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Fantasies in black and white
November 27, 2007 7:31 PM   Subscribe

If even most African-Americans believe the black poor are primarily responsible for their own plight, does that make it true?
posted by shotgunbooty (79 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let's not do this here, please?
posted by nasreddin at 7:35 PM on November 27, 2007


Professor Bracey over at Blackprof has some commentary on the Pew study.
posted by jedicus at 7:39 PM on November 27, 2007


yes
posted by andywolf at 7:47 PM on November 27, 2007


wait, no.
posted by andywolf at 7:47 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wasn't sure if racism is offensive, but now I know!
posted by b1tr0t at 7:47 PM on November 27, 2007


I don't see any commentary over there, unfortunately, just presentation of some of the findings.
posted by aaronetc at 7:48 PM on November 27, 2007


In my experience the black middle class does come down hard on the personal responsibility issue but then again a lot of Philadelphia's black middle class got there working in helping professions like social work and teaching. So while they can be a little tough love sometimes the love is still there for the families that struggle, at least as far as I've seen.

A lot of middle class black families are one generation out of the projects, and many of these more established families also have members that are still struggling with addiction, lack of skills, mental illness that keeps them closer to the streets, etc. I don't think the divide is all that wide, though there's is certainly a growing trend towards black conservatism both in the home and the church, which I've mentioned on here before to some people's disbelief.
posted by The Straightener at 7:52 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


(RUNS AWAY)
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 7:52 PM on November 27, 2007


I don't see any commentary from Professor Bracey in that link, jedicus. Just a terse summary of the report.

Also, this will end well.
posted by nzero at 7:53 PM on November 27, 2007


Er, what aaronetc said.
posted by nzero at 7:54 PM on November 27, 2007


Well, he interprets it as a move towards conservatism in the black community (at least relative to recent history). He has written a book related to those ideas. It's not available yet, though.

I was mostly extrapolating from those findings that he felt were the most important. I also have the benefit of being in his race relations class, so I guess I saw more than is really there.
posted by jedicus at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2007


I hate that proposition that people who can't get ahead are largely responsible. It's such an utter crock.

...mother was an alcoholic and I was born with foetal alcohol syndrome, I'm trying to do something about it but...

...went to a school in a lower socio economic area, we had no resources, but I'm sure the advantages of reading are largely exaggerated.

...suffered from ADHD, couldn't concentrate in class...

On and on it goes.
posted by mattoxic at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2007


The way this might end well is if the people who have no intention of reading the articles or contributing anything constructive stop fucking posting, "this will not end well."
posted by The Straightener at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2007 [18 favorites]


The post is doomed because the framing is complete shit.
posted by empath at 8:00 PM on November 27, 2007


It's possible that the infantilization inherent in slavery, and the need to play "Sambo" to keep on master's good side, has been culturally transmitted down the generations, resulting in the teaching, repeated every generation, of learned helplessness. (I'm badly paraphrasing Elkins here, and throwing in Moynihan.)

It's possible that the cultural and physical effects of poverty (lead paint, poor nutrition, behavioral responses to poverty crowding and hopelessness, resulting physical consequences of stress and hypertension, etc.) result in continued barriers to success.

It's possible that endemic low-level racism, fear of being arrested for "driving while black" or just the corrosive effect of being judged by a majority population, possibly exacerbated by the "soft bigotry of low expectations" inherent in Affirmative Action, work to erode confidence, sap resolve, and undermine hope.

It's possible that some races have been naturally or even purposely artificially selected (what else is slavery than artificial selection) for lower drive or lower intelligence.

But before we make it all about blacks, visit Appalachia's coal-fields and hollows, check out the relative differences in success of the Irish during the famine, the Irish transported to Australia, and the Irish immigrants to the US, examine the data on Romanian orphans adopted to the US.
posted by orthogonality at 8:00 PM on November 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


I saw the Salon article this morning; the guy lost me when he equated "61%" with "virtually everybody" (as opposed to "a little more than half, plus or minus three percentage points") to say nothing of invoking the hoary spectre of "since 9/11..." (always especially galling when writing on a subject that doesn't have shit to do with 9/11). Anyway, I don't think there's anything that remarkable about this finding. Upper and middle class African-Americans look down on poor African-Americans? It...it can't be...!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:03 PM on November 27, 2007


[Examines the data on Romanian orphans adopted to the US.]

Wow! You're right!
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:03 PM on November 27, 2007


This is a test of your new inclusive feel-good flagging system. This is only a test. Please stand by.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:06 PM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I hate that proposition that people who can't get ahead are largely responsible. It's such an utter crock.

The problem is that if you say that people are only responsible for not doing X if they could have, in the very strictest sense, done X, then it probably turns out that no one is ever responsible for anything.

Here's a thought experiment. Let's pretend we can back the whole universe up 15 minutes as many times as we please, and we'll see how many different versions of the above comment you produce.

I would personally be surprised if it didn't come out exactly the same every time. Why wouldn't it? Starting from the exact same state, and subject to the exact same inputs, why would your brain produce a different comment?

And if it did, what would that prove except that your brain acts randomly?

Either way, things look depressing for the notion that the human mind has an influence on the world apart from the chemical processes in the brain, but at the same time, we have no problem saying you're responsible for your comment.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 8:08 PM on November 27, 2007


Uh...thanks for clearing that up, "Tex."
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:12 PM on November 27, 2007 [5 favorites]


This most recent study dovetails the other recent Pew study that found black middle class families struggle to stay in the middle class. This isn't a case of middle class people looking down on poor people, there is a far more complex interplay between poor blacks, recently middle class blacks and solidly middle class blacks who are maybe one generation further away from poor than the recently middle class. We didn't even have a black middle class not long ago, there's nobody thumbing noses from a mountain top, here.
posted by The Straightener at 8:14 PM on November 27, 2007


Since when did the belief of a majority of anybody, about anything, make it true?

