Monday, January 15

Happy MLK, Jr. Day!

Minnesota Public Radio rebroadcast a fascinating race-related interview in honor of Dr. King today.

    Dr. John McWhorter discussed his opinions on how to answer the question, "What can we do to help poor black people not be so poor?" which he tried to put into a book.

    He mentioned two ways that people generally respond to the question, said both weren't going to change a darned thing, and wanted to advocate a third:

  1. Poor people who happen to be black have no reasonable reason to not want to work and need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps--that is--they need to just start wanting to work.

  2. Poor black people are poor because the factory jobs all moved out to the suburbs (and now to China). What employers remain in the areas where they live won't hire them or won't give them the same amount of flexibility & trust that they'd give to white employees. We have to fix A) these employers' attitudes and/or B) the overall economic structure of the United States before we'll ever be able to help poor black people stop being so poor.
    (Dr. McWhorter feels like this idea came about largely because for the first time in history, during the Civil Rights Movement, black people did get external circumstances making life better.
    He feels, however, that this triumph of convincing external agents to help black people have fewer obstacles to success made people forget how to A) live one's daily life and B) work to help more poor black people succeed under the assumption that external circumstances aren't going to get any better.

  3. A disproportionate number of poor black people indeed don't want to work, but their reasons for feeling that way aren't unreasonable. Whatever the reasons were that older generations of young black people stopped wanting to work (Greatest Generation social policy, jobs moving away from the city, discrimination by employers, etc.), young black people today don't think about their predecessors' motivators & demotivators consciously. They just grow up observing it and imitating it, like all humans do. Dr. McWhorter's example of this was a child born to Chinese parents in Brooklyn. That kid's going to grow up speaking English because he/she observed it and that's what humans do.

    Dr. McWhorter, therefore, posits that while it's not anybody's fault for being too "lazy" to work, it is possible to retrain people and make them feel differently than their early conditioning caused them to feel.
I wish I had a copy of his book to skim, because I'm putting together his "third view" based solely on what he said in refutation of views 1 & 2 and on one single example he gave of work that people who hold the third view should passionately support ("youth opportunity organizations," if I remember correctly.)

Considering the guy only came up with one example and spent most of his time explaining why he didn't think views 1 or 2 were going to do any good, I don't have much hope that he elaborates View 3 much better in his book. Oh, you silly academics who deconstruct other ideas and forget to clearly construct your own.

I'll find his book later and add to this list based on his words if he does flesh out View 3 examples better, but for now, I'd like to ask you in the blogosphere:
  • What people, organizations, etc. (besides youth opportunity organizations) do you think address problems facing blacks from a "View 3" point of view?

  • If you agree with Dr. McWhorter that this is the way of approaching problems that's gonna get them solved better than any other, what are your favorite (most effective, best run, etc.) groups, individuals, & projects from the list that could be generated by my last question?
    (I'm always looking for time & money donation ideas.)

  • I'm a very privileged and inexperienced young white person from the suburbs. If you agree that organizations, groups, and projects working from this view of problems facing people of color are the most likely to make change, how should I interact with them?
    • Do I, with my background, have any characteristics worth imitating that poor people of color would have a hard time finding examples of in other people?
    • Or should I keep my irrelevant self out of the Boys & Girls Club and just donate my relevant money & goodwill-towards-the-orgranization-when-speaking-with-others-like-me (which are things my background arguably does give me)?
      I mean, it's not like I'm an entrepreneur or a doctor who can mentor an aspiring entrepreneur or doctor. I'm just a specialtyless office assistant myself.

      (Anyway, enough about me and my "What should I do?" questions. I'm primarily interested in generating discussion on Dr. McWhorter's ideas.)

Another lovely race-related item I found today is this quote:

A White Guy Honors MLK.

Good Will Hinton grew up in suburban Atlanta. Court-mandated busing, whatever else you may say about it, checkerboarded his friendships and integrated his heart, to the point that when he got to the University of Alabama at Auburn,

it just felt strange hanging out with mostly white people. So I ended up joining the gospel choir and becoming the only white member there. I'm not sure if that was part of MLK's dream for Alabama but I'd like to think that it was.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone.

1 comment:

Cherlin said...

Thanks for writing this.

Recent headlines from the blog "Black and Missing but Not Forgotten:"