Sunday, March 05, 2006

Standing at the Crossroads - Race, Class, and Art

Kevin Alexander Gray writes:

By and large I count myself among those who believe that what is generally promoted as a race discussion usually ends up a waste of time. Now that we’re past Black History Month, during which columnist Clarence Page suggested that his PBS NewsHour viewers might look to the 1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin for racial guidance, maybe we can also get past sepia-toned reminiscences of slavery and eulogies for Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King to the real grainy Technicolor ways folk live today, or try to. It’s an understatement that the ravishment of the Gulf Coast, destruction of a major American city and dispossession of its majority-black residents have set conditions for more than talk. But that ongoing catastrophe also demands that when we do speak, we better tell it like it is.

Whenever people say things like Hurricane Katrina “ripped the veil off racism and poverty” I am reminded of a line from a song in Craig Brewer’s film Hustle and Flow: “It might be new to you but it’s been like this for years.” In fact, the film pricked my race/class sensibilities more than anything else in the midst of the latest round of race talk.

Shot in the working-class neighborhoods of Brewer’s hometown, Memphis, Tennessee, Hustle and Flow is the story of DJay (played by Oscar nominee Terrence Howard), a pimp having a “midlife crisis.” He’s 35, the same age as his father when he died, and he fears his life will soon be over unless he changes course.

The film’s look, feel and sound are all intimately familiar. From the dirt on the walls of a shotgun house to the hot, wet, sticky red clay-tinted heat of a Southern summer and the ever-present, almost useless dirty portable fan. From the train track separating the haves from the have-nots to the get-by job that gets you to the weekend to the juke joint where anything happens. From the sound of the blues – even in rap music - right down to the neighborhood, language and attitudes, Brewer puts a face on the people that those such as Bill Cosby wish to be invisible. Some of them are even white.

Brewer’s people could be among the 35 percent of blacks currently living below the poverty line in the United States or the poorest 20 percent or so of Louisiana residents. Hustle and Flow reveals what Katrina revealed: those who’ve been left to fend for themselves. In New Orleans almost 40 percent of New Orleans’ households, nearly all of them black, earned less than $20,000 a year.

I have lived in either a predominately black or all-black neighborhood for most of my forty-nine years. It is not an endorsement of segregation; it’s just the way it is. Yet, there are a couple of things to appreciate about longstanding southern black neighborhoods. For one thing, different economic classes still live amongst one another. They intermix and interact. This social interaction is represented in the film by DJay’s relationship with Key, played by Anthony Anderson. Key, an old school friend, has become a middle-class audio technician. In addition, many of us move up and down – on and off the economic ladder throughout our lives. And most demographic data not only bear out that class intermix but also the precariousness of paycheck-to-paycheck living. Moreover, the typical black family doesn’t conform to the 2 parents, 2 kids model. Single women head 62% of black families and 67% of black children are born out of wedlock. Moreover, blacks more readily accept whites into those communities than vice versa, even poor whites, even gentrifying white “pioneers.”

Although there has been racial progress in the United States, for many African Americans life is like ice-skating up hill. According to the most recent American Housing Survey only 49 percent of blacks are homeowners as compared with 76 percent of whites. Even with comparable credit, blacks are 210 percent more likely than whites to be rejected for a mortgage. When black borrowers are fortunate enough to get a non-government home loan, a little less than a third of them will have to bear high-interest sub-prime financing, which usually doesn’t mesh well with a sub-prime car loan and/or the interest on a payday loan. No surprise, the national foreclosure rate for blacks sits right at 50 percent, and half of all African Americans live in unaffordable, inadequate or crowded housing. Among people living on the street or in their cars, 40 percent are black.

Wealth, equity, control over property – these markers of the “American dream” are largely white privileges. At the onset of the last recession, between 1999 and 2001, the net worth of Hispanic and black households fell by 27 percent. As of 2002, the Pew Hispanic Center reports, the median Hispanic household had a net worth of $7,932 and the median black family had $5,998, while the median white family had $88,651. And, almost a third of black households and more than a quarter of Hispanic ones had zero or negative net worth.

The meaning of the numbers is obvious: a sizable number of households and the individuals in them are barely getting by. And those in the middle class are seldom permanently middle class. That is not to say there are no recognizable class lines. Lots of black families lead economically stable lives and have decent credit.

