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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Growing Up Black

If you're African-American, you may not want to read this. Only because white guys are not allowed, as mandated by some unwritten code, to talk about you. So go elsewhere, just for today, because I have something to say about black America.

I can't help but feel pity for young, black youths trying to make their way into our world today. Not because of any obstacles erected by white America; most of those were removed many years ago. The barriers of the 21st century have been created - and are fiercely guarded - by the black leadership in this country. Jesse Jackson. Al Sharpton. Kweisi Mfume. Julian Bond. The NAACP.

They all deliver the same message to black teenagers around the USA. "Racism is, and always has been, a fact of American life and you will not succeed because of the institutionalized racism that exists and is promoted by - pick one: (a) white America (b) the Republican party (c) the United States government (d) all of the above." And like that 24 hour a day radio station that broadcasts all-the-news-all-the-time, the leaders of black America have one monolithic message and they will, whenever invited to appear before a camera or a Congressional committee, drive home that one message - all the time.

Of course Sharpton and Jackson and that bunch refuse to talk about, or even acknowledge, the rather large - and expanding - black middle class. They prefer to "dance with the one what brung ya." Racism. Bigotry. Persecution. Lack of opportunity. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Can you imagine being sixteen and black in, say, Detroit. Like all teenagers, you're trying to figure out what it is you are supposed to be doing with the rest of your life; where you fit in in this wild and crazy land known as the USA. Jesse Jackson will, if it doesn't conflict with his appearances on CNN or with the dinner parties thrown by Hollywood celebrites, come to your High School to lay out for you the cold, hard reality that you will not be able to succeed, no matter how hard you try, in this white world of ours. Racism. Bigotry. Persecution ...

Why try?

Too many don't. So today we have a nagging problem with black male unemployment and black male incarceration and black teenage out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And crushing inner-city poverty. Can anyone doubt it? You will not be able to succeed.

Only just recently have I heard and read about black leaders - heroes - coming forth in an attempt to reach out to our black youth and to send them a different message: The opportunity is there. Seize it. It is up to you. There are, for sure, barriers. And some ugly white people who still can't get past your skin coloration. But you can make it - if you try. So try!

You probably heard about a campaign that comedian Bill Cosby launched a few months ago, the message of which essentially is this: If you dress like a gangsta, talk like a gangsta, live like a gangsta, rap like a gangsta, study in school like a gangsta, you'll be as successful in life as a gangsta. Tupac Shakur success. Gold jewelry. Lots of bitches and ho's. Dead at the age of 25. And forget the jewelry if you don't have any particular talent. Then your only opportunity is in the drug dealing business. Good luck with that. Jackson State Prison is full of those who chose that career path. Here is what Cosby had to say to black parents:

“Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it’s cursing and calling each other niggers as they’re walking up and down the street,”

“They think they’re hip. They can’t read; they can’t write. They’re laughing and giggling, and they’re going nowhere.” (link)

Then today I read an article about another campaign; this one launched by Essence magazine. They are going after the music industry. And it can't have happened quickly enough.
At last, women lash out at hip hop's abuses
New York Daily News -

The most successful black women's magazine, Essence, is in the middle of a campaign that could have monumental cultural significance.

Essence is taking on the slut images and verbal abuse projected onto black women by hip hop lyrics and videos.

The magazine is the first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.

This anything-goes-if-sells attitude comes at a cost. The elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans. They support a popular idiom that consistently showers them with contempt. We are in a crisis, and Essence knows it. (
I remember telling my son several years ago, when this general topic came up, that of all the people I've ever hired, I've never hired a black person. I paused for effect and then said, "But I've hired - and promoted - a number of excellent employees who happened to be black." I hope you fully understand the distinction.

I'm a white guy so I know I'm not entitled to an opinion when it comes to how black Americans should interact. But I'm also a guy who can bring to the discussion a number of real-life success stories of black men and women who chose to reject the snake-oil salesmen and their message of racism, bigotry, and persecution - and failure - and chose instead to succeed.

And I don't remember any one of them walking into a job interview looking like Snoop Dogg.