Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Ongoing Crisis in the Black Community

In his New York Times Op-Ed titled Too Long Ignored, Bob Herbert writes:

The Schott Foundation for Public Education tells us in a new report that the on-time high school graduation rate for black males in 2008 was an abysmal 47 percent, and even worse in several major urban areas — for example, 28 percent in New York City.

The astronomical jobless rates for black men in inner-city neighborhoods are both mind-boggling and heartbreaking. There are many areas where virtually no one has a legitimate job.

More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. And I’ve been hearing more and more lately from community leaders in poor areas that moms are absent for one reason or another and the children are being raised by a grandparent or some other relative — or they end up in foster care.

Black men, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, have nearly a one-third chance of being incarcerated at some point in their lives. By the time they hit their mid-30s, a solid majority of black men without a high school diploma have spent time in prison.

Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men, with the murderous wounds in most cases inflicted by other young black men.

White families are typically five times as wealthy as black families. More than a third of all black children are growing up in poverty. In Ohio, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the percentage is more than half.

The aspect of this crisis that is probably the most important and simultaneously the most difficult to recognize is that the heroic efforts needed to alleviate it will not come from the government or the wider American society. This is a job that will require a campaign on the scale of the civil rights movement, and it will have to be initiated by the black community.

During the Civil Rights Movement, the problem was easier to identify and target. Through sustained demonstrations, litigation and legislation, we were able to break the chains of the oppressive Jim Crow era. Similarly, today, it is easy to demonstrate against high profile incidents of police brutality. It is easy to boycott or condemn modern manifestations of blatant racism such as the rantings of Don Imus, Glenn Beck or Dr. Laura Schlissinger.

However, Bob Herbert's call to action is a far greater challenge. Every weekend, I hear about another shooting in Baltimore. Such violence is the norm in Baltimore, D.C., Detroit, Philadelphia, Newark, Chicago, Gary and other major inner cities. The other weekend, 12 young African Americans were shot by other African Americans in Baltimore. We can march in the streets until our feet fall off. Will that stop the drugs and guns from flooding the inner cities? Will marches and prayer vigils ever stop young brothers and sisters from shooting and killing each other? Will lawsuits increase the black high school graduation rates? Will legislation force fathers to raise and guide their own children? Of course not.

To address these problems, some activists have advocated for more mentoring programs. Others have urged religious institutions to play a more significant role in community. Unfortunately, such efforts alone will not remedy our myriad of problems. Such problems stem from entrenched, institutionalized racism and structural inequality.

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