Monday, May 4, 2009

Casual Killings: A Response

Dr. McWhorter's analysis ( put a shaky finger on one aspect of a serious pathology with-in a segment of the black community. However, he neglects to fully develop this thesis, the limitations of print media notwithstanding. Moreover, and more troubling, he adopts a blame-the-victim approach, which so many African American intelligentsia and conservatives embrace, broad-stroking a huge swath of the black community in the process, letting what family these kids had off the hook altogether for their failed parenting skill sets.

Fact of the matter is that a small, vocal group of black women exerted an inordinate amount of influence on the War on Poverty programs spearheaded by the Johnson administration during the late 1960s. This was at the very height of the social turmoil characterized by the civil rights and anti-war movements, respectively. Although their numbers were small relative to the total census of recipients receiving Aid To Families with Dependent Children [AFDC], during the racially tinged inner city upheaval, federal social policy was heavily and, most would argue, imprudently swayed by these small radical influences.

What these women said was that black folk never received compensation during post-reconstruction, and their men were coming home from a misadventure in Southeast Asia with drug and alcohol dependency issues scarred as they were by the experience. Consequently, they argued they had an absolute right to remain home to raise their children on the public dole, and unbelievably federal policy was shaped in large measure by this ill advised paradigm shift.

This is where I agree with McWhorter's analysis, it had tremendous counterproductive influences on the young black children left in the wake of the failed social experiment. The backlash that played out decades later under the Clinton administration with the elimination of AFDC, and the implementation of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families [TANF] has resulted in genuine hardship to people truly needing a short term social services safety net.

Back to Dr. McWhorter's piece, though. Instead of trying to rehabilitate young black men who in many instances have never been habilitated or properly socialized in the first place, and providing "prisoner re-entry programs," why not focus on preventive intervention programs, which capture (no pun intended) at-risk behavior before in results in the tragedies with which we as a society were all appalled.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and National Action Network President Al Sharpton famously announced that they were collaborating on a 2nd Chance program, which would expunge criminal convictions after a pre-determined amount of time. The collateral consequences of criminal convictions has its genesis in Jim Crow, and was designed in large measure to inhibit black folk arrested and convicted of often trumped up charges (here the Jena 6 come to mind) from becoming employable.

This is where McWhorter's analysis become mired in a conservative ethos, which negates reason or, more importantly, critical analysis. In August 1996, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb stunned the world with an extraordinary series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News reporting the results of his year-long investigation into the roots of the crack cocaine epidemic in America.

The series, titled "Dark Alliance", revealed that for the better part of a decade, a Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs and funneled millions in drug profits to the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras.

Webb demonstrates how our government knowingly allowed massive amounts of drugs and money to exchange hands at the expense of our communities. Congressional inquiries into these allegations are ongoing. Results of the internal investigations by both the CIA and the Justice Department are pending. The kids McWhorter demonizes for their admittedly anti-social and, in some instances, socio-pathetic behavior, do not import drugs, or manufacture guns.

Society as a whole has a vested interest ensuring that preventive, interventions targeting these kids are fully funded enabling progressive, conscious black folk to do the work necessary to take back our communities, and give single mothers the supports and, more importantly, social programs necessary to have male role models - that have a work ethic, embrace education as a means of upward mobility, and value family - positively influencing their children...