Jesus Fucking Christ, what an asshole....
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:17 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


We didn't even have a black middle class not long ago, there's nobody thumbing noses from a mountain top, here.

Oh, hell, all it really takes is a move from one neighborhood to another for some people to start casting aspersions. It doesn't have to be some huge generational shift.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:17 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


...the black poor are primarily responsible for their own plight...

This might make sense if "the black poor" was some kind of meaningful group that thought, worked, or acted together.

Or on preview, what empath said.
posted by rokusan at 8:21 PM on November 27, 2007


Oh, hell, all it really takes is a move from one neighborhood to another for some people to start casting aspersions.

Do you think so? You don't think those people who moved out don't come back to go to the same church they grew up in? You don't think they still have some extended family there? I don't think your concept of the black community accurately reflects who tight knit it is, even across broad north/south geographies where families in Baltimore, Philly and Boston will still make regular trips to see extended family in the Carolinas and Georgia.

I think this study measures a communal frustration at other's inability to match the same success, not disdain for those who haven't succeeded.
posted by The Straightener at 8:25 PM on November 27, 2007


Oh for the love of God not this again.
posted by nola at 8:32 PM on November 27, 2007


though there's is certainly a growing trend towards black conservatism both in the home and the church, which I've mentioned on here before to some people's disbelief.

Really? MeFites have a hard time accepting the existence of socially conservative attitudes among black people?

That's so weird. How could anybody -- that is, anybody who actually talks with any black people -- overlook that?
posted by jason's_planet at 8:33 PM on November 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Flagged as "Racy!"
posted by sourwookie at 8:35 PM on November 27, 2007


How could anybody -- that is, anybody who actually talks with any black people -- overlook that?

Well, the last go-round of the let's-talk-about-black-folks thread some posters were pointing to the long we-will-overcome type social justice oriented Baptist tradition. I think that has to some extent been supplanted over time by the hardcore evangelical Biblical literalists whose relentless hate for homosexuals kind of negates a lot of social justice work they might still do directly serving the homeless, addicts, etc in the community.
posted by The Straightener at 8:39 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you are born a poor farmer in China and you work hard and are smart and save you will probably still die a poor farmer in China.
posted by I Foody at 8:46 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think this study measures a communal frustration at other's inability to match the same success, not disdain for those who haven't succeeded.

But what it measures isn't even really important to the question of whether -- and this really is all it is -- a bunch of people saying something makes it true. It doesn't matter if the poll indicates a high incidence of bourgeois thought or existential angst over the plight of those left behind: what matters is whether the poll indicates anything that's, like, actually true, in the real world. And the sole criteria here for understanding why there are poor black people in America seems to be whether or not one is black. And, you know, forgive me, but I don't think that alone really qualifies someone to make sweeping socioeconomic judgments that apparently some people intend to take 100% seriously and could conceivably even use as ammunition when crafting public policy.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:51 PM on November 27, 2007


Jesus Fucking Christ, what an asshole....

anotherpanacea: Fair warning--I'm starting a one man campaign against the words "Jesus Fucking Christ" in a comment. So now you're on my radar.

And it's going on your Permanent Record.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:51 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Shotgunbooty, can you share what you hope to tease out from the way you framed this question?

Because I can't tell if we're trying to have a conversation that asks:

1.What happens when a majority believes something that isn't true?

2. What makes something true? That a majority believes it to be so?

3. If someone (say, African Americans) believe something about their own community, does that make it ok for everyone else to believe is as well?

4. What does it mean for African Americans to be "responsible for their plight"?

And I'm working with the presumption here that you just weren't trying to say something inflammatory.
posted by anitanita at 8:53 PM on November 27, 2007


Chris Rock sums this up best: Every time black people want to have a good time, ignant niggers fuck it up.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:57 PM on November 27, 2007


Look, black people were dragged to this country kicking and screaming and lived in servitude for centuries, then we denied them jobs, housing and education for another century. For a few decades now, they've had access to better education and job opportunities, but the vast majority of them are not doing much better than their grandparents were.

WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH BLACK PEOPLE, AMIRITE?

Jeez-- how much better are YOU doing than your grandparents did?

It's going to take centuries to undo the damage that apartheid and slavery did. You can't just snap your fingers and undo it. It'll happen when the races mix or at the very least when segregated neighborhoods disappear. That kind of mass population change does not happen overnight.

I do think, though, that affirmative action based on race is nearing the end of its value, though. Doing it based on class will still achieve much the same effect without having to appeal to a pseudo-scientific social construct like 'race'.
posted by empath at 8:58 PM on November 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


Shotgunbooty, can you share what you hope to tease out from the way you framed this question?

What? It's the byline of the article, verbatim, from the second link. Whether or not you agree with the article, Shotgunbooty didn't pull that sentence out of his ass (so to speak).
posted by dhammond at 9:00 PM on November 27, 2007


anitanita, forgive my laziness. I was merely quoting the byline of the article in the second link. I did not see it as inflammatory when I first read, but now I can see why others might. I wasn't trying to start a discussion about whether or not the majority of people believing something makes it true, as it obviously doesn't. If I were to rephrase the post, it probably just be something like "Even most African-Americans now believe that the black poor are primarily responsible for their own plight, but that doesn't make it true."
posted by shotgunbooty at 9:05 PM on November 27, 2007


Jeez, if you're going to drop n-bombs in here, at least use the -az suffix when you spell it. Big difference, like night and day. (Then again, I'm sort of a word fetishist...)
posted by dhammond at 9:05 PM on November 27, 2007


Dhammond, I know it's the byline of the article. But the point is shotgunbooty didn't reframe the question, and the article covers the scope of the four questions I asked(and a few others). What I wondered was what shotgunbooty inferred from the statement.

