The Black-White American Dilemma



We are a nation at odds—some of us
comfortably observing and far too many feeling the heat of the color of their skin.
Policing seems (and most likely is) out of control if one lives in America on
the black side of the equation. Lacking solutions, we weaponize the police and
encourage the judiciary to take a more and more we-against-them attitude.  Meanwhile the prisons fill and society
disintegrates.
Disintegrate is an
interesting word. ‘Break into parts or
components or lose cohesion or unity
.’ Forty-seven years after Martin
Luther King, Jr’s assassination, we’re losing the hard won cohesion and unity
that seemed so close. I never realized that the death of a single leader could
so quickly bring progress to a dead stop and send us backward to the bigotry I
knew as a young man. King proved himself to be irreplaceable.

But all that is
rhetoric and we’ve heard it all before. Is there anything positive that can be done to lessen the tensions that so drive us
apart?

Perhaps. 
If I were black, I would quit begging the
white power-structure for equity. In the near half-century since King’s death,
white America repeatedly proved it will give blacks just enough to keep them
from burning the damned place down, but no more. And if you think damned place
is too fiery a term, think again. Their
place in their America is often truly
damned. My personal experience relates to Chicago, where I lived the first
two-thirds of my life in a comfortable and affluent northern suburb.
But I was a contractor and knew the black
ghettos of Chicago from that perspective. Let me tell you a short story.
I and an associate in
my office were in one of the city’s high-rise black housing projects doing
survey work for an upcoming ‘rehab’ bid, clipboards in hand. I window above us
shot up and a black man stuck his head out.
         “Hey white-boys, what you doin’ down
there?”
         “Just listing things that need to be
done.”
         Damn.
Every time a white man shows up around here, my rent goes up.”
With that the window slammed back down, but I’ve never
forgotten that conversation that happened thirty-five years ago.
We got the contract
and moved equipment on site. A young black man approached me that very first
day and asked how I was going to keep all those trucks and tractors safe. He
suggested that $100 a day would do the job and I agreed. Nothing was touched
during the six weeks we were there and that’s simply how it worked. But it did work, because it was local and a local deal was a deal. $4,200 was a lot
of money back then, but I had $100,000 worth of equipment at risk.
Who we are and how we perceive racial or
economic solutions depends upon our personal history. That isolated story goes
a long way toward shaping my own and it is only one among many. The
legislators, judges, prosecutors, prison administrators and sociologists who
struggle with solutions to the Ferguson, Baltimore and New York City chaos facing
us today have mostly never even met a poor black family, much less acquainted
themselves with their lives and struggles. 
It occurs to me that we’re on a wrong path of
enforcement, when self-determination and capitalism are lying there as unused
tools.

What made America great is self-determination and capitalism, yet
these building-blocks of mobility are denied our minority communities. We rely
(and have long relied) on power and
enforcement
. It isn’t working. It has never
worked and yet we continue to up the ante.
Suppose—just suppose—that the predominantly black and
minority precincts of Chicago (as an example) were self-determining. Draw a
picture in your mind of precinct-controlled policing, minority owned banks,
auto dealers, groceries, housing developments, schools, small businesses and industries. 
What would a minority owned form of capitalism look
like? 
If the money that
goes into the actual living of life within a minority community stayed there rather than being siphoned
off, would a sustainable social structure form there and grow? A lot of money changes hands among the
poor and far too much of it goes into the pockets of those with no skin in the
game—absentee landlords are a prime example as their rents increase and
maintenance declines. 
Busing kids to schools across the city in the
name of school-integration
is far more damaging than local schools with local
school boards and parents who are able to actually attend those meetings and have a say in their children’s education.
Kids would come home from school and associate
with those they met in class. That’s the way I was educated in the Evanston public schools,
decades before some well-intentioned white but ignorant sociologist invented busing as a path to integration. Let me
tell you another story. 
Part of my earlier
life included the rehab of a high-school in a black precinct in Chicago. The
black principal of that school was a remarkable woman by any standards, but
teaching had been her choice. She taught me a great deal about the politics of
Chicago schools.

Here was a woman who
could have entirely run that school, from budgeting roof repairs to organizing
a worthwhile and locally-oriented curriculum. She was among the most
perceptive, fascinating and dedicated women I have ever met.
Yet every single requisition
she made, from equipping the metal-shop to buying paper, pencils and erasers
had to go through the giant bureaucracy of the Chicago School District. The CSD
is a Pentagon-sized building that oversees 681 schools including 472 elementary
schools, 106 high schools, 96 charter schools, and 7 contract schools, serving
400,000 students, yet they control the
pencils
at enormous expense to the system.
She told me with a
sigh that the metal-shop teacher had been asking for a modern lathe for fifteen
years. He currently trained his kids on an engine-lathe that industry has not
used for decades. “How does that possibly
bring those kids a job?
” she asked. 
Good question.
It has always seemed to me that the more civilized we become, the less civil our attitudes toward one another.
Civilization brings structure and its
definition is ‘the social process whereby
societies achieve an advanced stage of development and organization
.’ Well
it’s not a social process at all.
If you want to see social process, go to small-town America (what’s left of it) and the
smaller the better, down to three guys living under a bridge. Hell, you can see
it in three partners running a garage, but you won’t find it at Bank of America
or Wal-Mart. 
No matter what the
university-educated sociologists tell you, along with their ill-informed peers,
workable social structures require the
consent and active participation of the group
.
We kid ourselves as American
society grows complex that democracy
fills that requirement. Democracy, as we practice it in our republic, totally
fails its definition. Ask a single mother in a ghetto what the vote has done
for her life. 

We no longer have the
consent and active participation that enabled Jefferson, Franklin and the other
outstanding fathers of our nation to create the greatest (with all its current
flaws) society on earth.

The vote is a joke to the poor and
uneducated. Their lives are conscripted by the powerful, all of whom set the
rules for a segment of their own society that they essentially disdain, if not
outright hate. Community brings the
social agreement and cohesion the vote no longer guarantees—and the smaller the better.
Suppose—just suppose—we gave self-determination and capitalism within our wounded
cities a chance to succeed; not over several more wasted and imprisoned
generations, but now. The black and
minority leadership is there right now and known
in those communities. That’s what ownership
looks like and it works because you
look your customer in the face every day, responsible
for every decision good or bad.
Time perhaps to finally allow minority communities
the responsibility that might make them great.

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