If you ask me personally, I believe it is a little of both. First off, there is the misguided idea that violence is only reserved for inner cities and single parents. As if they are not white kids from the suburbs, hailing from two parent backgrounds, not engaged in violence. As if the Batman massacre or the Sikh Temple shooting or Oklahoma City Bombing or Columbine were just some glitches in their otherwise respectable upbringing. As if crime in our cities and in lower income communities has nothing to do with the big clusterfuck of poverty, redlining, predatory lending practices, poor educational opportunities and institutionalized racism. If you’re poor, it’s because you are inferior. If you are a victim of violence it is because you lack values and morals. Of course, the overarching message is that with some boot strapping, values and personal responsibility, those people had a chance. But truthfully, we know it is a lie. That’s just something we tell ourselves to soothe the real pain of knowing that most Americans in the bottom 20 percent of earners never moved up the income ladder. Kind of like the lie we tell ourselves about how the destruction of war and drone attacks, which kill indiscriminately, in Africa and the Middle East is much more reasonable, more true to our values and morals, than the individual acts of average street crime – one is based on the goal of self interest and the other is senseless. I’ll let you decided, which is which.
However, when a prominent black figure goes around touting the tenants of values and personal responsibilities, well we tend to see that as empowering. The feel good message that in spite of America’s original sins of slavery and racial apartheid, we can rise above it. Often times, it is this message that is championed by the black middle/ buffer class, who in an effect to act as a demilitarized zones to the “nicer” white middle-class, will willfully throw the plight of lower income people under the bus, in hopes of shielding themselves from the problems people of color experience. We may not like to admit it but many of us have abandoned the ideas of the talented tenth long ago – if we ever had it. Instead, we have convinced ourselves that if we gain jobs, political influence, or financial security, which allowed us to maintain some semblance of equality with the dominate culture, all of our problems will disappear. All we have to do is work harder, ignore racism and follow the rules. And those, who still fail to achieve society’s often disjointed standards of values and accountability, are seen as the cause behind the black community’s additional pain and torment. It’s like that living demonstration of the old Chris Rock joke, the one where he relays the difference between black people and niggaz; “I love black people but I hate niggaz. I wish they would let me join the Klu Klux Klan. I’d do a drive by from here to Brooklyn” Without acknowledging these differences, how else will the good and hard working black folks among us maintain a certain level of respectability?
Of course, this message takes on a different vibe when the deliverer happens to be a white, republican male like a Romney or a Ryan or a Gingrich. When they speak of values and personal responsibility, what is often translated offers little distinction between the good black folks and the niggers. The single black mother, whose co-parent abandoned his responsibility, wakes up early every day to send her kids off to respectable schools while she works hard at two or more jobs to ensure that they are educated. The black men among us, who successfully avoided prison, went on to college and but still struggle to find gainful and fulfilling employment. Those folks are different, better classed people, than the thugs and welfare cheating baby moms. Surely he is not speaking of us? However it becomes a rude wakeup call, a subtle yet startling reminder, among the black/ buffer class, and those aspiring for elitism, that when folks like Gingrich speak in totality at the NAACP to seek out paychecks instead of food stamps, he isn’t just speaking to them, he is speaking to us too.
We understand the double entendre of calling President Obama, a man from mostly middle class, well educated roots, the welfare president or when his birthright as an American citizen is challenged. We understand that beneath these coded words and beliefs is the very real sentiment that we are all, despite our personal achievements and financial gains, just entitled affirmative action babies. And for a split second, Isht gets real. That underneath the self-disillusion of personal responsibility lays the truth that the median average wealth in the black community has dropped from $5,000 in 2007 to $2,100 in 2010. That banks and mortgage companies routinely target blacks with risky predatory loans; that the war on drugs, which has ethnically disportionated incarceration rates, could also be akin with a war on black people. That despite the mirage of bootstraped Americans, we still are witnessing disparages that can’t just be attributed to the lazy and entitled among us.
Suddenly, Martin Niemöller’s “First they Came…” becomes a very real prospect when we’re confronted with a new context of personal responsibility and values, where we are forced to weigh the context of our own words.