Real Talk about Race: Chapter Three
I did not post anything at the end of last week, 'cause I was beat. And I just didn't have the energy to do our "regularly scheduled" post on race relations.
Still, we have a game plan and need to try to stick to it. So here's the two-pronged topic we skipped on Friday: being your brother's keeper and political partisanship.
I had wanted to talk about stereotypes and how we shouldn't automatically get up in arms about them, but all the renewed discussion of Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, altered my focus, because increasingly TV pundits are asking what Obama is going to do about Wright.
And I would argue that Obama shouldn't have to do anything more about Wright. Don't forget that I'm not voting for any of the three major candidates left in the presidential race. So this isn't a vote-for-Obama post. I'm just saying Obama has publicly denounced Wright's controversial sermons. Maybe he should have done that sooner. Maybe he was sincere. Maybe he only did it 'cause he's running for office. But whatever his motivations, he did it. Beyond that, Wright stepped down as pastor of Obama's church. So how much further, and deeper do those denouncements need to go. Does Obama need to drop kick Wright and punch the former pastor's wife in the nose to get his point across?
So here's how this post took shape: I was having a phone conversation with a buddy who has known my family - me, the folks, my sister, etc. - for more than 20 years. He's white. Clearly, I'm not. In the conversation, we discussed how we were raised and to what extent we're bound to speak up and out about our associates. The conversation then took a turn to politics.
My buddy knows how I was raised: in a military household with religious overtones by no-nonsense parents who set strict curfews, who eschewed criminal behavior and criminals, who were good neighbors, who were pro-military, who weren't necessarily pro-government but were definitely civic-minded. You might say my fam was socially conservative.
And with that thought in mind, my buddy asked this question: "JB, would you say that the average, middle class black person was raised like you?"
Using those strict parameters, I answered yes.
So my buddy's follow-up question was: "Then why don't most black people vote conservatively?"
And that, my friends, is the $64K question.
We all know about the perception that since the 1960s Democrats - as a party, not individuals - have demonstrated more care for civil rights, etc. And while that may be true in those matters that stoke emotion, like establishing a holiday for MLK, and recognizing on a civil level African Americans' contributions to larger society, I don't think it has been true in terms of policy. Get down to the bare bones of all the major legislation to come out of D.C. since the late 1960s, and I defy you to tell me that one party has done significantly better or worse than the other, when it comes to social policy. They're both really lousy. And I wish we had a viable third party option.
But the short, sweet answer to my bud's follow-up question is that there is a perception among some average, middle class black folks that Republicans - as a party, not individuals - think that we're all responsible for one another. And that ticks people off.
We've had a related discussion on this blog before: about being lumped in and what not. But just how responsible are we for our "brothers?" If a young black man in my neighborhood commits a heinous crime, is it my job to hold a press conference and denounce the crime so as to soothe the fears of my other neighbors and assure them that other black people in the neighborhood are appalled by the crime? Or am I responsible for just continuing to try to live a halfway decent life of my own?
If you want to get philosophical, we're all responsible for trying to make things better - whether that means setting a good example for a troubled kid, or helping a willing-to-work neighbor find a job, if we have that ability, and so on and so forth. But in terms of behavior, where do we draw the line? And does where that line is drawn affect political leanings?
Pat Buchanan, MSNBC commentator and former Republican presidential candidate, recently wrote a column that said in so many words that black folks should stop complaining about racial issues in the U.S. He suggested that "we" have no grounds for complaint, because through slavery "we" were introduced to Christianity and given a chance to be a part of a growing society. He wrote that black folks have benefited more than anyone else from welfare and food stamps and so on. He suggested "we" have no grounds for complaint, because in terms of crime and perceptions, many more black criminals assault white victims than the other way around. And he suggested any legitimate conversation about race in this country should be bound by the facts as laid out in that column.
Tell all those things to a black criminal, and you have reached your target audience. Tell them to the average black person who, like his neighbors of all races, is just trying to earn a living and live happily within the law, and you have turned that person off. You have told him that until he does something about bad people who look like him, then he is not to be taken seriously. You have told someone who likely never received a dime from the government that he is the beneficiary of a handout. You don't think average, middle class black folks are aware of glaring problems like 2/3 of black children being born to single moms? You don't think they're aware that the percentages of young black male violent criminals have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. They know. But they've worked hard to earn their own way and don't feel responsible for explaining to the rest of the country that "you don't have to be afraid of us. We're not like that."
I know people like this. I have relatives like this. They are church-going people. They are reasonably strict with their kids. They donate to the Police Benevolent Assn. fund. They coach little league. They look both ways before they cross the street. They always return their movies to Blockbuster on time...and rewound. They don't fit any of the negative stereotypes that Hollywood and D.C. have brought us. So you could argue in theory that they are "conservative" people. But, on principal, because of the perception that the Pat Buchanans of the world are the face of the Republican Party, they will never vote G.O.P.
What say you?