Obviously it caught his/her eye, and I don't think s/he was trying to be inflammatory. In short, s/he shared a story, and I was wondering about his/her opinion, or perspective on it.
posted by anitanita at 9:06 PM on November 27, 2007


Ah! Thanks shotgunbooty. That's clearer.

Actually, I wonder if individuals in the middle/upper class in general thinks that poorer individuals are to blame for their 'plight'.

Also, if poorer individuals believe they are primarily responsible for their poverty, and if the wealthy believe that their good fortune is also primarily due to their individuals efforts.
posted by anitanita at 9:14 PM on November 27, 2007


No reason to avoid this issue.

Three anecdotal observations:

1. From a former black partner/lover: "How come all these black men be hanging out on the street instead of goin' out and workin''?"

2. From a mostly white school with a 15% middle/upper class black population. "I have never felt discriminated against."

3. From a mostly black school, 10 years served, years ago. The children had extremely high expectations about their future. They would be famous rappers, doctors, athletes, etc.

Nowhere was presented the idea that they might hold mid-level jobs, rent an apartment, have a small family, and be happy.

This disconnect between our educational "all-college-prep" agenda and the real world is a tragedy. My electrician makes more than I (a teacher) do.

The myopic malajusted educational system should bear a lot of the blame for the current tragic problem. Schools should educate students for the life they choose. The life that is available to them.

And, since the No Test Left Behind solution of the current administration, things are getting worse. Worse than you can imagine, those of you who are not teachers.

We teachers used to be able to teach to our population, black, white, latino...now data-driven instruction is being mandated by the State.

Personal instruction, teacher to student interaction, the Socratic tradition: gone. Sorry.
posted by kozad at 9:14 PM on November 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


...and actually, let me answer my own question. I am quite clear that most of my economic and social comforts are totally based on my access to education, which was the result of certainly hard work, but also financial support by my parents, and high expectations on the part of my community.

With hard work alone - hmm, perhaps I would have still gotten the full ride for graduate school, but my advisors told me about fellowship opportunities, my parents guided me through the application process (reviewing my statement, etc), and I had a strong candidacy due to a number of wonderful experiences that were probably impressive on my CV. Oh yes, and there was luck.

But I'm not dopey enough to overestimate my 'hard work' factor and underestimate the influence of resources and opportunity that privilege affords.
posted by anitanita at 9:25 PM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Across the board? No, of course not. But it must be true, to a certain extent, of some percentage of the population--of any population.

"The black poor" are in no way monolithic. (And, for the record, Flavor Flav ain't poor.)

The only thing the question posed in this post reflects (aside from its author's potentially deplorable intentions) is that the African-American population is fully capable of being just as wrong as everyone else.
posted by Reggie Digest at 9:30 PM on November 27, 2007


aside from its author's potentially deplorable intentions

Translation: It's a good thing he wasn't an asshole but maybe he really is a racist and was just scared to write it, so maybe we should remain suspicious of him.

Look, this is a non-story, unless you legitimately believe that a slim majority really counts as "most" or that you think it's suprising that black folks don't think as a monolithic group of people.

Which a lot of folks, including Juan Williams, apparently do.
posted by dhammond at 9:44 PM on November 27, 2007


But if virtually everyone believes something, does that then make it true?

Truthiness prevails.
posted by zennie at 9:46 PM on November 27, 2007


I recall a survey where white people were asked how much money they'd ask for in exchange for being magically made black (while otherwise retaining all their personal attributes).. Of course, the thought experiment is to discover how detrimental those surveyed felt it is, to be black in America.

As a black, you'd (presumably) be able to regain your economic status. Right? So a relatively small amount should "compensate" you for being made black. Right?

So, $10,000? $100,000?

For me, I'd want several millions I think. More if I ever wanted to visit New York City (or Oxford Mississippi, or L.A.) while carrying a cell-phone, a wallet, or anything else that might be mistaken for gun. And more money for every shade darker I'd be, and more likely to be hassled by cops, and assumed to be stupid and "street" and "thuggish" like the rappers and rapper wannabees. (although, in all honesty, if I weren't already through college, I might very well drop the price for some of that sweet Affirmative action placement.)

In sum, and it's just my opinion, I think that blacks in America are relegated to the extremes: many live in extreme poverty, all face endemic racism, but a small group are able to cash in -- as a comic who retails "his people's" travails, as a preacher, as the owner of a shell company that gets minority set-asides, as one of the few who get into better schools than they'd have gotten into with the same skills and a white face. Just as in the days of slavery, white society makes sure there are "House Negroes" and "Field Negroes", safe "magic Negroes" and threatening "thugs". And by and large, blacks seem to buy into the same intra-black segregation into types, or stereotypes.

