by Yvette Carnell
Probably the most insidious aspect of modern racism is its transition from overt to subterranean guerrilla warfare. It is sometimes good to remember that in the war to win over hearts and minds, we haven’t a clue where we are in that battle, since people rarely say what they feel. Except in 1955, one woman said exactly what she meant:
This headline from a 1955 issue of Jet Magazine read, “White Mother Calls Negro Children Embarrassing”:
This is an actual story from the 1955 issue of Jet Magazine.
What does that article mean? Well, for one thing, it means that this idea of a post-racial American is a brand new phenomenon, born of the idea that a black president is payback to Negroes. It’s not. And historically, it’s probably time that African-Americans begin taking the long view, remembering that it wasn’t even a century ago that stories like this were common place.
Over the past few years, I have offered scathing critiques, mostly of Obama, but sometimes of the black community as well. I still agree with most of them, especially where leaders and legislators are concerned, but as I see people ratcheting up blistering smears of black “dead beat dads” and teenaged “twerking” baby mamas, I think it’s important to remember that we’ve only been free in this country for less than a hundred years.
Maybe we should do better, but the question remains, better than what? Fifty years after the March on Washington, African-Americans are largely assimilated into American culture, for better or worse, and even though systemic racial disparities still exist in this white supremacist structure, we’ve done as good as anyone could have expected, given the historical racial barriers in this country.
But if I’m to guess what ‘doing better’ actually means, I’d first answer in the negative, exploring what ‘doing better’ is not; doing better doesn’t require an excoriation of kids wearing saggy pants. ‘Doing better’ requires a reassessment of our government’s responsibility in continuing to neutralize racial variance with targeted legislative and executive action.
For example, The Great Recession has been tumultuous for every demographic, but the banks who engineered the housing crisis, from Bank of America to JP Morgan, allegedly targeted African-Americans with sub-prime loans. Some of these banks paid fines, a slap on the wrist here, an apology there, and moved on.
One thing is true: The impact of our government continually allowing blacks to the be the guinea pig du jour for every white boy scam imaginable puts us under heel, back at zero to predictably begin again. Our collective two step toward equality, two steps forward, one step backward, is being orchestrated by hands that aren’t exactly invisible. And it’s certainly not the case that the black community lost the majority of its wealth because girls are twerking and fighting on World Star.
Let me be clear: I’m not promoting twerking or fatherless families, but we have to do a better job of connecting the dots. When you see a black girl twerking in front of a smartphone, do you see the context? Does she live in the projects, without any access to capital? What is on the horizon for her? What’s possible? What are her options? Does she have parents who care… a father who cares? And if she doesn’t, why’d dad leave? Did the welfare system show him the door? Did poverty break him down? Or did suffocating poverty force his hand? And is the consequence of that decision that he now languishes in a jail cell for 20 years to life? You can ask those questions. Those are serious questions.
Casting blame on people who are powerless at turning the wheels of government, however, is a useless exercise. Giving a good verbal thrashing to the twerking girl or the boy with the saggy pants may make you feel superior, but you are whistling in the wind, taking up the mantle of white supremacists everywhere by pathologizing black behavior.
Go to any trailer park in the U.S. and you’ll see much of the same behavior that you see in urban ghettos. In fact, ghettos all around the world have more in common than not. Ghettos are petri dishes for replicating failure, they excel at demonstrating what happens whenever people are left to fight for scraps.
Back to the headline: “White Mother Calls Negro Children Embarrassing.” Now the same article could be written with the headline, “Black Community Calls Negro Children Embarrassing.” That’s not progress. That’s co-opting white supremacy and making it your own.