Yet the majority of blacks live under conditions where any little bind affects their whole life. They are the people who lose their sub-prime loan homes, choose between car repair or insurance, gas or taxes, food or medicine, and frequently need an extension on the electric or phone bill. They rent the cheapest place they can find and try to hold on in traditional neighborhoods in the face of just about everything – from economic redlining to strict property code enforcement to urban pioneering to population disbursement or marginalization. They routinely face racial profiling and aggressive, if not brutal, law enforcement, jail and unemployability. A majority is in the South, where 54 percent of blacks still live. Others are concentrated in the ghettos although many cities have driven poor people out of the core of metropolitan areas all across the country. And then there are those holdouts who occupied the waterfront – be it the bayous, the barrier islands, along a lake or river, because that’s where their ancestors fled to – only to have that land taken by developers, or a storm, because it is waterfront.

That’s why Hustle and Flow is such a notable picture. It is not just the story of a pimp in Memphis who needs to make music. It is the story of another city on the Mississippi delta. New Orleans was built on race dating back to the day when the first Africans fled out to the bayous to be free just as a runaway Jim in Huck Finn was attempting to do. It’s that superficial sense of freedom and abandon that still draws tourists to a battered New Orleans, although the benefits of an economy based on the arts and nightlife never will trickle down to everyone. That is, unless you consider the four-man stand-up band that used to live in the Ninth Ward and is now playing and dancing in the street on a weekend night in The French Quarters for the money out-of-towners throw in the collection box as trickle down economics.

The film’s climax has the police at DJay’s doorstep after his encounter with rap mogul Skinny Black, played by rapper Ludacris. And, as the story’s end DJay is behind bars. Neither situation is unfamiliar. DJay is from that big neighborhood where, according to the U.S. Justice Department, the 12 percent of African-American men ages 20 to 34 who are in jail or prison live before and after their release; where lifespans on average are six years shorter than those of whites; where having the police at the door, going to court every now and then or having a family member in jail is not so uncommon.

My father’s dad was married a number of times, legally and not. My pop had three brothers and a sister by his mom; one brother died young, and the other two served time on the chain gang, both for murder. One killed a woman, the other a man, both of them black. My father’s sisters had four sons and four daughters. Three of the males and two of the females served time for offenses ranging from the ridiculous to the serious. My three brothers went to jail in their youth for non-violent offenses, and I have a few relatives in jail now. Maybe it’s just the odds, because it almost went wrong for me many times, but I have never been in jail overnight, although I have been handcuffed more than a few times and in leg irons once. But I have visited more chain gangs and work camps, jails, prisons and courtrooms than I care to remember. Whenever I see the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke it conjures memories of family visits to take cigars or a carton of cigarettes to one of my uncles in the camp, or spotting someone familiar on a road crew, or having a Sunday family picnic lunch under the pine trees while my incarcerated eldest brother had a conjugal visit with his girl.

This is not to cop to some inherent criminality in my family in particular or black people in general or to offer apologies, regrets, excuses or blame. Sometimes getting caught up with the law is as simple as making a bad choice. Others times bad programming gets the best of a person. Or, when folk are raised in and around violence it should be no surprise when they commit or accept acts of violence. He or she might be at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people and just gets caught up in it. And there are those times when an offense is an act of rebellion against it all, a straight-out scream because regardless of how racists view blacks or how defeatists view themselves, all the negative indices of black life are too huge to be coincidental.

After Katrina, rapper Kanye West famously quipped, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Most black folk believed it, and Princeton’s professor Cornel West affirmed it, adding, “ have to distinguish between a racist intent and the racist consequences of his policies.”

But labeling Bush and placing the problem solely at his feet is far too simple. Poor people of all hues are disregarded in both good and bad weather. Though it was class more than race that determined who got left behind in New Orleans, African Americans also take it as a matter of fact that the class structure of this country is built on race. Under the “racist consequences” standard, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat who gave the “shoot to kill” order to a police department with a violent history, and Ray Nagin, the black Democratic mayor who before Katrina had not factored poor people into any of his political calculations, would also make the list of failed leaders.

