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CNN’s ‘Black in America’ reveals complex puzzle…

July 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, News, Weekly Columns

( Warning: The following column discusses the recent CNN series, “Black in America.” Do not read it if you wish to retain oversimplified standardized images and ideas – i.e., stereotypes – about black folks.

Despite what you think, what you’ve read, what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard, there’s nothing simple and standard about being black in America.

It shouldn’t take a three-part series on cable TV to drive that fact home. But at this point, any bit of help is welcome.

I imagine this is how women often feel, trying to explain the nuances and subtlety of sexism, while acknowledging their tremendous advancement and accomplishments. Trying to explain that they love being females, yet pointing out society’s built-in advantages for males.

Trying to explain that supporting and encouraging other women doesn’t mean they hate and want to tear down men.

Sometimes it feels like you’re banging your head against the wall.

But you keep doing it anyway, hoping that your headache won’t be in vain and, ultimately, another someone joins the rolls of those who understand.

Of course, it’s impossible to totally understand without walking in black skin. Not that I’m looking for sympathy, mind you. Empathy, or at least your best effort, is the goal.

Critics of this discussion will consider it “divisive.” They’ll accuse me, as they’ve done in the past, of being “hateful,” and “playing the card,” and embracing “victimhood.”

My head hurts already.

Thanks be to God, I’m a college graduate who’s been gainfully employed for 23 consecutive years in my chosen field of study. I make a decent living and have a lovely family, a wife and two daughters. Never been arrested, never gang-banged, never sold drugs, never robbed or shot anyone.

I’m not alone in these accomplishments. CNN reports that the number of black households earning $100,000 or more has increased by about 50 percent since 1990.

Surely, rappers and athletes can’t account for all of that.

But since I can’t wear my degree on my forehead and my resume on my chest, I still have trouble catching taxicabs at night. I still attract more interest and scrutiny from cops in cruisers and security in stores. I still draw more suspicion from strangers, still give more pause to passers-by.

How pointing this out makes me divisive is beyond me. Besides, some of the aforementioned folks looking at me twice are black, too. They’ve internalized the stereotypes that are rampant in mainstream media.

Thursday night’s installment of “Black in America” focused on black men. A University of Texas researcher found that two-thirds of news stories about blacks were about crime. A Princeton researcher found that black men with no criminal background fared no better as job applicants than white men with prison records.

Prospective employers said they’re concerned about blacks’ work ethic and personal appearance, and consider them as threatening and violent.

That’s part of life when you’re black in America. But I don’t hate the individuals who harbor racist thoughts; I hate the thoughts, and strive to illuminate and eliminate them through frank discussions.

You can consider the glass to be half full or half empty. Either way, regarding racial progress and relations, the glass has room for twice as much.

And there’s filling to be done on both sides of the color line.

Some folks suggest that an increase in blacks’ personal responsibility is the sole requirement. That position is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s morally offensive. Not everyone can escape the viscous cycle of poverty and miseducation – direct by-products of systematic, institutional racism – by sheer force of will.

Believing otherwise is as naive as thinking “Just say no” will suffice to keep kids away from drugs and premarital sex. They need tools and strategies and structures in place to assist them in doing the right thing.

It’s also the right thing to assist others in need. And with nearly 60 percent of all black children in homes with no father, the need is great.

The dysfunction and self-destructive behavior didn’t form in a vacuum; it won’t disappear on its own.

It’s clear that many children aren’t getting the necessary ingredients at home. We can blame the parents and let kids follow the pattern. Or we can put everything possible into breaking the cycle, while mentoring and re-educating every parent who’ll receive it.

What we can’t do is fall back on oversimplified generalizations – leaving room for a handful of exceptions – believing that blacks in America are inherently inferior intellectually and morally, thus their assorted collective ailments.

There’s nothing simple or standard about it.

But what ails blacks in America ails everyone. And everyone will suffer until we employ some remedies.

Along the way, maybe that will cure these nasty headaches, too.

Written By Deron Snyder

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