A South Asian's perspective ...
Growing up in India I had heard about Slavery in America and other places in the west. There were only a few pages in my history book dedicated to that topic and since our final exams did not ask too many questions on that topic, we did not pay attention to that topic. My closest encounter with the "black" race was when West Indian cricketers visited Calcutta, in the likes of Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose. I stood amongst a crowd of onlookers in front of the iconic Grand Hotel in Calcutta (btw I still call my hometown Calcutta vs Kolkata) where these semi-divas of Cricket brushed shoulder to shoulder to our Indian counterparts like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.
(Image courtesy: Allaboutcricket.com)
For me, the impression of white and black alike was that they were "kind of a superior race" than our Indian kind solely based on their celebrity status. Keep in mind I had little to no exposure to average individuals of the white or black kind. The other exposure was in Hollywood movies and we saw it as pure entertainment rather than focus on the nuances of relationships with blacks and whites.
Now that I am an American citizen, a Senior media technologist for a Global Tier 1 publisher - my perspective of race relations has drastically changed. Now my brain has been trained to filter out race patterns - white vs black, south asians vs asians, spaniards vs latinas, black vs islanders, Arabs vs Jews, East Indians vs Indians.. the list goes on and on... lot of the world's issues can be summed up by the differences in their races, their value systems and their political and socio-economic agendas. I have learnt not to wish all white guys "Merry Christmas" even though in India we wished everyone irrespective of the races. I learnt the greeting "Happy Holidays" which initially to me sounded very stupid. Now I have gradually understood the game of "political correctness" in America, I have started to appreciate the ridiculousness of this greeting.
There are folks in America who say that we do not see that much of Racism in America and that is a Big Fat Lie. There is a white America and a black America and people forget a huge population of Asians and other immigrants in this debate. They are the most neutral player in this debate but no one asks them and to be honest we are glad that we are left out of this race debate and the class warfare.
I feel in America Race is used as an excuse and pretext for many things. There are the Al Sharptons and many black activists of this country who are waiting to rush to the place were a possible race injustice has happened.
(Image courtesy: breitbart.com)
Let’s look at some statistics from Government agencies:
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2006 data) 4.8% of black population, 1.9% of Hispanic population and 0.7% of white men were in prisons. According to 2007 statistics, $30K was spent on each inmate by the government on an average.
According to NCAAP, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated populations. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
In 2005, the high school dropout rate of Latinos was highest, followed by those of African Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).
African American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children. American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian families are more likely than Caucasian and Asian families to live in poverty (Costello, Keeler, & Angold, 2001; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).
(Image courtesy: californiawatch.org)
These numbers show a drastic abysmal scenario for black people in America. For those who do not know me, I am not this rich guy born with a silver spoon throwing darts at others. I lived along with my parents and sister in a tiny (10x12) rented room with a shared kitchen and bathroom right next to a dirty slum in Calcutta. My father died at an early age and we had one full meal a day for months before we made a commitment to change our lives by embracing academics, working hard and saving money. We bought our books first and then whatever money remained we eat modestly. I might be in the 1% category of Americans now, but I was neither born or grew up that way.
There can be a lot said about race relationship, but I am going to focus on the black-white relationship in the rest of my article. I do understand the role slavery played in black America. My biggest frustration is when I hear young people talk about slavery and then I am thinking to myself “you were not a slave, maybe you grand parents were, and so how are you impacted by slavery?”. To me African Americans should stop talking about slavery as an excuse for their kids failing school, getting bad grades, eating unhealthy fast food, using drugs, getting into crime etc etc. That has nothing to do with slavery and inequality… The only thing that is contributing to this mindset is this notion of “entitlement” and “bad parenting”
Endless Loop of Entitlement
Often times when I go to a store in Queens NY, I see black and Hispanic people standing infront of me getting different flavors of chips, salsa, multiple brands of beer and I initially get very impressed that they know how to live life and party. On my cart is only one brand of chips (I noticed the sodium content when I picked it up) and then only one dipping sauce (I argued with my wife a few seconds ago that one kind is enough).. Then I see this guy / lady proudly take out his/her food stamp and proudly stepped out into the parking lot with this cart and load it on the back of a pimped up second hand Mercedes. On the other hand I did not have to bother with the cart as I had only four shopping bags and I loaded them to the back of my Toyota.
I have also noticed that black people from lower-middle class of the society complaint that the government and local authorities are not doing enough for them. Playing the “victim” card can only make you weak, feeble and unambitious. I think the focus should be shifted to brushing yourself up and then think that I am going to not bother about anyone else – I am going to change my own life (not by short cut, but by old fashion hard work and struggle)
Bad parenting and Double standards
The social fabric of lower socio economic black families are in a big mess. There are a lot of single parenting, teen pregnancy, school drop out, drugs and crimes that kids get into at a very early age. Often times there is an excuse of not being in the right environment, but then isn’t that a catch 22. If you don’t make an effort to raise your kids different, how will this ever change? If your kids are watching rap singers who are objectifying black women, how would you expect that they will respect their partners growing up? If you don’t like others calling your kids “Niggers” or “negroes”, why is it okay for you to call your buddy the same N word? If you are making a living on selling drugs or embracing crime, how would your kids learn the importance of “A” grades in school? If you are too lazy to cook and are obese – how would your kids learn the importance of eating healthy at an early age?
