Tag Archives: african american

The “dream” plus 50

I watched with interest the series of commemorations a couple of weeks ago, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. As I listened and read about the speeches, I began to wonder about the issues facing the African-American community, and for that matter, the entire American culture, today.

This is a sensitive topic to address, simply because I’m a 60-year-old white guy. I don’t want to come across as an insensitive bigot, but that seems to be the risk whenever you touch on anything related to race.

My question is this; after 50-plus years of struggle against oppression from outside the African-American community, has the civil rights movement now reached the point where the most fertile territory for continued growth is not outside that community, but rather within?

50 years ago, the issues were fairly clear. African Americans were restricted by a series of restraints imposed from outside their community — segregation, voting rights, fair housing, and so on. What’s the story today? Specifically, what are the issues, the causes and the solutions?

For the issues, I’ll turn to former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, who spoke at an event at a local college. He is a smart guy, a former two-term mayor and college professor. As quoted in the local newspaper, Johnson said:

“The fight definitely is not over.”

“Our unemployment rate is still twice that of whites, our poverty rate is astounding, our dropout rate is still very unacceptable, and you go on and on and on about the key factors in the lives of people of color…So the struggle must continue.”

Unemployment, poverty and dropout rate – those are good places to start. I’ll add a fourth — single parenthood, especially teenaged single-motherhood.

It is obvious the first three, and even the fourth, are all connected. If you drop out of high school, you will probably be unemployed, or only qualified for only low-paying jobs, and hence, be poor. If you start having children in your mid-teens, and without the benefit of a committed husband/father, the odds are also excellent that you will drop out of school, be un- or underemployed and poor. The out-of-wedlock birth rate in the African American community is outrageous — nearly 68% (two and a half times the white community’s rate.) Unfortunately, that frequently means “Dad” is not around, and the children are being raised by single mothers, grandmothers, and so on.
The Brookings Institute produced its fairly famous three rules for avoiding poverty.

  • Finish high school
  • Don’t marry until 21 and don’t have children before marriage.
  • Have a full-time job.

It sounds simple. It is also clear that many young men and women of color are not following these guidelines.

I realize there are still external barriers that minorities will face. I won’t pretend it’s an entirely level playing field.  However, on an individual basis, none of these steps is all that difficult. For today’s young black teens, the right course is obvious. So how do you convince a generation of young people to actually act in their own best interest? I don’t think the answer is going to come from Washington or from people who look like me. The answer has to come from within the young people’s own community. Ultimately, you have to convince young African Americans (and young people of any ethnicity, for that matter) to stay in school and out of their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s pants. That ethic must come from within the families and the community, not from a government program.

Yes, Dr. Johnson, the fight must go on, and there are still steps society in general can take. But for a significant part of the problem, the solution must come from within. Perhaps it is time for African American leaders to look to that great comic strip philosopher, Pogo.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Morons, rednecks and dental hygienists

Several things caught my attention over the weekend.

Apparently people with green lasers are causing havoc with Coast Guard rescue helicopters in Myrtle Beach, S.C. They shine the lasers at the helicopters and mess with the pilots’ vision while they are flying at night. Probably a funny practical joke to the person with the laser. I would imagine it would be less so to the pilot.

Although the article doesn’t state it, I would strongly suspect the culprits of this kind of moronic amusement are probably also to young to vote. Don’t they have anything better to do? And, as always, where are the parents? Idiots!

And a special nod to some of the folks in Jackson, Mississippi, for reminding us once again why most of the rest of the country things you are a bunch of yahoos. After scheduling a wedding for a black couple at the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, the church changed its mind and forced them to schedule the wedding at another church. Why? Because some of the church members didn’t want a black couple to get married in their church.

This is so wrong on so many levels, it is just amazing. Seriously, what do you really think God would think of how you treated two of his children? You’re a church! You’re supposed to know better. The pastor said he moved the ceremony to accommodate the haters because he didn’t want any controversy in his congregation.  So how’s that working out for you Rev? Your flock is in USA Today looking like a bunch of redneck Klansmen. 

And finally, I learned something I didn’t know over the weekend. Some dental hygienists are paid all or partially on commission. How I got to be this old without knowing that, I don’t know. But then again, I don’t hang out with a lot of dentists either.

