29 September, 2007

Race and Culture

Though I'm a complete Caucasian (Anglo-saxon/Norman descent), I've spent my life in close association and deep friendships with people of a great variety of races: from the inner-city L.A. black kid to the fellow high school student from Thailand who associated with the King, to the Hispanic roomate (who swore like a sailor--in Spanish, of course!) and my mother's near-lifelong best friend--my "second mother"--who happens to be Black. All are/were special and amazing people in my life.

And so, although I find myself much at odds with Juan Williams' politics, I often find myself cheering his pushback at what pop culture is doing to Blacks and where it is leading Black children today, particularly young men. The lesson they have lost is that we are products of our environment, but we are not required to spend our lives passively shaped by that environment. "Culture" is not destiny.

I'll never forget the inner-city kid I mentioned above. His mother sent him away to a religious boarding school on a local church scholarship, an attempt to keep him away from the gangs after his law-abiding father stumbled across a drug-deal-gone bad and was murdered. He grew up hitting the floor during drive-by shootings, raised by an iron-backed woman who practically willed his survival (a ready paddle assisted). He earned respectable grades in a challenging high school and was vice-president of his racially-integrated class, gained a partial scholarship to college, married a great woman, and was a certified respiratory therapist last I heard.

So, I get pretty upset at people who act as if poor Blacks have no options and are simple victims of racism or their environment. And in reading Juan Williams' defense of Bill O'Reilly (accused of racism) that veered into related matters, I wanted to stand up and cheer:

But this is an attempt to take down O'Reilly and dismiss anyone offering him support — me. This is along the lines of telling anyone who calls attention to the excesses of hip-hop culture a "self-hating" black man and skewering anyone who dares to say there is a crisis in black America because of the high dropout rates, high crime rates and high out-of-wedlock birth rates.That is what happened to another well-known Bill, Bill Cosby, after he spoke out about the self-destructive images and behavior in the black community.

The critics want to shut up Cosby, O'Reilly, me and anyone else who points out the crisis in black America. They want anyone who dares to speak publicly about problems in black America to fear being called a racist, if they are white, or a "Happy Negro" if they are black. They want silence so they can continue to make money by distorting black life and allowing black on black murder rates to climb along with the black dropout rate and the black poverty rate.

The critics want to paralyze efforts to help those locked in poverty and too often in a criminal culture where acceptance of drug use and violence becomes acceptable. They don't want black people to be known as Americans with a long distinguished history of patriotism, reverence for education and a willingness to fight for America's ideals — justice for all — despite the harsh facts of slavery and legal segregation.

As I told the children I taught in the poverty-stricken schools where I worked, where percentages of white students were counted in the single digits: "No, it's not fair. You do have the deck stacked against you. But you can beat it; it's all about how bad you want it. Are you going to let the racists and naysayers control the course of your life, or are you going to chart your own path and stick your finger in their eye when you succeed?"

And the same thing that Juan Williams discusses in his essay is what made me regularly want to throw something through my TV screen after I started teaching those children. To this day, I can barely tolerate the sound of rap, a style of music that I had previously connected with one of my favorite high school memories.

P.S. For those who have told me I am too hard on myself when it comes to achievement and coping with the situations in which I've found myself for the last year-plus, the above should explain a lot. I don't know, but it might even explain this post, if I look at it from a generous point of view.

Okay, back to my busy weekend...