So would former president Bill Clinton, who typically polls in the high 80 percent approval ratings with blacks. Clinton’s policies and attitude on due process, equal protection and equal treatment – otherwise known as civil rights – were horrible. One initiative required citizens, mostly black, in public housing to surrender their Fourth Amendment or privacy rights. Another was the “one strike and you’re out” policy under which public housing residents convicted of a crime, along with anyone who lives with them, are now evicted without consideration of their due process rights.

Black incarceration rates during the Clinton years surpassed Ronald Reagan’s eight years. He stumped for “three strikes and you’re out” in the federal crime bill, for restrictions on the right of habeas corpus and expansion of the federal death penalty, and he got them. When Clinton went into office one in four black men were involved in the criminal justice system in some way; when he left it was one in three. DJay represents the one in three.

So what does all this mean? Once again art provides a clue. Hustle and Flow depicts a society without leaders and how people cope.

Brewer likens the lead character DJay to Rocky Balboa. But I see DJay as more like Tom Joad in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Joad returns to his Oklahoma home after a stint in prison to find that his family is leaving to escape not only the drought but also, a state and class system that is crushing them. As the 1940 movie adaptation of the novel begins, Henry Fonda stops in front of a country store named for its location, “Crossroads.” DJay is at that same place, as is his woman Shug (played by Taraji Henson), pregnant by Lord knows who, tormented by dreams of giving birth to “dead dogs” and “nursing a big old catfish,” worrying that her unborn child is doomed and sensing for the first time her own creative power.

Standing at the crossroads is the obvious metaphor for where America is today. There is a feeling across the country that we are headed in the wrong direction and need to choose a better path.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said the passing of Coretta Scott King marked the “end of a ‘black leadership’ era.” I would mark its demise some thirty-odd years earlier. But often the good thing about the end of one thing is the start of something new. The idea that African Americans and the poor must have someone who speaks for them is at the least annoying and at worst racist. Who speaks of white leaders? And the problem with most contenders for the role of national black leader – regardless of who they are - is that they don’t necessarily rail against what exists. They usually speak from a privileged perspective and often wrangle over symbolism or shout over not having a bigger piece of the pie. But effective social change happens when people from the bottom, speak for themselves, put pressure on the middle and the top, promotes a set of values and enforces them. Rosa Parks’ legacy isn’t a solitary act. Parks, trained in non-violent activism at the Highlander School in Tennessee, is part of a peoples’ movement that included folk like Claudette Colvin, who at 15 was arrested for refusing to take her place on a Montgomery bus nine months before Parks. And it wasn’t just Martin Luther King Jr. dreaming out loud. The kids who filled the jails, the “Freedom Riders” and the grassroots voter registrars were leaders.

African American opposition to the Iraq war today is black leadership. All those families and individuals discouraging their kin from joining up to fight have resulted in a decrease in black recruitment and a crisis for the system. And it didn’t take a leader (other than George Bush) to set them on course.

The issue of race in America is hard to face, but it is inseparable from class, which might be why so many African Americans support the concept of reparations. But though black communities are hit the hardest, amid staggering wealth disparities and social insecurity rampant in the land, they are not alone in need of repairing. W.E.B. Dubois in a 1960 speech at the University of Wisconsin, when presented with the question “What then is the next step?” called for ”the stopping of a government of wealth for wealth, and by wealth, and a returning of governmental power to the individual voter, with all the freedom of action which can be preserved, along with an industry carefully organized for the good of the masses of people and not for the manufacture of millionaires.” Seven years later King, pushed by black discontent in the cities and mass dissent from the war, called for “a restructuring of the whole of society.” That was his Crossroads.

Some complained he was taking a radical path, but it was the only realistic one for society, as is plain today. The path for government now should be made clear, make the unwhole whole, not just Katrina victims in Louisiana and Mississippi but also the victims of life-changing storms over the past four years from Florida to North Carolina and the millions of structurally poor Americans of whatever race for whatever reason. Now is the time to demand serious public investment, full employment, debt forgiveness and a national housing policy in which homesteading is a significant part the plan.

Of course, grassroots advocacy for a new plan begins with Gulf Coast victims. For the renters and homeowners who lost everything the demand is simple: Homes. That is not to suggest that those who were well below sea level for reasons of history should be encouraged to rebuild in an unsafe area. New Orleans has the opportunity to rebuild an economically and racially integrated city if America has the will. That is, rebuild it in a new, more equitable way. As for the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort, citizens should insist that federal, state and local officials take the profit out of public works and put the money in the pockets of those who need it most instead of making rebuilding efforts into another welfare program for millionaires.

