Wednesday, May 6, 2015
THE INTRACTABLE PREDICAMENT OF INNER CITY BLACK NEIGHBORHOODS
NO NEW NEWS HERE
THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME
Protestors looting a liquor store in West Baltimore Monday afternoon
TAGS: BALTIMORE PROTESTS, BALTIMORE RIOTS, ARSON, LOOTING, MAYHEM,
FREDDIE GRAY, INNER CITY CONDITIONS, PERSISTANT POVERTY,
SOLUTIONS MUST COME FROM WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY,
NOT A “BLACK vs WHITE” CONFLICT, A “BLACK vs BLUE” CONFLICT
COMMENTARY, SUBJECTIVE OBSERVATIONS, EDITORIAL OPINION
(Wednesday May 6, 2015 Baltimore, MD) The garden variety cynic’s reaction to the tumult in Baltimore after an unarmed young African American man died in police custody was as familiar as it was predictable. The images and hyperbolic rhetoric broadcast into TV sets across the land showed live images that were sadly similar to those seen from inner cities roiling with racial unrest during the 1960’s. While the rampant social disorder and civil unrest of the 1960’s was but one aspect of a much broader and very important “movement” for “racial equality”, the rioting and looting in Baltimore served only to reinforce the cynic’s cynicism. Many in “White” America saw the televised imagery as merely further reinforcing their already lowly regard of inner city “Blacks”. They were disgusted by the destruction of property, arson, wanton looting of liquor stores and other businesses by opportunistic aimless Blacks ready to commit such deeds at the drop of a hat. The average cynic had no sympathy for the Blacks and, if anything found themselves asking the same questions they have asked of themselves, their families and of each other every time such a flare-up of urban discord holds the broadcast and cable newsertainment networks hostage.
The disgust voiced by much of White Middle America was as also predictable as it was relevant. What more could the “country” do for Blacks? Why don’t these people get jobs and put away this tired argument that 400 years of “oppression” has created the problems endemic in Black America? How does arson and stealing comport with their arguments about years of police abuse, misconduct and unacceptable murder? Whose fault is it if Black men have many children with different women and have no responsibility for those children financially or familiarly? Whose fault is it that young Black men do not finish high school, wear their pants sagging around their knees, underwear visible, caps on their heads backwards, sporting tattoos yet protesting their inability to secure jobs? The list of questions of this sort is long. Who is at fault for what ails huge swathes of the Black community in cities and towns from coast to coast and all points in between?
The White cynics bristle at the notion that the Black “experience” in America – slavery – has any relevance in today’s society. The federal government has spent approximately 22 trillion dollars since 1964 (give or take a billion or two either way) and the states have spent untold trillions more on every sort of law, legislation, protection, initiative, program and social device aimed specifically at improving the prospects for Black Americans. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 were just the very beginning and were actually landmark legislative measures that codified that the most basic of American rights be available to Blacks without regard to color. There were the vast urban renewal and “Great Society” projects and programs of the late 60’s; there were government assistance programs of every sort as well intended attempts to socially engineer change and all that backfired in hindsight. That much of Black America remains mired in the same muck they have been in since prior to all the federal government’s attempts to help lift them out is certainly not for lack of effort. The cynic asks what the hell is wrong with these people? Don’t they get it?
For Americans beholden to the politics of the Left and Right, their reactions were also unabashedly familiar and predictable almost to the point of idiocy. The Liberal Left blames the Conservative Right for all the racial inequities while the Right blames liberal progressive politics and policies for all that ails Blacks in America, especially in an inner city urban center such as Baltimore that has been governed by African Americans for almost the totality of the last 40 years. The pragmatists among us see the nuances and gradations in the middle ground between the polar opposite Left/Right rift but have no meaningful answers or suggestions; they admit to their frustration for finding themselves at a loss.
One of the absolutes that all can agree on is that race relations remain a seemingly intractable reality of America in 2015, the seventh year, of the Presidency of our first African American Chief Executive, Barak Obama. Oddly (or not) it feels as if race relations, the “Black and White” issue has become even more pronounced during President Obama’s administration. It many ways it has. His ascendancy from relative freshman senatorial obscurity to the White House seemed to bring out the worst in people on either side of the divide. While much of Black America may have viewed his election and reelection as the harbinger of a “post racial America”, his Presidency only served to unleash some of the most sordid, vitriolic racial animus and prejudice among those already possessed of that mindset.
And then there are the Police; the Law Enforcement Community (LEC) writ large suddenly emerging before the previously blind eyes of White America as the dirty not-so-little secret that Black America has known since the days of Jim Crow; that the LEC systematical practices severe racism, stands for racial segregation, and can run roughshod over the civil rights of Black Americans with impunity. And, from that equation it becomes a heated debate with no winners about what came first, the chicken or the egg; high crime rates in Black communities or racist Cops doing what they please. Are the police more active in the neighborhoods that are predominantly Black because Black’s commit more crime or are Black’s indiscriminately and disproportionally interacting with overzealous Police Officers who “do not value” Black lives?