But if you're black, there's that ever-present sword of Damocles hanging over your head, that a run in with a cop or a white girl or a mob could send you to the fields, or to prison, or to an early grave. It's not a life I'd want (but then again, plenty of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean seem willing to take the risk, so what do I know?).
posted by orthogonality at 9:48 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Note, I'm not condemning any black who "cashes in"; I'd do the same. My point is, society at large (i.e, white society) seems only willing to admit a certain proportion of blacks to political or economic power or even economic security. And, as I've noted, that same exclusivity, in a less pervasive and skin-based way, also seems to apply to the poor whites of this country.
posted by orthogonality at 9:54 PM on November 27, 2007


kozad - I'm sympathetic with much of what you say, but I'd take umbrage at "my electrician makes more than I (a teacher) do", Grammar aside, you might want to think about how that sounds a bit classist.

p.s. I'm glad you have an electrician.
posted by Sk4n at 9:59 PM on November 27, 2007


TIME magazine did a poll in December 2006 (unfortunately, I can't seem to find a link to it) which found that a majority of blacks didn't think a black person could be elected President, whereas a majority of whites thought a black person could be elected.

If memory serves me correctly, both of the majorities were rather slim.
posted by Poolio at 10:05 PM on November 27, 2007


Turtles all the way down said: I'm starting a one man campaign against the words "Jesus Fucking Christ" in a comment.

How about Jesus H. Christ?
posted by amyms at 10:10 PM on November 27, 2007


The responsibility question is nifty and controversial and all but something that I find more interesting is the overall thesis in the NPR link that large-scale cultural differentiation is getting more pronounced in black society in the U.S.

Growing up in Northern New England in a family that considered itself Yankee, having childhood friends who were French Canadian or transplanted West Virginians or Irish Catholics up from the Boston area or kids who spoke Greek to their grandparents, all of those groups having distinct culture and literature and food and history they'd talk about, the idea of there being a single "white culture" in the U.S. would seem as silly to me as I'd imagine the idea of "Indian culture" as a single unit or "Chinese culture" as a single unit would seem to someone from India or China respectively.

So when I was a kid and first heard the term "black culture" and read that there were "black studies" departments in some universities it seemed so odd to me - like, there's a single black culture and it can all be wrapped up into a single academic disciplinary field? But over the years, as an outside observer, it has seemed to me that it's a valid notion or at least was at some point in the past - that there's less cultural depth or breadth, less cultural volume or something among blacks and black history in the U.S. compared to other cultures I've been exposed to. Which would totally make sense, since any culture that came here with black slaves was run through a shredder as much as the slaves themselves were.

To try to disclaim any malice or presumption on my part: maybe it's racist of me to think that or maybe I'm naive and it's obvious, sorry if it makes anyone feel bad. But if there's any value in it, and if there's any truth in that article suggesting there's progressively more internal differentiation and diversity within black culture and society that seems like a generally good thing. I would hope that more cultural latitude and elbow room would make it easier to find identity, which is difficult for everyone, and maybe even ameliorate some of the social ills that are always cited as plaguing the black community.
posted by XMLicious at 10:26 PM on November 27, 2007


if even most african-americans believe the black poor are primarily responsible for their own plight, does that make it true?

this is an incredibly stupid question, not so much for the gratuitous racial overtones, but because it is unanswerable. are you asking mefites to appoint themselves judges of the court of racial self-perception appeals? i decline. while it's easy enough to slag blacks in response to a subtle, skillfully framed troll question, a question like this creates a powerful urge to slag the questioner instead.
posted by bruce at 10:37 PM on November 27, 2007


XMLicious writes "the idea of there being a single 'white culture' in the U.S. would seem as silly to me"

"White culture" is euphemism to spare the feelings of newly white ethnics. It really means "Upper-(middle)-class WASP culture". It means Protestant English stock (with some Euro-Protestant adulteration), lineages back to the Revolution, and economic and political power. And remember that down South, the Italians are still not considered quite white, and in Boston "Irish" still means, at best, upstart. Wait, you think I'm making a clever joke?
posted by orthogonality at 10:45 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


black people were dragged to this country kicking and screaming

Actually one of the more interesting recent developments in U.S. race relations has been the voluntary immigration of large numbers of black people.

There has been an assumption for years (that is certainly well represented in this thread) that African-American means "descended from slavery and 5 more generations of the short end of the stick".

Increasingly that is not the case, and it would not surprise me at all if the new immigrants (who have often worked their asses off to buy their way out of crumbling East African republics) felt that people who started life as Americans and are failing to thrive must be doing something wrong.
posted by tkolar at 11:08 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys wrote...
Either way, things look depressing for the notion that the human mind has an influence on the world apart from the chemical processes in the brain, but at the same time, we have no problem saying you're responsible for your comment.

You have to be careful with this train of thought. If you follow it to its conclusion then you stop having a reason to rant and rave about human behavior, which affords some measure of inner peace but makes you very boring at cocktail parties.
posted by tkolar at 11:21 PM on November 27, 2007


orthogonality writes in Boston "Irish" still means, at best, upstart

I'd be inclined to infer that you've never been to Boston, at least not on St. Patrick's Day. If that's not the case, next time you're in town you might note the number of streets, bridges, tunnels... concert halls... philanthropic foundations... airports... coliseums... that are named after Irish. The Kennedys, in particular, are a little bit more on the "establishment" end of the spectrum rather than on the "upstart" end, in fact the word that's usually used is "dynastic".

I think you may be trying too hard to find things to hyperbolize about.
posted by XMLicious at 11:58 PM on November 27, 2007


As is usual, there is a Canadian model:

The results suggest First Nations people want greater self-sufficiency. A large majority at 83 per cent agree that Aboriginal people need to do more to help themselves.