Finally, while promoting Hustle and Flow on the The Late Show with David Letterman last year, Terrence Howard commented that the Hurricane Katrina victims in that city were “waiting on someone to give them something, instead of doing for themselves.” If he was referring to those trapped on roofs, in attics and at overcrowded shelters, he was way off base. If he was referring to the need for poor people to organize, make a demand and speak and represent themselves, he’s right.

Gray is president of the South Carolina ACLU and contributing editor to Black News in Columbia, SC. Thanks to JoAnn Wypijewski and Daniel Wolff.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

May be the reason some blacks have these problems is because of the life styles they choose. Having children out of wedlock is a major reason. No husband/father around to help raise and care for children lead to low self-esteem and all the problems associated with it. At some point some Blacks have to "grow up" and take responisblity for their own actions and their own conditions. Slavery ended here in the States along time ago. Stop playing the victum.

8:27 PM  
Blogger The Dynamic Dane said...

Oh my. I have met so many "because of the lifestyles they choose" people, I cannot count them all. I live in Memphis, TN, and the plight of the poor is visible just about everywhere. Most of my family lives in the lower-class bracket. One of my sisters will probably never break out of her financial straight-jacket, while the rest of us really work hard from paycheck to paycheck, always balanced very precariously on the edge of financial ruin. We take responsibility for our actions and our conditions. If I lost my job, my wife and I would have to sell our house and we'd be right back in cheap-ass apartment living, where we started. Now I consider myself to be extremely lucky, but I know how gut-wrenching it is to have to choose between the car loan and food for a week. And to top it off, I'm the whitest cracker you ever did see. So, I have to say to anonymous that his hot-air analysis isn't worth the bits it uses on Google's hard drives. No matter how grown up you are or how high your self esteem, there are situations and events in life that will take you down for the count and throw you out on the street. And it sure as hell doesn't help that myopic morons with a chip on their shoulder can't bother themselves with opening their eyes just a bit wider to see more of the big picture. "Stop playing the victim" is just another way of saying "git away from me niggah."

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used the word "Blacks" because the article I was addressing was about Blacks. My words hold true for whites as well. Millions of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck (some don't have a paycheck at all) so stop your whining and feeling sorry for yourself. Most people throughout history haven't owned their own homes. If you have to decide between eating and making your car payment then you can't afford a mortgage. There again choices, and you made a bad one by buying more than you can afford. Don't pretend you know what my situation is, you don't. You don't know what race I am or if I'm a woman or man. But your own racism and stereotypes are very evident in your response...whitest ("plight of the poor" doesn't sound very cracker”ish” to me).

10:24 AM  
Blogger Danny Alexander said...

So, "Anonymous,"

I don't see any way in which Kevin Gray's article wastes time and effort "playing the victim" as you say (unless your statement at the end of your first comment is directed at some vague audience not in the room--doesn't sound like it). He talks about a rebuilding strategy in specific terms.

You, on the other hand, begin and end with blaming the victim. Oh, your city got washed away? "'Grow up' and take responsibility" you say to all of the unmarried parents involved.

Do you have anything useful to say to all of us who are trying to take responsibility for dealing with these problems?

(You sound like the one busy avoiding responsibility.)

1:00 PM  
Blogger Fues said...

I find it disengenuous of people to put the blame on the victums of poverty. The way out is difficult at best, add to that prejudice, and all that that entails, and you are left with a desparate population unable to climb that ladder painted with the grease of injustice. The results of which are seen everyday, the number of black and hispanic versus white prison inmates, is a case in point. I saw a show on television last year that showed a family in Mississippi who could not afford paper and pencil for their daughter to take to school, what does that tell you about racism and the lack of care for our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters. No Child left behind indeed. I could write for hours about this, but the last thing I will say is to anonymous, open your eyes, your mind, and your heart, your view of what is is blinded by the culture in which you were brought up, the same culture I was raised in, it is not as you perceive it to be.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Danny Alexander said...

Dave Marsh writes:

(for Anonymous)

At some point, white people have to grow up and take responsibility for the
fact that, whether or not they created the world in which we live, they take
advantage of their privileged position in it every day.