There are absolutists and apologists on both sides of that particular debate and a wealth of academic, empiric, scholarly, and antidotal data to support either side. However there is a puzzling paucity of actual numbers to support either argument or, most of the statistics bandied about range from grossly inaccurate to dangerously skewed. The inherent malleability of statistics and other research related data casts shadows of doubts on all such information and essentially renders it useless in the debate and in the process of finding common ground. Common ground is what everyone claims to be seeking now; a “national dialogue” is being called for by ivory tower and TV talking head; “Professional Blacks” just as the law and order crowd insists the crux of the issue and all its obvious problems are simple matters of right and wrong; of abiding by the laws of the land and blatant criminality. Yeah, a “dialogue” would definitely help bridge that gap. (Between who is such a “dialogue” supposed to take place?)
The fools among us would deny the existence of any problem; it is a matter of disproportional numbers of Blacks being criminals, responsible for high crime rates when compared to other demographics, and the Police comprising that “Thin Blue Line” of defense between order and chaos all too eager to mete out street justice to young Black boys and men, employ racial profiling, and arrest Blacks for similar crimes far more often than they do White boys and men. Maybe the fools have a point but not in this exact ideological dichotomy. There are distinct flaws in perception on both sides and it is easier to find affiliation with one side or the other because it does not require any examination of one’s existing core beliefs in such matters. At least the fools admit to the near impossibility of having an honest, open debate because any critique of the Black community from White people is just one degree or another of racism and any criticism leveled against the Police by Black America is just so much tired blaming for their own inability to take personal responsibility and goes no further than to obscure the reality on the ground in places like Baltimore.
The moderates and pragmatists, as few and far between they might be, are left dumbfounded by the realities of urban America and the Black communities therein. They look back over the years beginning in 1954 with the landmark “Brown v. The Board of Education” Supreme Court ruling that mandated schools to be integrated; it specifically forbade segregation in schools for basic kindergarten through high school. This resulted, in some places and often violently, to the “busing” of White students into predominately Black schools and Black students into majority White schools. Then there have been Affirmative Action initiatives at every level of society; in virtually every aspect and institution from the realm of higher education to employment, housing, and other socioeconomic access. There have been quota systems, preferential hiring practices, the alteration of requirements for certain jobs because there have been arguments that many standardized tests necessary for hiring into some jobs are intrinsically biased, they are tests and standards written and set by White people for White people.
The fact of the matter is that there will never be appreciable, sustainable changes in the segment of Black urban America that is most disenfranchised unless it comes from within that community. The White poor, the counterparts to the Black urban dwellers are largely dispersed in rural and semirural communities, suffer from the very same ills as do their Black counterparts facing problems such as drug addiction, violence, lack of proper health care, unwed mothers, and all the rest of that sad and sorry list of blights that the federal government has sought to address over the years. One significant difference between the White and Black poor is that the Blacks tend to be concentrated in pockets of urban America where the population density obscures the true identity of that community. Living in these often rough, tough neighborhoods are a majority of hard working, law abiding citizen with the same aspirations and goals as their White counterparts. They parent well, emphasize the importance of education and teach their children the countless other life lessons that can only be provided by a parent.
Unfortunately, in poor communities regardless of color or race, there is a preponderance of young single mothers often essentially abandoned by the child’s biological father. This perpetuates the reliance on public assistance that can become a repetitive cycle of children having children, of boys and men failing to take any responsibility financially or otherwise. Children born into such circumstances are already severely disadvantaged.
But this is not about poor people; this is about that segment of the inner city Black population that appears to align with a value system dramatically different from their White counterparts. It is obvious in their music, style of dress, attitudes and actions. They seem to take measures to further alienate themselves from the very same entry points into the working class they claim they seek. They exhibit an incongruous tendency towards outward symbols and overt trappings of financial means and will opt to live in squalor so as to afford a fancy car, jewelry, and stylish cloths. The ghettos are loaded with young men loitering donning $150 “Air Jordan’s”, carrying smart phones and iPods, wearing the clothing that represents “urban chic” today. Ask any Cop Firemen or EMT who has worked in a ghetto neighborhood and they will recount countless stories of going into squalid apartments, housing underfed children, with virtually empty cupboards and refrigerator but a big 42” hi-def TV dominating the chaos of the living room. This is so commonplace that it barely registers in the minds of those who enter these dwellings responding to emergencies of every variety. First responders are often left asking, where does the money for such luxuries come from? Sometimes from the hard working women in their lives who often hold menial jobs,, receive public assistance or a combination of the two. Sometimes criminal activity provides a “living” or, at least, an income stream. But it is that odd need to display and portray oneself as having money that further exacerbates already strained household incomes.
Some reading these observations and statements will recoil and call foul; they’ll see racism embedded in each sentence and therein exists the core of the issues posing as a formidable obstacle. In order to have any discussion, let alone a debate or dialogue of substance, we have to agree on language, on terminology. A phrase recently inserted into the public discourse about race relations is “White privilege”. It is interesting to note that that phrase is acceptable while any mention of Black disgruntlement or Black self-exclusion are taken as derogatory terms imbued with dirty racist overtones. But let us at least be honest. The gulf between Black America and White America in our inner cities and elsewhere is as profound, but not as overt, as it had been as recently as the 1970’s when the first full efforts of affirmative action became evident across all societal institutions.
Today there is a Black middle class and no societal or professional boundaries present as glass ceilings. The problems remain in that smallest fraction of inner city dwellers and the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and all its malignant manifestations. Black America must look within and find their way guided by their own direction. There is no more the federal government, or government at any level, can do for them.
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