Same old same old. When people are shat upon for long periods of time they start blaming themselves for the smell.
posted by Neiltupper at 2:26 AM on November 28, 2007


Jeez, if you're going to drop n-bombs in here

Well, I was quoting him and in the context of the piece I'm pretty sure he was applying the clearly pejorative "niggers" to the more friendly and inclusive "niggahs" or, as you suggest, "niggaz." I mean, that was the point of the whole bit, right? That he, a black man, looks at African Americans and finds a sub-group that he views in a way similar to that in which current and prior generations of white racists viewed blacks as a whole and called "niggers." Not "niggaz."

And I'm sure we're all intelligent and grown-up enough here to be able to see and use the correct word when it's done in the interest of precision.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:28 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


'blacks who can't get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.'

I wonder how the respondents read the word responsible. You might not be responsible for being in trouble, but you can't avoid being responsible for getting yourself out of it. Perhaps those 53% of black Americans still blame their troubles on historical and social injustices, yet acknowledge that waiting around for help is useless, and that they are ultimately responsible for improving their own lives.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:54 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Buy books. Then read them. Blame no one. Save the rest of your money.

You can't live like that in China, my friend.

I thought the forum that jedicus linked to was very interesting. We need to abandon the idea that statistics are lies and focus on the story they actually tell.
posted by ewkpates at 4:35 AM on November 28, 2007


I think if you subtract "African-" and "black" from the post, it's just as relevant.
posted by adipocere at 4:46 AM on November 28, 2007


that there's less cultural depth or breadth, less cultural volume or something among blacks and black history in the U.S. compared to other cultures I've been exposed to

I understand what you're talking about and I partially disagree. There is a large portion of the culture that never really sees the light of day. Of course you argue that if culture is not ever present then it doesn't really exist, and since I think that's at least partially valid I'll just let that objection pass. But there's a lot of stuff out there that isn't very hip, has associations to poverty or racist views, largely unknown and is also relatively highbrow in that it takes energy and concentration to appreciate. That all adds up to: small audience, real small.

A few examples. If you look at old records you'll find some interesting examples of old black folk music. Not the blues. One album that immediately comes to mind is Country Negro Jam Sessions. Stuff like this, or black banjo pickers that came out of the Appalachian tradition get practically no attention today. Same goes with a lot of the pre WWII spirituals. Some of it has to do with how different it sounds to us, and how far away it is from commercial mass entertainment. It's also easy to make fun of; you don't even have to listen to it. Just start at the name. There's an interesting review of Volume 1 of Prison Songs from Parchman Farm Penitentiary, recorded by Alan Lomax (awesome fucking album by the way, and very accessible), at Amazon where the guy claims that when Lomax went back a few years after Elvis broke the younger convicts would no longer perform the work songs because it made them feel like they were "Uncle Tomming". I've also heard about black kids feeling embarrassed by the dialect that some of the old slave narratives are written in. That's tough to overcome.

What results is that a reduced set of the total is put forward as 'black culture'.
posted by BigSky at 4:58 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Increasingly that is not the case, and it would not surprise me at all if the new immigrants (who have often worked their asses off to buy their way out of crumbling East African republics) felt that people who started life as Americans and are failing to thrive must be doing something wrong.

Not my experience. There is a huge African faction at my agency, in fact the aid that rides with me in the field on most days is from Ghana. Africans in Philly have flocked to social service jobs because there's a great demand there and it's a decent place to make a start if you're educated, skilled and care about people.

Actually, I wonder if individuals in the middle/upper class in general thinks that poorer individuals are to blame for their 'plight'.

A lot do, but they're so distanced from the realities of poverty and the conditions some children are raised in they don't have a clear concept of how little opportunity to thrive there is.

I was in a crackhouse on Monday morning trying to locate a small child that lives there. Unfortunately whoever was there heard the property owner keying me in and scooted out the back door. So I couldn't locate the child but did a thorough search of the property anyway. There were empty crack baggies, crack stems and liquor bottles all over the floor and on every table. There were used condoms everywhere. The house itself was tore up, there were dirty clothes and junk piled knee high in every room. When I went to search one of the bedrooms a feral cat jumped out at out me (scared the shit out of me). But the best was the bathroom where the toilet had stopped working but they kept shitting in it anyway, so the shit was all piled up over the rim and flowing onto the floor. Awesome.

And there's a kid living in there. I can't say I'm feeling real positive about his chances of bootstrapping himself up out of poverty, but who knows. Kids are resilient and people can surpise you. But bear in mind that these are the kind of conditions we're talking about for some of these kids.
posted by The Straightener at 5:21 AM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Welcome back to another episode of White People On The Internet Argue About How Well They Know What It's Like To Be Poor And Black!
posted by shakespeherian at 6:29 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's going to take centuries to undo the damage that apartheid and slavery did. You can't just snap your fingers and undo it. It'll happen when the races mix or at the very least when segregated neighborhoods disappear. That kind of mass population change does not happen overnight.

Source:

"The greatest danger to the liberal vision are facts about the consequences of liberalism itself and the laws, policies, and ways of life that the left has spawned.

That the black family, which survived centuries of slavery and generations of discrimination, has disintegrated in the wake of the liberal welfare state is only one example.

Liberals have been driven to the desperate expedient of attributing this and other social pathology in today's ghettos to "a legacy of slavery" -- even though black children grew up with two parents more often under slavery than today.

Blacks only a generation or two out of slavery also had higher rates of employment and lower rates of crime than today.

The illogic of the "legacy of slavery" argument only illustrates the desperate attempt to salvage the liberal vision."

-----

I do think, though, that affirmative action based on race is nearing the end of its value, though.

