Sunday, November 18, 2007
It was during the fall of 2005, and me damn near 50, that I stopped being embarrassed by the behavior of black people – my people. It is easy to beam pride when you hear jazz or R&B, witness a sporting event, or simply read about a black person distinguishing themselves in the positive. But what about all the negatives: drugs; violence; neglect; abuse; and general slacking? This flip side is the daily dose of the ‘what the hell is going on in the heads of black people?’ question.
Every ethnicity does things that embarrasses their group, but when your group is struggling the sting is greater. Even with what I know, I am regularly reminded, like today, how better it would be if every black person had the chance to feel free of the weighty burden of shameful group behaviors. For me the first step is not about stopping or admonishing the behavior, but rather understanding its origin.
Today I picked up my company’s two L.A.-based accountants at Oakland International, for a meeting. Due to traffic we took a surface short cut back to our offices, through the poorer Latino and black sections of the city. Ahead of us at a stop light a black man opened his car door and dumped an accumulation of trash onto the road. I have seen this behavior many times, but was still dumbfounded, as were my passengers, one white, one Asian.
As the stop light changed on the uncomfortable moment, I said, “Now that was interesting. What do you guys make of it? I figured I might capitalize on the odd moment and learn something new - but no such luck. Each of the accountants smartly remained mute. So I said, ‘well let me tell you what I think. I think that guy is about 40 years behind in his thinking and tossing trash into the streets is just one of many lagging behaviors probably holding him back’. They agreed and we all relaxed back into our ride.
Now this man’s failure to assimilate the ‘don’t be a litterbug’ behavior introduced 40 years ago might come from lagging assimilation or oppositional culture, but regardless, it is supported by below-average intelligence that itself went unchallenged by an education system that did not know what to do with him - a scenario repeated every school-day across this country.
For whatever the reason a group displays symptoms of lagging intelligence, internally or externally influenced, if it is ignored, or band-aided by excuses or arbitrary props, then we should expect the problems to get worse, as they have. This only makes sense. Yes, we can argue racism ‘until the cows come home’, but as Harvard Black Studies Prof. Henry Louis Gates contends, it does not come anywhere close to explaining the black condition.
We need to stop making excuses for the litterbugs. We need to keep looking for real questions and answers.
James C. Collier
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Technorati Tags: Acting White: Check the Trash, Intelligence, Assimilation, Oppositional Culture, Equality, Acting White
Posted by James C. Collier at Sunday, November 18, 2007