(Image courtesy: sodahead.com)
Change has to come inside out
Don’t blame everything on the Government and the system. You have to remember that you are a key part of the system that you are blaming things on. I would be lying if I said that I don’t have to work extra hard in a work or academic environment that is white heavy. I have found it harder to let people take me seriously in the corporate environment, but I get a kick out of that struggle of proving others wrong when they eventually take me seriously. Its people like us in each community that is going to contribute to the eventual change in the perceived stereotype.
Another good example is at the aftermaths of hurricane Katrina in 2005. Black families whose homes were ravaged were camping outside left holding signs on the main roads saying the “Government has forgotten them”… The same fate came about to folks who were hit by the famous Tsunami and the outcome in many parts of the world were quite different. These communities who felt they were on their own, had more grit and determination to get back on track. Individuals and community organizers dusted themselves up and decided to rebuild, help other and show their next generation the resilience that they can be proud of. Waiting for someone to come rescue you and build you a brand new mansion is stupid and promotes laziness and is not a good moral for next generation. Their kids would then learn that if I fail in school and drop out – something miraculous is going to happen and I would suddenly have a house and two cars in my driveway. Without any effort the only way that can happen is when you start selling drugs, become a pimp or get into an illegal profession. Some are successful and some are not but keep in mind both categories are harmful to your kids. The successful ones are indirectly teaching to your kids that there is a fast track to success in lieu of hard work. The ones who fail and lead a miserable life are going to keep talking about social inequalities and slavery and would impart that mindset to your kids… there is also a third category that try to succeed illegally, get caught, go to jail and they will teach your kids to set the bar very low and almost make getting to jail less of a social stigma.
(Image courtesy: wikipedia.org)
Now the saddest part of this comes from those few blacks who showed real commitment to changing their lives. They get good schooling, good education (often ivy league), become successful in their profession but they cant become role models. They leave their struggling community as they move to upscale neighborhoods (mostly white and upscale neighborhoods) and then they are branded as not being “black enough”. Some also call them “oreo cookies” – black outside and white inside. That too me is the most depressing. When someone is a true role model – they are shunned as social outcasts and they themselves are shoved into a corner and then they feel they are incarcerated because of their successes.
My Prescription – 12 practical tips
What we need is a new generations of blacks who would enact a social change from within the community, here is my prescription although I am no social reformer or activist
Educate kids about the struggles of their past and how their community have come about. Focus on the positives and not on the perceived inequalities.
Stop using the word “slavery” and “civil rights” in every circumstances for people born after 1970s. You have not lived it and dont let it become a crutch.
Embrace “education first” mode in inner city neighborhoods.
Start community led evening free evening tutoring in churches and other community establishments apart from academic education in schools. This is a good alternative for parents tutoring at home if parents are not educated. That does not absolve parents’ responsibly and free them up to sip a beer and watch TV. Parents should also try and get themselves educated and adult education workshops should be promoted.
Stop stressing on good school districts and bad school districts. Make do with what you have and the education opportunities available, not the supercomputer that is not in your school. There are many kids in this world with better economic status as yours, who don’t have access to education for a multitude of reasons.
Do not make an idol out of rich “bad morale” characters in your community. Do not glorify bad behavior. Abolish words like “Nigger” or “bitch” etc etc. which you don’t want others to call you
Tell your kids to dress respectfully, not pants falling down. Imagine everyday is like going to grandma’s house or a fine dining. You don’t have to dress with expensive clothes, but clean, modest clothes. Embrace new fashion and vogue wear, but tastefully… I am not saying dress up like saints or nuns.
Pay less importance to these fake civil rights activists like Al Sharptons of the world. Either that or pressurize them to be fair and unbiased. They should not only seek media time when a white on black crime is commited, but also when a black on white crime is commited or even when a black on black crime is commited. That would train kids to to be fair in their assessment of race relations and train them to be fair and shun crimes irrespective of the race of the individuals involved.
Save money. Open bank accounts, set aside part of your earnings as savings. Buy kids piggy banks of yester years and teach them the virtue of saving. Teach them “money saved is money earned”… teach them no respectable profession is bad… there is always a ladder to climb in each profession. Teach them to be a part of the solution.
Volunteer. Teach them to volunteer and learn the “art of giving”. Another radical idea is to tell black kids to volunteer in white or asian neighborhoods. After that tell them to volunteer in animal shelters and clinics. That would train them that inequality is a social phenomenon and not a black or white or even a human phenomenon. That would teach the idea of giving and not just receiving.
Give people second or third chances. It is never too late to change. Don’t abandon those who need help. Don’t spoon feed them, train them to feed themselves.
Government should not just provide free housing to poor and economically deprived. Make them earn it. Every family who gets subsidized or free housing needs to appoint a member of a household who will provide 40 hours of compulsory community service, such as adult education, soup kitchens, operations, community centers, hospitals, senior housing, handyman etc. There should be no free meal, as they say… This would gradually reduce the dependency on free entitlements and encourage self confidence and earning your own bread.
(Image courtesy: thyblackman.com)
Although this narrative is aimed at the black community, learning from this can be applied to each community – white and even to my “brown” south asian community. The essence is all about empowerment and taking custody of your future.
I would like to know what you think. This is a serious debate and so would request you to keep it civil