skin is unfair and who made those rules and why, the PWI folks, black and white work to make their black students “fit.”
I never “fit” and my language is standard at least, my manners are quite good and I smile frequently and love all kinds of people. But, and here is the killer, I never could turn a blind eye to doing the wrong thing. If I saw someone, and it could be race, gender, sexual orientation, economic difference, being mistreated I howled. This was not smiled upon. I was told repeatedly in various ways, ” You are doing fine, do not attract attention to yourself by pointing out inequities it will make the oppressors mad! ” If I wanted my black students to get a shortcut to success ( and I did not have a conscience) I would tell them what I had posted on my office door. “ If you do not want to upset anyone, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
I am afraid what is happening at a lot of institutions and in a lot of research projects is an endorsement of that saying. Poor people in the ghetto are poor not because they have inferior schools ( who controls the schools?) not because they cannot get jobs ( who controls the jobs/hiring?) not because of white flight from the cities ( who controls white flight), not because the police do not police in their neighborhood allowing the development of criminal fiefdoms, ( who controls the police?)Even in the places where blacks have some power in cities they often to do not relate to poor blacks anymore than anyone else does who is not a poor black. I was fascinated when doing educational research to find that some of the people who did the worse job of teaching were people who had grown up in similar neighborhoods. They had obvious contempt for the inner city kids, I think in some kind of twisted need to prove they were not longer in that situation. So the black folks in power too buy the ” it is not the system it is the people who are broken” theory.
Lots of black folks have made lots of money by following that path. You can get very rich by ignoring social justice and working for economic gain for yourself alone. Particularly if you do not piss off any white people. Oddly enough that is probably the same theory most slaves operated under. I guess things don’t change and all chains are not around arms, but some are around brains.