The African-American Plight in Today’s America

Prejudice against African-Americans may be more subtle today than in America’s past, but it is still present. Below are my remarks to a poster on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution on July, 17, 2013:

Other Poster’s Comment: How long has the “war on poverty” been going on? Forty, fifty years? And poverty is no better, maybe worse. You cannot fight poverty by just giving people money.

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My Response:

You are so wrong. I remember 50 years ago, before LBJ’s “War on Poverty” existed. I remember the dirt-floored “shacks” – on the other side of town – that many black people were forced to live in because of segregation and because of their lack of economic and social mobility. And, I remember their sub-par segregated schools. In fact, my first teaching job in the 1969 -1970 school year was in an all-black, segregated elementary school. One of my 3rd grade students was about 12 years old and had no shoes. He came to school barefooted and he only came a few times in the semester I taught there. He was a social misfit because he was so much older than the 8 year olds in class. He towered over them. He was barefooted. He could barely read. He did not know how to interact socially although he was not a discipline problem – just very backward and lacked any confidence. He was too embarrassed to come to school. At 12 years of age, he had lost all hope for himself in fitting in, even in a segregated black school of that day.

You do not appear to have compassion for African-Americans, only judgment for them, and you do not appear to have internalized in your heart and mind their long history in this nation. It is my opinion that your thinking is flawed and that your heart is filled with prejudice and judgment. African-Americans endured as slaves for 250 years in our society, where they were forced to labor for others and forced NOT even to be allowed to read, and certainly not to receive an adequate education. Then, came the horribly demeaning and depriving segregated social system of the South with its sub-par schools for black people and with no social, economic possibilities for advancement for their entire race. That is why Jesse Jackson, in the 1980s, called out from the stage to African-Americans – when he lost in his run for President of the U. S. – to “Keep hope, alive!” Keeping hope alive was critical to the African-Americans in our nation as late as 1980, considering what they, as a race, had endured for centuries within our society.
Jim Crow laws lasted 100 years. That fact, combined with 250 prior years of slavery, amounted to 350 years of holding black people back from truly being integrated into our society and from receiving an adequate education, and from being able to uplift themselves from dire poverty. I can tell you from personal observations, over the last half century, that the funds given to LBJ’s “War on Poverty” made a tremendous difference in the lives of most black (and all other) people who lived in dire poverty in the 1960s. I lived through those days. Compare 350 years of suppression to 40 to 50 years of being able to try to overcome generational illiteracy and poverty and I think that black people, as a race of people, have made tremendous progress in a relatively short period of time in America’s ongoing history.

You are not the only person who would rather judge African-Americans than see the truth of their historical plight, and I think, from your words, that you would rather judge them than care about helping them to further improve in their on-going process of full integration into American society. Sad. I spent half of my teaching career, from 1984 – 2000, in trying to help black people improve their education, especially their literary education. Most were genuinely grateful to my efforts. Most tried very hard to improve and they did improve their literary skills tremendously. Their parents, too, were grateful and cared much to see their children improve. To change the family dynamics of today’s black family unit (or lack thereof), we must stop rejecting and being afraid of young black men like 17 year old Trayvon Martin, who is no longer on this Earth.

When I observe the greed and self-serving ways of many Americans today, with their cold and judgmental hearts, I have come to believe that it will be those African-Amercans who try to live out MLK’s dream and his nonviolent social philosophy who will save today’s America from her smaller self and who will lead the way in preserving America’s original ideals and tenets for future generations of all Americans. I remain impressed that, as a race of people, given their history, African-Americans have not rejected our nation altogether, and have chosen, instead, to keep their faith in America and have “kept hope alive” for all of us.

Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all. . . are created equal.”

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