Huh. Well it's good to know that all those well conceived programs were of lasting benefit.

Source:

"The related notion that a certain "critical mass" of black students is needed on a given campus, in order that these students can feel comfortable enough to do their best, has become dogma without a speck of evidence being offered or asked for. Such evidence as there is points in the opposite direction.

Without affirmative action, its advocates claim, few black students would be able to get into college. In reality, there are today more black students in the University of California system and in the University of Texas system than there were before these systems ended affirmative action.

These black students are simply distributed differently within both systems -- no longer being mismatched with institutions whose standards they don't meet. They now have a better chance of graduating.

What of the idea that affirmative action has helped blacks rise out of poverty and is needed to continue that rise? A far higher proportion of blacks in poverty rose out of poverty in the 20 years between 1940 and 1960 -- that is, before any major federal civil rights legislation -- than in the more than 40 years since then. This trend continued in the 1960s, at a slower pace. The decade of the 1970s -- the first affirmative action decade -- saw virtually no change in the poverty rate among blacks.

In other words, most blacks lifted themselves out of poverty but liberal politicians and black "leaders" have claimed credit. One side effect is that many whites wonder why blacks cannot lift themselves out of poverty like other groups, when that is in fact what most blacks have done."
posted by BigSky at 6:39 AM on November 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


...the University of Texas system than there were before these systems ended affirmative action.

One of the main reasons for this is because of the Texas legislature's passing the Top 10% rule, where if you graduated in the top 10% of your high school class, you are guaranteed admission to the Texas public university of your choice. So now more minority students from poor backgrounds who are relatively smart get the chance to go to college. So UT traded one type of "affirmative action" for another. (Though seriously, walking around campus, I'm still amazed at the small number of black kids I see wandering around, and in my 4 years of working there as a full-time employee, I never had a black coworker.)
posted by lychee at 7:44 AM on November 28, 2007


cultural depth or breadth, less cultural volume or something among blacks and black history in the U.S. compared to other cultures I've been exposed to.

That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read on MeFi. All you're saying is that you don't know very much about black American culture.

A lot of black Americans don't know much about French-Canadian-American culture. Does that mean French-Canadians have "less cultural depth or breadth, less culture volume or something?" Because since you present no evidence, it's an equally valid conclusion.

Black American culture is enormous in content, enormously influential, and full of variance and detail over time and geography. After the Euro-American influences on the US, it is the single strongest set of cultural influences that have contributed to what we think of as the American character. If anything, French-Canadian culture is lot more more monolithic and less richly developed than black American culture. I can't remember the last time I saw a French-Canadian-themed sitcom. French-Canadian music is narrowly patterned in comparison to black American music. I don't know of any French-Canadian theatre traditions. French-Canadian dance has not developed any number of folk dance forms which migrated into pop culture. French-Canadian food has not become definitive American food. And so on.

Anyone who has grown up around black people knows that there is a strain of social conversatism, but I fail to see why a poll should somehow determine that a complex social phenomenon is "true" or not. It's a badly framed question. There is a great deal of pride in being able to do the exceptional, and lift oneself and one's family from the circumstances of poverty. One pervasive human phenomenon is to tell stories about ourselves in which we are not the hero or the token, but in which anyone could have done what we've done. However, only we had the gumption and stick-to-it-iveness to make it happen. The fact that some successful people believe that some non-successful people aren't trying hard enough is not news in any way. It denies the larger patterns of systemic class and race discrimination by emphasizing rarer stories of success-in-spite-of.

People have more wherewithal and greater potential than they often believe, it's true. But it's also true that the varying barriers to success to a person in the US who is disadvantaged in one of the many ways we disadvantage each other are not minor. Almost universally, conservative thought about achievement breaks down at the grainy level of the resources and influences available in any personal life. There have to be a fair number of success factors in place for someone to overcome barriers; it is rarer than we think to find that enough of the factors line up in any one given life at any one time. And some of the factors are not in our individual power to control.

Social conservatives who believe that they helped themselves get to their point of success are generally minimizing the effect of the success factors that were present in their lives (a parent at home, the interest and support of a helpful adult, a stable childhood without violence or a lot of moving around, lack of disability, good health, transportation as needed, basic health care, good early teaching, family priority on education and hard work, etc) and overemphasizing their own personal determination. If all of these black social conservatives in the polls believe that blacks aren't doing enough to help themselves, then I wonder how they are living that belief. How many of them volunteer in literacy programs for black kids? How many are big brothers/big sisters? How many give to food aid and health aid organizations? How many vote in ways that support Head Start, WIC, and other early-childhood programs that lay the groundwork for learning?

The charming conservative illusion that people are truly independent of their circumstances and one another, and that our society is truly level and merit-based, is one of the main tools for maintaining the underclass we need to sustain our current economic model.
posted by Miko at 8:26 AM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


kozad - I'm sympathetic with much of what you say, but I'd take umbrage at "my electrician makes more than I (a teacher) do", Grammar aside, you might want to think about how that sounds a bit classist.

p.s. I'm glad you have an electrician.
How about putting it this way:
"I went to college then spend seven years in graduate school and incurred $50k in student loans ($3k/yr in payments, $90k for the life of the loan) so I could make $47k/year (base). Technicians with a two year certification make the same amount.

Occasionally this upsets me. But then again, I am posting to Metafilter while at work, and later I may read a book about language, or start grading a mountain of papers, and the electrician is outside in 30 degree weather. Also, when the housing market collapse reaches my region, I will still be employed."
posted by mecran01 at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2007


I'm starting a one man campaign against the words "Jesus Fucking Christ" in a comment. So now you're on my radar.