I know when I go to buy a car, the salesman is going to try to upsell me the extended warranty, the undercoating and anything else he or she can tag on. Forewarned is forearmed.  But if I go to my doctor and she tells me I need some kind of treatment, I take it that she is giving me her best medical advice. I thought dental offices were the same. Guess not. I think back on a fairly expensive plaque treatment I had last winter. That was recommended by the hygienist. In retrospect, I wonder if it was really needed, or did “the baby need new shoes?” It shines an entirely new light on dental services.  Hmmm.

Two good summer reads

Over the past two weeks I finished two more books that were well outside of my usual subject matter. I typically go for adventures, thrillers, military or history. When I step out of my usual subject areas and enjoy the book, it must be pretty good.

The first is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The story focuses on the tumultuous domestic life of semi-pro race driver Denny Swift. His ups and downs are almost two steep to be believable, and he does some things so stupid you want to reach into the book and slap him “up da sida da head.” However, the saving grace of the book is the story is told in the first person, by Denny’s dog, Enzo. He is quite a character — with the soul of a human and forever frustrated by his lack of opposable thumbs and his inability to speak. He actually looks forward to the end of his dog-life, because he is certain he will be reborn as a human. Enzo’s observations on his master’s turmoils are both insightful and hilarious. You will want to strangle Denny, but you’ll love Enzo.

While I was reading the book, I kept looking down at Casey the Lab and wondering, “So what are you really thinking?”

Mrs. Poolman recommended “The Help” by Kathering Stockett, although she warned me it might be “too chicky” for my tastes. She was partially right, but the story is good enough to overcome the chicky-factor.

The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. It is also told in the first person by “Skeeter” a young Ole Miss grad who wants to be a writer, and two African-American maids, aka “The Help.” Skeeter convinces several of the maids to help her write a book about their lives as black domestic help in pre-civil rights Mississippi. If “The Help” had been published in the time the story was set, it probably would have been considered shocking. Nearly 50 years later, much of the intensity of the social issues is now history. The draw to the book is not so much in the plot as in the characters. The two maids, Aibileen and Minnie are great. For much of the book, Minnie worries about a “great terrible awful” she has perpetrated on one of her former employers. When you find out what she actually did, you’ll want to cheer.

This is Stockett’s first novel, and she has room to improve. Skeeter’s primary antagonist, Hilly, her former college roommate, is overdrawn. She is viciously mean and vindictive, but still manages to be able to order her contemporaries to do whatever she tells them. And Stockett throws a major illness at another key character that adds nothing to the plot, and is just distracting.

All having been said, however, it is a good read. It’s on the top-ten list this week, and deserves to be there. I’ll be interested to check out Stockett’s next effort.

In defense of evil…sort of…

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

A couple of recent developments have caused me to rethink the popular notion that no good can come from evil.

I am judging entries for a local film festival. The subject of one video I watched last week profiled a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Naturally, it was very sympathetic towards him and the Japanese of August 1945. It gave me something to think about, but probably not in the direction the film maker intended.

I am no historian, but I read a lot. Over the course of the past year or two I have read several history books on the final months of World War II, including  Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire by Richard Frank; Retribution by Max Hastings; and Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945 by Barrett Tillman.

It seems easy in the light of the 21st century to cast the US as a malevolent nuclear monster and the Japanese as innocent victims in the atomic bombings. This is a popular view to some, but such casting ignores the realities of 1945.

The Japanese initiated a war of conquest that they waged with incredible brutality against both the military and the civilian populations of their foes.

By the summer of 1945, the Japanese government was dominated by die-hard militarists who were quite willing to sacrifice both their country’s military forces and civilian population “for the honor of the Emperor,” rather than admit the obvious fact that that they were defeated.  They were willing to die to the last man, woman and child.

It is quite unrealistic to believe the Allied Powers would simply walk away after having driven Japan to the brink of defeat. So, aside from nuclear bombardment, there were only two other options available to the Allies.

1.) A continuation of the campaign of fire-bombing and naval blockade, which had already destroyed most Japanese cities and much of  Japanese economy, and killed hundreds of thousands. A continuation of this campaign would have undoubtedly resulted in the deaths of millions of Japanese by either starvation or incineration.

2.) Invasion – In addition to the deaths and wounding of more than (estimated) 100,000 American and British soldiers, sailors and Marines, an invasion would have likely resulted in the deaths of more than a million Japanese, military and civilians.

In light of these options, the deaths of roughly 200,000 Japanese in the two nuclear bombings seem mild by comparison. As horrible as the nuclear bombings were, ultimately they were the least of the possible evils, not just to the Allied servicemen, but also to the Japanese. The callous conclusion is this; there are millions of Japanese who are alive today because the war ended when it did and their parents or grandparents were not killed by additional bombing, blockade or invasion. The misfortune of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became their good fortune.

