Some things you say rarely –if at all — in a public forum, unless, of course, you don’t mind being labeled a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, an ethno-centric Neanderthal, an anti-Allah alarmist, a generic bigot or a traitor to a cause. To even broach certain topics, you need to know which code words to use and avoid, what the euphemisms de jour are and how extensive a dragnet the PC police are casting.
I know you know what I mean.
So it was refreshing to see the stir that’s been created by Henry Louis Gates, the black chairman of Harvard’s African and African-American Studies program. Gates considers himself the antithesis of conservative, black Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and he has big-time bona fides within the black community. He goes to the rhetorical mattresses to defend affirmative action.
What Gates did — both in his latest book “America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues With African Americans” and in subsequent speaking engagements — was to say what few black leaders — and no white leaders — can safely say.
He says he’s worried about the ironic upshot of the civil rights movement. He bemoans the legacy of a righteous cause that has descended into self-destructive behavior and “bling-bling” values. He is wondering out loud about a conspiratorial culture that seems to define education as “a white thing,” and showcases the notion that “authentic black identity is some kind of thug ghetto anti-education identity.”
What’s not to dislike?
In a recent address to the Aspen Institute in Washington, which was well chronicled by the Washington Post, Gates criticized the lack of in-house criticism coming from black leaders. To wit:
“Our leaders need the courage to stand up and say — behind closed doors and in public — that we have internalized our own oppression, that we are engaging in forms of behavior that are destroying our people. Too many of our leaders won’t stand up because they are afraid of being appropriated by the right, or afraid they are going to sound like Clarence.”
Actually, another irony is that more black folks might also want to listen to Clarence. Maybe then “equal opportunity” wouldn’t be synonymous with “equal results,” and the debate could be permanently elevated from entitlement to achievement. And the Thomases, Colin Powells and Condoleezza Rices wouldn’t be so routinely portrayed as less authentic black voices than those of 50 Cent, Ludacris and Allen Iverson.
But at least Gates has used his considerable public forum to put the focus where it belongs. On self-criticism within the black community. He also urges those blacks who have “made it,” to do more heavy lifting in helping their brothers and sisters.
No one, it has been said, can be made to feel inferior without his own cooperation. It didn’t take government mandates in the 1960s to change the South’s Jim Crow laws. It took an awareness by the indigenous black population that the back of the bus and “colored” bathrooms were inherently wrong, and they weren’t going to take it any more. That forced the government’s hand into doing the right thing.
The same principle is in play now. No one can be made to wear opportunity blinders without their own consent. The path to an unsubsidized life is basic: finish school, defer procreation, get an entry-level job, build a track record.
Anyone who has ever taught in the public schools can tell you that the biggest educational disparity over race has to do with parental involvement and peer pressure. With more than two out of three black children born to unmarried — often teenaged — mothers, an inordinate number of black parents are unprepared for the task at hand. The cycle, tragically, is too routinely perpetuated.
Moreover, the pervasive “bling-bling” values, victimhood mantra and hip-hop misogyny help foment a counterproductive peer pressure. That means serious disincentives for students to use standard English, earn good grades and conceal their boxer shorts.
To use, alas, a sports analogy, consider Derek Brooks and Warren Sapp. Black kids need many more of the former and no more of the latter. They also need more Clarences and fewer Snoops.