Slavery did end a long time ago (at least technically; I could show you a
considerable list of slavery cases in the courts over the past ten years
alone). White supremacy didn't end, and you reek of it.

Consider your own anonymity--as if there would be some threat to your
precious person if we knew the name of this particular white supremacist.
This encapsulates the hypocrisy of your perspective: You won't even take
responsibility for your own words.

You're right, we don't know if you're male, female, white, black... We do
know that you are a particularly gutless commenter, though.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Betty Lou said...

Oh my, it's rather startling to read a sentence that goes, "At some point Blacks have to 'grow up' and take responsibility for their own actions and their own conditions."
Am I to take that to mean that by growing up they'll learn to be like you? Think like you? Be responsible like you? Toss off poverty like it's an old smelly coat that doesn't fit anymore?
Now I'll tell you straight up that I'm a white woman; a lady if you please, but are you suggesting that if I were black and stopped having sexual intercourse so I wouldn't have babies out of wedlock, it would offer me enhanced self-esteem?
It's not usually my nature, but you sir/madame, are an imbecile of such mammoth proportions that there's no room in your perfect world for anyone who lives in the real world. Besides, in your world, when one looks in the mirror, all they see is YOU ... a very depressing prospect indeed.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I learned a long time ago there is no such thing as freedom of speech in American. As evidence most recently by what has happened to the production “My Name is Rachel Corrie” at the New York Theatre Workshop. So I will remain anonymous.
Gray’s solution is take from the rich and give to the poor and as much as I wish that would solve the problem of poverty history has shown time and time again that it doesn’t. China and the Soviet Union are the two most glaring example of this. You could throw Zimbabwe in there as well. And just as an aside to Bernie look to see who are the perpetrators of those slavery cases in our court system. I’ll say it again; the only way to end poverty is for people to take responsibility for themselves. Yes, everyone needs help now and then and that is what families and communities are for, but as soon as you get government involved outside the local level then you get big money and that inevitably lead to corruption. There will always be poor. That is a fact of life and life isn’t fair. So grow up and by the way you’re calling me names doesn’t bother me a bit, in fact it just shows me you really don’t want to deal with the root causes of poverty which are people’s behavior. Ask yourself one question. Why are Asian Indians, who are as black as American Blacks, doing just fine in our “racist” system.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Betty Lou...identifying yourself as white doesn't add to your credibilty, it just demostrates your own racism by thinking it does. It's exactly the sort of "supremacy" Blacks have been talking about for years.

8:01 AM  
Blogger jobo said...

I found the article moving and honest. It's dissapointing that all the comments have been about one petty post - totally distracting from the article itself. I work in a social justice organization, and I agree that our whole society needs to be restructured. I'd like more dialogue about what that would look like. When I was younger I thought it was simple, but after only 6 years working in social change, I'm feeling more confused than ever. Can we talk about a vision for change, or resonses to the article, instead of trying to educate a stubborn jerk?

12:33 PM  
Blogger Dave Marsh said...

Jobo's right. He's right that we're spinning our wheels by now responding to an ideologue, and he's right that constructing change is hard.

There is an endless list of what makes it hard but two things I would stress are the high level of ruling class propaganda, that leaves people "thinking" in cliches (a la Brother Anonymous), and second, the sense of perfectionism we ask for whenever specific changes are proposed.

Kevin's on the right track and we should talk more about this. We might begin by talking about what it means that "Hustle and Flow" has been somehow "legitimized" by the Oscars, especially since none of the dialogue the Oscar produced is about the meaning of the movie (or the song). I don't think we can take it for granted that the Oscar means anything, including that it means nothing.

But are there opportunities in this phenomenon we're missing?

thanks, Jobo.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to point out to Anonymous that the reason that "Asian Indians" aren't doing so poorly is that they are being heavily recruited to break the back of American labor. They are paid a living wage now (some of them) but that won't always be the case. After the railroads are built (I mean, after their cheap services are no longer necessary)they too will be dumped. Probably back in India, where "we" - read "Monsanto" - have poisoned the people and the land, Bechtel & Enron and the likes have worked tirelessly to bribe their way to privatizing social infrastructure necessary for life - like water and farmland. A place where their fellow citizens are gunned down (yes, this is true) due to shrimp farm wars driven by OUR thirst for something that we cannot sustainably have, and where farmers are committing suicide every day, and it is NOT due to THEIR lifestyle choices, either. It is due to a direct lack of power to participate in the making of their own lives -which are envisioned by (arbitrarily) powerful others as less important than their own profit. Some things are EXACTLY the same no matter what side of the world you sit on.


1:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ve lived around the world, in the Fareast and the Middle East. I’ve seen poor, real poor where there is no chance for a roof over their heads and no soup kitchens to go to. Go to Burma and India and you’ll see poor. The poor in those counties make our poor look well off. So don’t mix apples and oranges. I’m not going to get into a discussion with you about why that sort of poverty occurs because this thread began with Gray’s article, which is about the poor in America. I’m beginning to wonder if some of you have even read it. You simply have your little socialist mindset and you refuse to deal with reality. Gray clearly states the statistics for unwed mothers and he gives us a glimpse of the family conditions he grew up in. The conditions he describes are a matter of choice. Gray is absolutely right in stating that it is more then mere coincidence that so many Blacks and Hispanics are in prison today. You need to look deeper than the racism argument because reality simply doesn’t support that claim. Why aren’t the jails full of Chinese or Arabs? If you were truly interested in helping the poor you would look deeper but than that would mean your present worldview would crumble and that’s not comfortable. Clearly organizing the poor doesn’t work or Cesar Chavez would have eliminated poverty. South America is full of movement where the poor were/are organized and are there poor there today? Debt relief will only guarantee no one will be willing to lend to them in the future. Would you if there were a possibility you wouldn’t be paid back? It’s Pollyanna it’s not reasonable. Those countries that get debt relief today will be paying much more in interest, of some kind, in the future if they borrow again and they will borrow again. I would agree that a reasonable interest rate must be applied otherwise you have usury, but where a reasonable interest rate has been applied then the borrower must repay the debt.

The long and the short of it is that people’s behavior/choices must change in order for poverty to be substantially reduced. By the way poor people buy from Wal-Mart.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jobo… you make your living off of social injustice, so of course you’re not bias…mmm.
David … you want to discuss the insight of a Hollywood movie? Wow! Do you read?
This is really too easy LOL

11:06 AM  
Blogger Dave Marsh said...

About debt relief:
It is extremely doubtful that the debtor nations will be hauled into debt in the same way in the near future, simply because the World Bank/IMF encouraged those loans (and the governments of the rich countries helped keep the looters in power in the poor ones) because the debt served a purpose.

Mainly, the purpose was to destroy African (in particular) populism and enforce "austerity" programs that undermined any chance those nations had of becoming competitive with the rich countries, which can now proceed to loot them of their natural resources more efficiently.

We need to be able to distinguish betweeen personal debt--where defaulters do indeed get charged higher next time--and debt among nations which is most often a fiction of convenience. If the World Bank thought it was going to be paid back on those loans, it is run by men who are either stupid or crazy. It is in fact run by men who are very shrewd and crazy only in the sense that they don't give a fuck about the consequences of their behavior.

After all, who is the largest debtor nation on the planet? The United States. Who is the largest U.S. creditor? China. Is this good or bad? Well, it's one of the few things keeping them from a trade war.

The notion that poverty in the United States is harmless would be a joke if so many people didn't believe it. Martin LUther King started The Poor People's Campaign, which is what got him murdered, because he saw children literally starving in Mississippi. When the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign returned to those places in Miss three or four years ago, children were still malnourished.

Poverty in the United States is pretty well invisible (if Anonymous hadn't on one of his many sojourns to a land without television or the Internet, he'd know this after Katrina, but of course, it's not his fault that he's butt ignorant--it never is, so far.) As a friend of mine who has worked with the homeless all across the country for 30 years said to me an hour ago, "I don't think the people living under freeway bridges here in L.A. say to themselves, 'At least I'm not African.'"

These are things worth discussing, but not with a social Darwinist for whom all conclusions are foregone.

BTW, if socialism is so impotent, why do idjits like this keep attacking it? (Idjit, you may consider yourself excused from trying to dream up a silly answer.)

2:32 PM  
Blogger Dave Marsh said...

Anonymous: David … you want to discuss the insight of a Hollywood movie? Wow! Do you read?
This is really too easy LOL

You started the futile portion of this dialogue by reading a piece about a Hollywood movie, moron.

