Many Blacks Still Don't Get ItA piece making the rounds of the web lately is written by an accomplished young black woman, Reniqua Allen. She has apparently assimilated into successful corporate life, but something within her is wired wrong. She can not take success, but is mired within a mental trap that is holding her back. For want of a better phrase, we can call it her ghetto values.
All previous generations and races and creeds that have made it into the mainstream have managed to remember who they were, even as they became Americans. This black woman, and apparently quite a few others, can not escape their mental prison. I do not know why this is so, but if survivors of the Khmer Rouge can assimilate, if holocaust survivors and genocide and famine refugees can bring unhyphenated Americans into the world, why are the blacks having such a hard time of it?
A few weeks ago, I was standing outside a posh bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with my friends of almost two decades. I made an offhanded comment about the ratio of blonde-haired-blue-eyed chicks to brown girls like me. It seemed like a zillion to one.I can answer his question easily. I suspect most Americans can. Bad things happen to people all the time. The reason we even know about Trayvon Martin is the subtext of those who will not allow this incident to pass without exploiting it. The subtext of the Trayvon Martin case has nothing to do with the two people involved in that unfortunate event, it is all about race hustlers exploiting the death of that young man for their own purposes, but more important, it is about the mob mentality of those who, all evidence to the contrary, will not let this thing go.
My pals, who are white, didn’t get why I was bringing this up. “No one cares about race except you,” one said.
I tried to explain my frustration with having to always choose between an all-black experience or being the “only one,” whether at work, in grad school or even out for a night in New York. I waited for a nod of sympathy; instead, my best friend threw her hands up and said: “How can we all be racist? Look at who is president!”
I didn’t have a response.
Right now the nation has embarked on a massive conversation about race surrounding the tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. On Friday, President Obama weighed in. “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out: How does something like this happen?” he said.
Reniqua Allen wants to have a conversation about race, and she should have it, but this one has nothing to do with the unhyphenated Americans. It is a necessary conversation that must be had between African-Americans.
She makes many false assumptions. For example:
I have encountered many people who seem to believe, subconsciously or not, that Obama’s win is proof that America has reached the mountaintop. What more is there to say about race, they ask me, after this country so proudly and overwhelmingly elected a black president? They cite success stories as disparate as Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z and former Time Warner chief Dick Parsons. But Oprah’s billions don’t counteract the dire poverty and unemployment rates in the black community.Guess what Reniqua? You and yours are just not that special. We all have faced this stuff. I have been terrified by thugs of all races. In high school the Chinese boys from Chinatown were a formidable force that altered my path from the closest subway station to one further off, but in the other direction. There was some serious trouble with the Italian thugs as well. Yet, when the object is a black man, I am not supposed to notice? But that is exactly the point, Reniqua. I am not supposed to notice, and for the most part, I do not. But the point of your essay is that I must. That the black experience is somehow different, somehow special, and that your problems are mine. Well, guess what? They are not mine. I have never done anything to you or yours, and no ancestor of mine has either. My father was the first member of his family to even see a black man. When he arrived in America, he was too busy coping with his own assimilation to bother with yours.
Even the most well-intentioned white people, who fundamentally understand the challenges of race in America, often can’t understand why race, as a subject to wrestle with, can never be “over.” They can’t understand what it’s like to walk down the street and have someone fear you just because of your race. Or to go to your doctor’s office after-hours to pick something up and have someone think you’re the maid. Or to have someone give you a virtual pat on the head for being “articulate.”
And they certainly won’t admit that thugged-out guys scare them. Or that if they saw a young black man in a hoodie walking in their neighborhood, like Martin was in his father’s neighborhood outside Orlando last month, they wouldn’t call 911 but they might cross the street.
Racial politics is a name for a weapon wielded by your side, not ours. We DID elect a black man, and his failure in that office is not protected by his race. We are treating him like a man, not like a black man. Isn't that the point? Race is so 20th century. Most Americans are over it. Some blacks are unhappy about that. This is somewhat like what happened to feminism. Feminists wanted women to be treated equally, but when they had seen that in the flesh, many still wanted a man to pick up the check, to open the door, to take charge.
Many blacks need to understand that this has moved out of the mainstream. You guys are another ethnic minority, just like most of the rest of us. If there is a problem within your ethnic culture, it is for you to discover what it is, and fix it if you can. Black kids getting killed is a problem, but almost all of them are killed by other blacks. White America can not fix that. Lord knows we tried, which is why almost half our prison population is black. The killing needs to stop, but to the extent that it is a product of black or ghetto culture, it is up to you, not me, to solve it. President Obama is in a fine position to help with that. To the extent that his performance in that regard disappoints you, join the club.
Update: Reverend C.L.Bryant hits similar notes on CNN.