Hope for the Future

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Here's a quote from a paper a black student wrote for me:

In fact most of the minority protestors have no idea what it is to be a child of "the ghetto," for example Rev. Al Sharpton. He stands in front of the camera in his designer suit preaches about how "the man" is holding the African American community down, then gets in his limo and comfortably rides back to his pent-house apartment.

There's hope for the next generation.


Must one have had the experience of being a "child of the ghetto" in order to be a protester? Must one be the oppressed in order to protest the oppression?

No, but his lifestyle undermines the very things he says so vehemently. He claims there's a level of oppression against black people today that prevents the level of success that he himself has. Of course, I think his success is from taking advantage of poor black people, so it's not as if he himself succeeded in the white man's world. He just took advantage of the fact that he can claim that it's a white man's world.

What seems most annoying to me is that, when black people from underprivileged backgrounds really do succeed in what the separatist mentality calls the white man's world, they're Uncle Toms. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If no one can succeed in the white man's world except Uncle Toms, then no one's going to be able to succeed in the white man's world without getting the label of Uncle Tom.

A good sign of the empirical bankruptcy of an empirical claim is that any evidence to the contrary will be reinterpreted by the claim to fit with the claim. How can it then be tested? For instance, the claim that people are always selfish works this way. Whenever I do something altruistic or even merely neutral, you can come up with some reason I might have done it selfishly. I wouldn't act if I didn't have some sort of desire for the thing. So I'm acting out of my desire and therefore acting in my best interest, which the theory considers selfish. There are so many problems with that, but one of them is that the view confirms itself by defining everything as selfish without allowing empirical results to affect our view.

The same thing goes on here. Any evidence that black people have recovered as a whole, except for within significant sub-groups (single moms who keep having kids would be the largest easily identifiable group), will automatically be dismissed by some story about how that doesn't count. This happens with the evidence of black people at the highest levels short of president and vice-president. It's a system people like Sharpton will perpetually benefit from.

None of this denies that there isn't absolute equality. There's lots of progress still to come. I disagree very strongly with Sharpton about some of the necessary conditions of that progress, however, and I think his strategy is counterproductive for his stated goals (though quite effective at contributing toward his personal success). We're so much closer to equality than people like Sharpton would dare admit for fear of losing their support from the poor black people who keep giving them money without ever seeing anything for it. That's why I'm glad when young black people don't get taken in by the guy.

I don't known that Al Sharpton doesn't have the "child of the ghetto" background. From what I recall, he was one of a very large family with no father for one reason or another.

I'm no Sharpton apologist, because I think there are some very valid critiques of his positions and methods, but I also think that many people fail to tackle his ideas because he makes such a juicy target for ad hominem attacks, what with the hair and all. To say that Sharpton is not an effective leader is one thing. To question his leadership based on whatever affluence he may have is very different.

What's more, I think that there's a distinct difference between what Sharpton will say to certain all-Black groups, particularly with young people present and the things he says when he gets in front of a camera. This talking out of both sides of his mouth is problematic, but I think it's worth looking into. Now that the semester is over, I may do just that.

One of my students lives in the Bronx, in a predominantly immigrant community. He says Sharpton does events all the time there and even says things like "Kill Whitey". What he says in front of a camera doesn't approach that at all. I have no corroboration of this kind of thing, though, but my friend isn't the sort to make things up, so I'd be interested in whether others have noticed language to that extreme at all-black gatherings.

Along similar veins, those black people who do excel and break into the world (i.e. clean up "real nice") are looked upon as sell-outs, particularly if the person in question has exploited fellow blacks on his/her way to the top. The same way goes with marriage: If a black brother marries a white woman, he is regarded with respect as he has "arrived" in the world, and the white woman is regarded as a "trophy wife".

Or, he's looked at as a race traitor for robbing his black sisters of a potential husband.

Do you mean is that he's regarded with respect by whites? A good non-political example would be Avery Brooks of DS9. He doesn't talk in black English. He was a Shakespearean actor. He's done some "hood" movies, but he acts primarily in mainstream stuff (which many black people will read as white stuff). He's made it in the mainstream world, and unfortunately some of that is sometimes required given white expectations (not that Shakespearean acting is bad, but that something like that is required for respect is bad). On the other hand, that it's automatically seen as a sell-out seems to me to be equally bad.

Well, when I say "respect", I mean "respect from other black men". It is very true that the black sisters usually have something very strong and negative to say about a black man who marries a white woman. Other black men, however, regard that marriage as a status symbol, akin to judging one's social status by the kinds of friends one has. (If I spent lunch today with Steven Spielberg, and I am having a jam session with Bono and the gang from U2 on Saturday, and I am doing breakfast with Hilary Clinton on Sunday, then that says something about who I am.)

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