Unfortunately, I suspect this may be the first time I've ever used the phrase, and it will likely be the last: it just seemed like the thing to say at the time to properly express my distaste for the post's subject and framing. There are interesting things to be said on the conservative end of the debates about personal responsibility, class, and social justice: a Raz post, maybe, but this isn't that.

I say unfortunately because I could use a good feud right now... perhaps you could comb my comment history and find something worthy of a good MeTa callout? I make no promises that your research will be rewarded with something truly execrable, but 'hope springs sempiternal' and all that.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:17 AM on November 28, 2007


for extra emphasis in real life, sometimes i say "jesus h. fucking christ on a harley-davidson."
posted by bruce at 10:37 AM on November 28, 2007


Did this article really use Flavor Flav as anything remotely resembling a realistic black role-model (or a real person for that matter?) I know as a white person, I am often comfortable with the likes of Marilyn Manson, Dick Cheney and that Peter Pan guy used as accurate representations of my "race".
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:47 AM on November 28, 2007


We're seeing certain kinds of chickens coming to particular sorts of roosts. Many developments in the African-American community have laid the groundwork for this mindset (and split).

For one thing, race and class were always intertwined, and as the African-American middle-class separates from the African-American lower-class, we're seeing the same kind of attitude that many, say, middle-class white people have for lower-class white people. There was never any reason to assume that there was something magical about black people as a whole which would forever bind them all together without any of the neutral-to-negative stuff which also comes with human nature. No one - especially white people - who scoffs at "white trash" has reason to find this unusual.

Further in that regard, the voluntary immigration of West Indian and African immigrants has further altered the face of black America. Not only is there is no one monolithic culture, but it's going to diversify more and more as time goes on. Not only do children of immigrants do very well, and not only are immigrants from Africa some of the most educated and motivated immigrants of all, but many of their families are going to work very hard, culturally, to distance themselves from the underclass who have been plagued by the legacy of slavery.

Even if you're not an immigrant, if you're the sort of person who prides himself or herself on your ability to persevere, you are going to take a VERY vocal and negative viewpoint against bad decisions, especially when it comes to your children. Between the racist perception that black people may be poor, unruly, drug dealers, etc. and the difficult realities in inner-city black neighborhoods, a parent would be a fool not to demonize bad lifestyle choices. You are going to point out the window at some guy on the corner and say to your children, "don't be like that guy," in a manner far less coy and philosophical than a white suburbanite would. The cultural conservatism of many older African-Americans comes from a very real place, where family, faith, and hard work are seen as a bulwark against very bad choices. This goes doubly in an environment where you can't count on society at large to help you out. You sure as hell can't count on white liberals who pledge for your public housing and then give you a poisonous environment like, say, Cabrini-Green or Tomkins. You're going to turn to YOUR family and YOUR community.

Furthermore, with the increasing cultural and socioeconomic diversity, you're going to see more people who will reflect the negative sides of human nature by putting down groups of people. I have heard plenty of prejudicial stuff from, for example, Haitian and Nigerian individuals who do not have a cultural taboo against badmouthing poor black people. They are not white, so they are "allowed;" they do not feel completely simpatico with the underclass descended from slaves, so they do not feel very much loyalty or a need to be kind. And even thinking of older African-Americans whom I have known, who are not shy about, say, referring to drug dealers as "vomit" or bashing hip-hop in ways which I have NEVER heard white people do so - they all had CHILDREN. Whether you agree, disagree, or recuse yourself from even considering their remarks, you surely must see how this attitude has developed organically.

None of this lets white people off the hook. Bad decisions can come from bad environments, and we all know how those bad environments arose. And it is of course a straw man to think that, for every choice, it was either 100% sui generis from someone's free will or 100% simply bobbing along with the tide. It is also genuinely not OK for middle-class white people to freely cast aspersions on those less fortunate.

But no, in general, this is not surprising. And the question "are poor black people responsible for their plight?" is a stupid question.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:13 PM on November 28, 2007 [3 favorites]



One of the main reasons for this is because of the Texas legislature's passing the Top 10% rule, where if you graduated in the top 10% of your high school class, you are guaranteed admission to the Texas public university of your choice.


BTW, according to an internal study at University of Pittsburgh this is not a bad idea at all. Placement compared to high school classmates, regardless of the high school, worked out to be a very good predictor of how someone would perform at the University.

Academically competitive people do well in college -- who woulda thunk?
posted by tkolar at 3:26 PM on November 28, 2007


miko said That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read on MeFi. All you're saying is that you don't know very much about black American culture.

A lot of black Americans don't know much about French-Canadian-American culture...


It's quite possible that I'm an ignoramus but I don't think that you read what I said very carefully. Especially since you went on to say a bunch of stuff about denying race discrimination and social conservatism, etc., which I didn't say anything about. If you're going to condemn me as MOST RIDICULOUS MEFI THING EVAR at least grant the courtesy of responding to ME and not all of the other things you happened to read today in this thread.

French-Canadian culture is lot more more monolithic and less richly developed than black American culture.

If you review my comment again you might realize that I totally agree with that statement. I wasn't giving examples of cultures that I thought were more diverse than black culture. I said that whereas amongst people with "white" skin cultures are distinctly separated into groups like French-Canadian, Yankees, Appalachian Virginian, etc., the same is not done amongst blacks. People (like you, for example) talk about "black culture" as if it's all of one piece.
posted by XMLicious at 3:44 PM on November 28, 2007


Only the first part of my response was to you, XMLicious. Then I started talking about the larger issue.