As has been pointed out previously, you border on illiteracy. And your memory appears to be a sieve.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... the article by Gray, the movie “Hustler and Flow” is used to illustrate a point about what the South is like, NOT as a guideline to elevate poverty, which is what you were suggesting. Do you understand the difference? “The Matrix” must have really kept you humming. What problem did it solve? The answer to my question of “can you read” or at least understand what you read is: NO. But I’m glad I’ve gotten you thinking enough to get worked up (Fuck & Moron such big words). You really shouldn’t have spent so much time walking the malls in your youth or are you still doing it? I don’t believe you understand debt relief either. Do you honestly think money was lent to African nations to destroy them? That has got to be the mother of all conspiracy theories. You really are tiresome. FYI, I’m a woman. Good-bye little man and good luck.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Reality said...

It appears to me that there has been some useful dialogue in this BLOG related to the fact that the incident in New Orleans is symptomatic of the breakdown that has occurred in our social structure - especially among the poor (white or black). I have to admit, that I agree with Anonymous on the point that there does seem to be massive erosion in our society of assuming personal responsibility for ones actions.

Very telling was the reaction of the media to the event. It couldn't have been more than hours before the media began blaming what would have been considered essential a local problem (in days gone by) as the responsibility of the federal government to solve.

It is interesting that we constantly decry the loss of our personal freedoms in this country, and yet where are the criers to assumption of responsibility. What would have happened in New Orleans before the advent of federal programs to take this responsibility away from local government? I will tell you. Local governments would have stepped up to the responsibility, instead of fleeing the scene, like so many in law enforcement did during this incident.

I do not want to be heartless, but I do believe that the path out of poverty, ignorance, and hate must be based on increased assumption of personal responsibility for outcomes.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Karen Brown said...

A number of years ago, columnist Ellen Goodman wrote about a girl she met and interviewed. The girl was from the projects, I know not what city or the child's race. I do know that she was from a very poor family. I believe she was 12 or 13 years old and Goodman asked her questions about her everyday life, I assume to create a portrait or to put a face to poverty.

Here's what I remember most clearly. Ellen Goodman asked the girl about her dreams. The girl didn't understand the question. "What do you dream about? What do you want to do with your life? What do you hope happens?" Goodman went on to say that the girl never registered any acknowledgement of what she was being asked. In other words, the girl didn't know how to dream. Goodman was shocked at a very deep compassionate level and so was I. (I wish to God I'd saved that column).

Who among us could ever imagine not knowing how to dream; to fantasize something wonderful happening to ourselves. We instinctively know what could be possible and what couldn't but we still wish for what we can never expect just to experience the joy of thinking about it.

But apparently this girl only understood staying alive from day to day. That was the extent of her dreams: to live until tomorrow.

The problems with poverty in this country are a much bigger problem than teaching job skills or trying to guilt someone into being responsible (in the sense that someone else thinks they should be responsible).

To not be able to have a dream because it's never been introduced to ones existance gets to the core of what causes poverty to continue at the rate it does.

The problem, it seems, is how to introduce critical thinking and to extend it beyond self limitations. Life is tough for all of us at times but at least most of us can escape into nonsensical fantasies or dreams of wealth, celebrity and status to relieve stress.

I sure don't have the answers but I'd start with lots and lots of fine and performing arts at a very young age and all the way through school. I'd emphasize it as much as reading and riting and rithmetic. Children learn to express themselves through art but they can't express themselves until they learn what art is.

Too simple an answer, I know, but it's a start that couldn't hurt and could possibly reveal a whole new world to children of poverty.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Reality said...

In response to Betty Lou:

With regard to your question:
"but are you suggesting that if I were black and stopped having sexual intercourse so I wouldn't have babies out of wedlock, it would offer me enhanced self-esteem?"

The simple answer is YES. It used to be considered disgraceful in most circles to have sex with no established relationship that could support the offspring - be that marriage or simply a sense of human responsibility for the possibility that you could bring another human being into the world.

How much more basic can humanity get?

The reality is that there has been a breakdown in morality and family values in the black community to the point where black males have essentially been absolved of all responsibility for their offspring.

This is exactly the loss of personal responsibility for outcomes that I speak of.

7:51 PM  

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