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On a similar note, but closer to home, the fortunes of millions of African Americans living today were benefited by the tragedy that was impressed on their ancestors. By 21st century values, there is no debate about the evil of slavery in this country. The capture, transport and forced enslavement of Africans and their descendents in America was a tragic evil imposed on those who experienced it.  However, seven generations later, the descendents of those American slaves benefit greatly from the misery to which their ancestors were subjected. If it were not for their ancestors being forcibly brought to this country, it likely most of the African Americans of today would have been born in equatorial Africa. S0, instead of living in a land rampant with civil war, poverty and disease, the descendents of American slaves are born in a country with perhaps the highest standard of living and the greatest total opportunities in history.

I’m sure that is not what the plantation owners and slave traders intended, but it’s amazing how things sometimes turn out.

French burkas, racial profiling and the Tebow-Super Bowl flap

Listening to the news on the radio while I drive to work is a great source of inspiration for blog material.

As a sign I saw in a gift shop recently said, “Everyone is entitled to my own opinion.”

They are fighting over burkas in France these days. Those are the robes for Muslim women that cover their entire body including their face. France is considering banning them in public buildings, citing subjugation of women and security as the reasons. Naturally, those on the other sides are yelling about freedom of religion and France’s national identity. It’s interesting how Muslim leaders will cry for religious freedom when they are in the minority. However, try to wear a tee-shirt with “What would Jesus do?” written on it and see how far you get in the streets of Saudi Arabia or Iran. I suspect the mullahs would be singing another tune.

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A bill is scheduled to be introduced into the Georgia General Assembly today that would outlaw racial profiling. I am ambivalent about this issue.

On one hand, I don’t think someone should be arrested or harassed because of the color of their skin. ie: driving while black, etc.

On the other hand, crime is a serious issue in Savannah. Even out in our little suburban enclave, it is something to be concerned with. And at least here in Savannah, the vast, overwhelming majority of street crimes (assault, robbery, burglary, etc.) are committed by African Americans, primarily young, male African Americans. A story in yesterday’s local newspaper described arrest activity from the weekend and showed the mugs of the 12 people arrested. Ten of the twelve were black men. Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly. This brings me back to the initial question:  Do I want to take away from the police one tool that might help them keep myself, my home and my family safe?  I don’t know.

*     *     *     *

Our favorite-son quarterback, Tim Tebow, is taking hits this week, and not just at the Senior Bowl practice in Mobile. He and his mom are going to appear in a anti-abortion Super Bowl commercial paid for by the Christian advocacy group “Focus on the Family.” Supposedly, the ad will have Tim and his mom talking about her experience when pregnant with Tim. As the story goes, she had a difficult pregnancy and was advised to terminate the pregnancy for her health. She refused to do so, and the end result is Tim, a remarkable young man by any standard.

I am not a big fan of Focus on the Family, for what little I know about them. Nor have I seen the TV spot, but then again, neither had anyone else.

Nonetheless, the Women’s Media Center, with backing from the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority and other groups, are throwing the penalty flags in Tim’s and CBS’s direction.

“An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year – an event designed to bring American’s together,” said Jemhu Greene, president of the Women’s Media Center.

“…an event designed to bring American’s together”??? I thought it was an event designed to determine the champion of the National Football League, provide an excuse for some Sunday afternoon parties and to make a lot of money for a bunch of people. I never knew it was supposed to be some kind of national unity event. Silly me.

I wonder if Ms. Greene has ever been to a viewing party or a football game where there were decent percentages of fans of both team? (Super Bowl, Florida-Georgia, Texas-Oklahoma, a BCS championship game, etc.)  I suspect she has not. If she had ever actually been to one of those games, she would know that unity is not a concept that comes to mind.

I don’t believe the women’s advocacy group really have much to complain about except that the Tebows’ message will probably be something they will disagree with.

The funniest shot comes from SI.com’s Greg Doyel.

“If you’re a sports fan, and I am, that’s the holiest day of the year,” he wrote. “It’s not a day to discuss abortion. For it, against it, I don’t care what you are. On Super Sunday, I don’t care what I am. Feb. 7 is simply not the day to have that discussion.”

The irony is just pure honey. According to Doyel, Super Bowl Sun“Thou shalt keep holy the Lord’s…” day is too holy to be despoiled by any talk of morals, ethics, or, God forbid, religion. No further comment is necessary.

For myself, it just gives me something to look forward to watching the game.