Thursday, August 1, 2013

Personal Responsibility or a Failure of the System?

Men in Black (franchise)
The Trayvon Martin case has ignited discussions on race that we only seem to get around to every few years when some black man is shot or beaten and it makes the national news.  This time around more than any I can remember, I am hearing a lot about how prejudice against and fear of black men is justified by crime statistics. In the Trayvon Martin case, I've heard people actually blame the "black community" for the image that led to the profiling of Trayvon Marting- laying his death at the feet of the people who are supposedly at fault for the stereotypes that led to his shooting.  The stereotypes are valid since black people are "so violent".  I'm hearing that basically the problems in certain segments of the black community are self-inflicted.  If black people would just pull themselves together, pull themselves up by their bootstraps all of their problems could be solved and the negative stereotypes would simply fade away along with those problems.

I'd like to remind people once again that race is only one way to segment people, although in America it seems to be the preferred way.  Not all black people are part of the subculture that is the "problem". Black people are not all part of some monolithic culture.  We, like people of any skin color, come in a variety of cultures and socioeconomic classifications.  Perhaps the one thing we do all have in common is the experience of being judged because of the color of our skin. The problems many people associate with the "black community" are more socioeconomic problems  than race problem.  Not all black people live in the 'hood.  I grew up in an all black neighborhood and in my entire time growing up never saw drugs in the neighborhood, saw a gun once (in the home of a neighbor around age 13) and didn't know any kids born out of wedlock. And, not all people who live in the 'hood are criminals.  The vast majority of black people are not violent criminals.  While the crime statistics are skewed in some very disturbing ways, at least a part of the reason for that skewing is law enforcement and the court system. Just as one example, black people are arrested at a far higher rate than white people on marijuana charges even though they actually use marijuana at about the same rate.  Sentencing is far more harsh for the poorer version of cocaine (crack) than the richer version (powder). So, black people involved with drugs end up doing more time than white people.  

Liberals tend to blame the system for the failures of certain segments of our population on the system.  If we could just fix the system, we could help people break out of these cycles of poor education, generational poverty, crime, etc.   At the extreme, they dismiss personal responsibility for people being in adverse situations. Conservatives say it's all about personal responsibility. We live in a post-racial America. Everyone has the same opportunity.  If you don't make it it, it's your own fault.  The truth is it's actually both.  Just because you are born into a disadvantaged situation does not mean you cannot pull yourself out of it.  With hard work and dedication, you can overcome it, but you will have to work harder than the person not born into that situation.  Black children must be taught to never give up, but to know that they will have to work harder and perform to a higher standard than a white child will.  Success is not impossible, but it is more difficult.  Why are black people struggling more than white people?  Well, given a normal distribution of drive and talent, we would expect a population given a distinct disadvantage to not do as well as a population given an advantage. Individuals will shine, but the disadvantaged population overall will be behind the population with the advantage.  

This hit home for us this week when my wife's cousin was shot and killed by his half brother.  My wife's family is largely "successful", well educated, non-criminal.  They are not part of the stereotypical view many have of black families.  My wife's aunt (the dead child's grandmother) made some decisions in her youth that resulted in children born out of wedlock and without the benefit of being raised with a father in the home.  That has had a ripple effect through their family.  Her grandson was shot and killed by his half brother on Sunday. Her son (the father of the boy who was killed) was first arrested in high school for selling marijuana.  That was around the age of 18.  When he was arrested later (in his early 30s) for selling cocaine, because of his prior conviction, he got hard time.  He has been in prison for the last five years. His son, who was killed on Sunday, tweeted recently that he had had a dream that he was shot.  He also tweeted "Blessed to make it this far in life and to still be alive."  When I read that I thought "What kind of world did that boy live in to make him dream he had been shot?" and "How sad is it that a 16 year old boy would feel 'lucky' to have made it this far in life?"  As we reflect on this as a family, it's hard not to think about how the decisions one generation makes impacts the next.  The father of the boy arrested for killing his half brother was first arrested around the same age as his son.  Both boys were raised in homes without a father, like their father was.  What happened on Sunday was not the fault of the grandmother or the father, but the situations their sons were born into made their lives more difficult.

The fact is it is more difficult for African-Americans in America.   It's more difficult in many ways from little daily things like being pulled over for driving while black or being followed through a department store to big things like employment discrimination and the justice system. But, just because it's harder doesn't mean we can give up and say "Woe is me.".  It means we have to work harder. It means we have to take more personal responsibility.  It means we have to continue to work the system to make opportunities more available to everyone.  It means that we have to be cognizant of the image that is portrayed of us in the media- both fictional and news coverage, to begin to chip away at the stereotypes that follow us.  We have to stand up against the images that reinforce the stereotype of black men as thugs and someone to be feared are more realistically balanced by the images of most of us as law abiding citizens who have feelings just like you do.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/07/29/2738348/teen-charged-in-lexington-homicide.html#storylink=cpy
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4 comments:

Kansas Bob said...

"The problems many people associate with the "black community" are more socioeconomic problems than race problem."

This is so true Brian. I pray that something good will come of your family's tragedy. I also pray that the societal problems that you describe with one day turn around.

Brian D. Smith said...

The kid who shot his brother was going to be the first I know of in two generations of that family to go to college. He had a basketball scholarship and was supposed to go to school in just a few days. He's being charged with reckless homicide. I hope he's able to stay on track. Tragic.

Brian D. Smith said...

The kid who shot his brother was going to be the first I know of in two generations of that family to go to college. He had a basketball scholarship and was supposed to go to school in just a few days. He's being charged with reckless homicide. I hope he's able to stay on track. Tragic.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

So sorry to hear of this tragedy in your family, Brian.

Your post reminded me of this song:

Crime to be broke in America - Spearhead.