Thursday, April 17, 2008

Even Beneath the Haze, Blacks Used to Do Better

From the Root via The State of.

I have always admired the commentary of John McWhorter. I used to think of him as a sociologist but he's not, he's a linguist. He's made some very good comments about the state of black culture today in America. In general it's not good.

I remember he talked about when in 2000 after the dispute over the Presidential election, it was time to count the electoral votes. He had something to say over the actions of the Congressional Black Caucus from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to name one member I remember who attempted to object to the electoral vote. Alas he couldn't help him comrade, then Vice-President Al Gore who insisted that he needed a senator to concur. Rep. Maxine Waters said she didn't care, but it didn't matter because Gore said the rules do care.

His thesis against that is the culture of protest. I don't exactly remember what he said about it exactly, but I do remember that he had a problem with it. Perhaps that the rules weren't in their favor and they had a problem with it.

Either way read his article...
This is not mere historiographical hair-splitting, because the charge that Cosby is indulging in nostalgia has larger implications. Cosby's central point is that what's happening in black America today can't be linked to racism, since racism has been receding since the 60s. He thinks, therefore, that we are faced with a cultural problem.

The objection that old black communities were just like new ones is an attempt to refute that cultural argument. The idea is that black people's problem back in the day was racism (upon which we all agree), and that if black people today are just doing the same stuff their great-grandparents were doing, then the main problem today is racism too.

But if Coates or others were put in a time machine to sample life in a poor black community 80 years ago, they would realize their mistake.

Back to Chicago in 1925, black leaders were worried that the black out-of-wedlock birth rate was 15 percent. Obviously that figure sounds like science fiction today, and it's hard to trace that to racism. Black laborers in Detroit at this same time regularly travelled 90 minutes to the Ford plant; William Julius Wilson documented their equivalents in the 80s dismissing the same distance as requiring them to get up too early. In 1940, 9 in 10 black Indianapolis residents worked full-time. By 1976, tens of thousands of blacks in Indianapolis were on welfare – three times more than had been in 1964 -- and people were regularly turning down wage work.

Life in a St. Louis housing project in the 60s was no fun, and some of the residents' complaints would be familiar to us; they were about trash and people sleeping around. What is significant is what was absent: guns were not common coin, nor was selling drugs. A D.C. ghetto included types who weren't into working: "corner men." However, there were only so many of them.

Today we no longer talk of "corner men" because black men living outside of the legal work arena is no longer unusual. Corner men were usually also winos (remember "Ned the Wino" on Good Times?) not drug addicts stealing for a fix or drug sellers.

Now, the point is not to condemn today's blacks for "misbehavior." There are various explanations for what made the difference between then and now, and none that I consider responsible are about "character." Many point to the disappearance of factory jobs; others see crack as the main problem.

I think the crucial factor was the transformation of Aid to Families with Dependent Children from a temporary safety net to an open-ended program that became a lifestyle, something that happened quietly in the late 60s.
I suggest you go read the whole thing.

To be honest, I would be shocked to know that my mother or my father lived with teenage pregnancy or even out of wedlock births in their day. They talk about it and I couldn't believe it. For some reason I had this idea that things were more moral in the past. Not exactly, what people have done in my day they've done it in theirs. Even though there were social implications of it.

McWhorter blames welfare. I would say welfare is a part of it. Bill Cosby will allege that it is cultural. I'm going to agree with Cosby mostly. If the culture had done its job who is to say that blacks wouldn't have been alright and have pulled themselves off of welfare. Especially if blacks were willing to do anything to either get a job, stay employed, or be self-sufficient.

Something happened recently and I would conclude that the results are what we see in Baltimore. Another problem might be that, it's somewhat normal these days for a child to be absolutely without his/her father. I wish I knew ho to explain the corner man part.

I have some theories. I think it's a cop-out to say there are no jobs out there, although at the same time life is difficult for you if you're not trying to do well in school and you don't half show up. If a student fails to graduate from high school, something that should be easy in my opinion, then you're only hurting yourself. Of course graduation from high school is no guarantee, but one would be better off with a high school diploma than merely say an eighth grade diploma.

Well there are a log of questions to be asked for sure. I think I brought up a few, but to be sure if I was to ever research this I wouldn't even know where to begin. Does anyone have any ideas?

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