"It's not that I don't like black people. I just dislike the way they talk, dress, behave, and carry themselves."
Many white people I know are disgusted by urban black culture. They have an inordinate fear of black men and an assumption that black people are mostly lazy, loud, disrespectful, crude, entitled, unrefined, and culturally inferior in every way.
Who Are These People In Our Streets?
A people of sorrows who are well acquainted with grief. The music and movies that depict life in the ghetto are gritty and full of profanity and lewd situations. From the outside they seem to glorify gang violence and drugs, but what if the music and movies are simply a stark reflection of what everyday life looks like for people who grow up in these forgotten places?
In 1619, the first African slaves were sold to British colonists in Jamestown, Virginia. Forty-three years later, Virginia passed the Law of Heredity; it stated that any child born to a female slave inherited their mother's slave status.
After 245 years of legal slavery here in North America ex-slaves found themselves no longer African but also barred from taking part in the America they had helped to build with their own hands.
A People Without a Place
Many ex-slaves migrated to cities across the country in search of work; many were attempting to escape the clutches of Jim Crow. But the federal government stepped in and made sure they were unable to get ahead.
"The major reason we have ghettos in every metropolitan area in this country is because federal, state, and local governments purposefully created racial boundaries in these cities. It was not the unintended effect of benign policies. It was the explicit racially purposeful policy pursued at all levels of government, and that's the reason we have ghettos today. We are reaping the fruits of these policies."- Richard Rothstein (research associate at the Economic Policy Institute)
Public Housing under the New Deal
During the Great Depression, whites and blacks alike were in need of jobs and housing. The government provided segregated housing. Unfortunately much of this segregated housing was built in areas that were integrated, creating segregation where none existed before.
Federal Housing Administration
Around the same time the Federal Housing Administration financed loans, with low interest rates, for builders who were mass producing homes in the suburbs. They attached clauses in the loans that kept black families from buying the homes. They also prevented white families from reselling their homes to black families in the future.
The GI Bill and the Making of White Suburban Enclaves
After WWII, the GI bill allowed many lower class whites to purchase homes and secure jobs in the suburbs. Unfortunately blacks were prevented from both buying homes and securing jobs outside the city.
Black families were quarantined in ghettos, and because there were so many of them in such a small space, housing prices rose. They paid much higher rent than white families in comparable living conditions. There was also high unemployment because there were few job opportunities for blacks.
People living in the ghetto didn't have equal access to public services. The police department frequently ignored complaints of vandalism and robbery. The Sanitation Department often did not pick up trash.
Fair Housing Act of 1968
In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther KIng Jr. the federal government passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Making it illegal to discriminate "in the sale, rental or financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin," according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While the act was a great step forward, many blacks could no longer afford the appreciated homes in the suburbs. And those with the means to move out of the ghetto still had to deal with zoning laws, committees on segregation, neighborhood associations, and city governments who were working together to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods.
For more information about housing discrimination please read:
"If black people would just work harder and learn to speak maybe they could do better for themselves."
This attitude reflects a severe disconnect with the history of our country. We need to stop blaming teenagers with sagging pants for centers of urban poverty. Black people never chose to live in these conditions.
Many blacks feel like American society will never be willing to accept them as actual Americans. I've been corresponding with Jason Jett, my brother and one of funniest, and most intelligent black men I know about the issue of race. Here's some of what he had to say,
"For example, when I was a teenager, one of the big topics was the confederate flag. Many of the people who I grew up with said it was a part of their heritage and not meant to be racial. Cut to last year when that kid murdered those black people in church and NOW everyone wants to cut their confederate ties because the world watched it happen. So which is it, heritage or hate? In my opinion, a lot of their heritage is hatred.
One other example, our family goes back literally hundreds of years in the Louisiana. I was born in New Orleans, raised 30 miles north of Atlanta, and now I live in Florida. My grandfather was one of the first 5-6 black attorneys in Louisiana and one of the first to have his own practice. My other grandfather fought in Europe during WW2 and served his country as a postman for almost 50 years in the South. Both of my parents graduated from Tulane University. And yet no one would consider me to be Southern. Especially "Southerners". It is also a label that I have never wanted and looked on with scorn. That's race in this country to me. It is not based on any form of reality.
Now if I try to be honest with most white people about this or anything else that they don't understand or makes them uncomfortable, I become a troublemaker. Maybe I am. They ask me to ignore race and keep working hard. But race is what I am. It is the paradigm that I have been placed in by American society."
There is a pervasive myth in America, the myth that we live in a colorblind society where everyone has equal opportunities. That myth can only be perpetuated in affluent enclaves that teach a whitewashed version of history.
Don't like black culture? It may be because you are unwilling to face the truth about America. The truth is that this country and its wealth have built been through the enslavement and oppression of minorities.
I've got more to say, so I'll be back again next week to talk about race. I've been overwhelmed by the emails and messages I've received in response to this series on race. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions. This is an an issue that affects us all.