When a recent panel of black scholars, writers and activists tackled the perennial
issue "the crisis of the black family," speaker after speaker ticked off
the familiar list of ills that plague African-Americans. They include: the high rate
of drug and alcohol use, teen pregnancy, father (and mother) family absenteeism,
gang violence, welfare dependency, and poverty. The mostly black audience applauded
and nodded dutifully at the torrid escalation of self-flagellation.
But the speakers and the audience were only re-sketching the standard portrait of
black life as a vast wasteland of violence and despair and black communities in permanent
crisis and chaos. This picture was first painted in the 1950's and 1960's by corporate
and government grant-seeking sociologists who branded black neighborhoods cesspools
of decay. They carved a growth industry out of studying "black deviancy"
and "the pathology of the ghetto." By the 1990's a legion of pop scholars
put a new twist to ghetto pathology. They didn't just dissect it, they blamed blacks
for creating it.
It didn't take long for a parade of "Gangsta" rappers, black novelists,
essayists, poets, playwrights, and filmmakers to cash in on these stereotypes. They
rapped, wrote, and made films that claimed that life in today's black communities
is a survival test where people daily dodged bullets, went to funerals of friends
and relatives killed by gangs, stepped over people lying in a drug or alcoholic stupor,
hid from rapists and molesters, and despaired over absentee or abusive fathers. This
has proven to be a sure ticket for them onto tell-all talk shows, brought hefty advances
from publishers, boosted record sales and secured movie deals.
They peddled the notion of black deviancy so well that much of the public, and that
includes far too many African-Americans, chant mantra-like that blacks are poor,
violent, abused and sexually depraved. Much of the media feeds these myths and half-truths
with a near daily diet of crime-drug-gang-dereliction stories and nurtures it with
its tabloid obsession with sex, violence and depravity.
The true reality is that most blacks don't live this kind of existence. During Black
History Month, the Census Bureau released a comprehensive report that paints this
picture of black life in 1998.
- Nearly nine out of ten
African-Americans aged 25-29 are high school graduates, and fifteen percent have
college degrees. College enrollment among blacks has soared forty percent over what
it was a decade ago.
- The black high school drop
rate is only marginally higher than that of non-blacks.
- African-American median
income continues to grow, and the drop in poverty rates for African-Americans accounts
for sixty percent of the overall drop in poverty in America.
- Twenty percent of African-Americans
worked in management or the professions.
- The number of black owned
businesses leaped nearly fifty percent, and their gross receipts rose 63 percent
- Nearly sixty percent of
African-American children under 18 live in a married-couple family.
Also, other government and
private studies show that blacks have lower rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use
than young whites.
Even though inherent black deviancy is mostly myth, some black leaders also play
a numbers game to magnify the problem. They endlessly tell the media how many blacks
are unemployed, in prison, join gangs, peddle dope, suffer from AIDS, drop out of
school and get pregnant.
They grab an occasional spot on news talk shows and shake a few dollars out of the
fast disappearing number of liberals for their organizations. But the doomsday scenario
not only is wearing thin, it is self-defeating. Many Americans believe that the problems
of the ghetto are self-made and insoluble. Many politicians agree. They refuse to
spend another nickel on job, welfare, health or education programs, oppose affirmative
action, and demand more police and prisons.
Many blacks have become cynical, and refuse to support black organizations or causes,
circle the wagons in their businesses, professions or neighborhoods and frantically
distance themselves from the black poor. Some blacks gain from trading in the myths
and half-truths about themselves, but most lose. And there's everything deviant about
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black. email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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