The cultures you mention - Yankee, Irish, French-Canadian - are thought of as distinct because they are quite distinct. These groups arrived in North America at different times, with different language groups, different religious backgrounds, and different historical circumstances, having left their native countries for different reasons.

Now, the general sense in African-American studies is that, though the slave trade of the 1600 and 1700s drew from several language and cultural groups in Western Africa, the cultural differences among those groups were largely flattened by the system of slavery, which broke religious, language, and cultural groups apart without regard. Slave populations weren't free to move together and settle together in ethnic enclaves that allowed their unique attributes to flourish; they were sold at auction and dispersed throughout the colonies. Africans enslaved could find themselves in a living situation with other Africans with whom they shared nothing but skin color and legal status - not language, not belief, not music, not story, not custom, not behavior, not knowledge. In such a situation, the common language became, of course, the dominant language of English. The common religion became variations of the dominant religion to which they were exposed, Christianity (although influences, called 'survivals', from West African religions were strong). The common rituals became those allowed by their legal status and criminal codes, not those developed and demanded in their own cultures. Slavery did everything that can be done to destroy cultures, and meant, in effect, the destruction of the unique cultural patterns the Africans who became slaves originally brought with them.

That is the main reason that, despite their arrival at different times and for different reasons, African-Americans descended from slavery share a culture that is in some ways more monolithic than white culture. Most white cultural groups ended up here through some modicum of free choice, and were able to settle with others of their kind. Even when oppressed, they could practice their music, tell their stories, and carry on traditional customs in their own ethnic enclaves. For generations, white ethnic groups have continued to associate, resisting pressure to actually meld a new 'white' cultural identity, while clinging to their own ethnic identities (Italian-American, Polish-American, Irish-American). African-Americans in slavery, on the other hand, had to find or develop commonalities despite diverse backgrounds. The shared culture that emerged was quite rich as a result, but perhaps more consistent geographically than white ethnic culture.

That's not to say that there isn't tremendous variation within black culture - regional variations on African-American culture are quite notable. New Orleanian, Southeast, Midwestern, Western, and Northeastern black cultures have their own hallmarks. There are black American cultural groups which are highly distinct pockets of language, occupation, belief, or custom that are every bit as different from mainstream black culture as Greek-American culture is from Franco-American culture. Talking about 'black culture' or "African-American culture" will always be a way to discuss very general similarities, just as talking about "mainstream American culture" or "white culture" can only go so far. To get a more informative level of detail, you have to begin looking for the subdivisions that exist within every larger cultural group. Even within a small ethnic cultural division, you'll find gender divisions, age divisions, class divisions, and so on - each with its own culture.

Now that I understand your observation better, I would say that these are the are valid historical reasons why it may seem to be so, but that there is cultural variety across all racial and ethnic groups.
posted by Miko at 5:08 PM on November 28, 2007


mecran01, if you're still reading, I understand that my (cliched) complaint that my electrician makes more than I do(as a teacher) sounds a little classist. You might be right. (Although my electrician is a friend of mine who I play with on a bandstand ocassionally.) I do have great respect for electricians and plumbers and construction workers, etc. You're right that I sound bitter about it even though I shouldn't. Perhaps it's the pile of papers I have to grade tonight...and last night...

BTW, my grammar is OK. The parenthetical phrase (my electrician) has nothing to do with subject/verb agreement.
posted by kozad at 5:28 PM on November 28, 2007


The proper analogy just occurred to me: that of Native American culture. It can sometimes be useful to talk about 'Native American culture,' because there are many common themes, culturally and historically, that Native Americans have in common. And yet, Native Americans as a cultural group are made up of thousands of individual cultures which are unique in many ways. Subcultures exist within those cultures, and so on, and so on. The same construct applies to 'black culture,' with, again, the caveat that black culture in America endured a process of homogenization through slavery.
posted by Miko at 5:29 PM on November 28, 2007


miko said Slavery did everything that can be done to destroy cultures,

Yes, that's what I meant when I said any culture that came here with black slaves was run through a shredder as much as the slaves themselves were.

Though, if what you said above means that you're backing off a bit from the "most ridiculous comment ever" appellation, I appreciate it.

Good point on the Native American case, though my impression has always been that the common themes that are asserted to run through Native American cultures are simplifications and artefacts of reconstructionism, sort of the way "Neo-Paganism" people blithely blend together Greco-Roman practices, Norse mythology, and all of the scraps and tidbits they can find that describe cultures in pre-Roman Europe. (Not to mention any cool-sounding ideas from literature and Dungeons & Dragons that take their fancy.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:01 PM on November 28, 2007


Well, there's good scholarship, bad scholarship, and total reconstruction to meet present needs - I'd put neo-paganism in that category. However, I think there can be real utility in examining cultural groups in the largest aggregates. Agrarian cultures of the Northern hemisphere do have a lot in common. Native American cultures are sometimes conflated poorly, but there are still some large generalizations that can be made about trends in social organization, land use practices, etc.

As always, few generalizations will accurately describe every subgroup, but if large patterns emergy they're worth discussion.

Yes, the "most ridiculous comment" was a response to a misreading or incomplete reading of your first comment, and I'm sorry. At first it looked as though you were suggesting there was less information contained in "black culture" than in white subcultures.

As a last point, I'd also note that the last people to identify a large cultural group are often members of that group themselves. It's common for white people to think they are not members of a broad "white culture," just as it is common for black people to be attuned to subdivisions among groups within black culture that are perhaps invisible to outside viewers.
posted by Miko at 6:11 PM on November 28, 2007


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