How can we demand respect from others when we show so little of it for ourselves?
Everyone agrees that Trayvon Martin’s death was a senseless loss of life. While we’ll never know all the facts, it seems likely that George Zimmerman did “profile” Martin when he first saw him. What happened after that will forever be unknown, and, in my mind, the facts were insufficient to convict Zimmerman.
The establishment view of this tragedy is that it is primarily about racial profiling, “stand your ground” laws and the relative value our society places on the lives of young black males. Many black leaders argue that if Martin had killed Zimmerman, the verdict might have been different.
What often gets lost in this narrative is how we in the black community often contribute to our own destruction. The Martin case, tragic as it is, pales in comparison to the epidemic of black-on-black murders, which is the leading cause of death for young black men in this country. In Chicago, the murder rate is so high that it is affecting the city’s credit rating. It is broadly accepted that crime in Detroit is a major reason the city is bankrupt.
Where is the outrage, the indignation, the marches for victims of black-on-black crime? The simple fact is that black thugs pose a much greater threat to me and my family than racial profiling ever will.
More important, where is the honest self-examination in the black community of how we tragically devalue our own lives? How can we build a culture of self-respect, honor and dignity when the most visible expression of black culture today is hip-hop and rap music? This malignant new form of black culture plays a dominant role in defining what it means to be an authentic young black male. Hip-hop culture, with all its trappings, is embraced and celebrated by many black entertainers and athletes, who are the only role models many young black men have.
What other culture in the history of the world has routinely referred to its women as “hoes,” while pimps and hustlers are celebrated and education is devalued? How can we in the African-American community ever demand respect from others when we show so little of it for ourselves?
With few exceptions, leaders in our community hesitate to hold one another accountable. We fear that we are blaming the victim or letting whites off the hook. We talk endlessly in our policy conferences about discrimination and racism and say relatively little about the malignant hip-hop culture that is rapidly growing and destroying our communities?
The elites in the African-American community use every form of tortured logic to explain, rationalize and excuse what only can be described as dysfunctional behavior by many young African-Americans. Do we really expect white America not to notice how we present ourselves in public or via popular culture? Do we really think that the country as a whole accepts the rationale of racism as the primary cause of black criminal behavior, rather than the deeply dysfunctional homes and communities in which many of our children live?
While racial profiling and stereotyping can never be defended, the sad truth is hip-hop culture and rap music create, perpetuate and deepen existing stereotypes. We in the black community must understand that racial profiling, like stereotyping, is simply the application of statistical probabilities to situations in a hurried world.
The majority of African-Americans who reject this new culture in silence pay a heavy price in the unjust stereotypes they often are subjected to. But when a young black male is watched closely in a store, is it a racist action by the clerk or a rational action based on experience?
More important is the fact that young African-American men are internalizing the images our cultural leaders are modeling for them.
It is appropriate for President Obama to continue to focus on the legal issues of gun control, “stop and frisk” and stand-your-ground laws, as well as on policy questions pertaining to education and jobs. But if he really wants to move the needle, he should ask his wife to spotlight the cultural challenges facing our black youths.
As my parents used to say: “If you don’t respect yourself, no one else will.”
We in the black community must understand and embrace that simple truth.
Peter Bell is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment.
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