Prejudice and Poverty: One Man’s Quest for a Better Tomorrow
Race is a topic that can be sensitive, so I have approached it with caution. However, since President Obama has been in office discussion of race is unavoidable. I stay awake at night thinking about racial tensions and poverty in the inner cities. I have been trying to examine the events that are causing the insanity.
While investigating the causes, I had to wrestle with my own prejudices and to see if my beliefs are valid. Hopefully in doing research I can find a way to contribute something to solving black poverty. However, I would first like to discuss the events that led me to examine how race affects these issues.
I love history, but until recently I had read little about black history. Before I read Malcolm X, I held no grudges, but when I finished reading him, I felt worked over. Malcolm was rough. He broke you down and took you from the Motherland to Jamestown. He made you feel the whips. He pointed out why I am light skinned and made me remember the fat kid who call me n*gg*r. His fiery speeches about white people allowed me to use white people as a dumping ground for my problems. For a while Malcolm messed me up. My advice for novices who want to learn black history is to start off with Frederick Douglas instead of Malcolm X, because it’s better than going straight to the hard stuff.
Eventually my anger toward whites subsided, but my anger toward the black left revved up. I perceived the Urban League, NAACP, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and white liberals as race hustlers and welfare pimps who defended the poor no matter how indefensible their behavior.
Back then I was poor but not at rock bottom. I lived in the projects but had witnessed miracles. I saw single mothers, abuse victims and people who had harder roads than me finish school, get careers and raise families while another group was crying and complaining nobody was helping them.
I remember hiring three friends as a manager of a restaurant, and later I had to fire them because they refused to work. The first thing they said to me was, “You’re an Uncle Tom.” I still can’t forget when I first started selling newspapers, I brought along two people who were broke like me. But they didn’t want to look foolish selling papers, and today they still are in the shelter waiting for housing. This changed my attitude changed about poverty.
Like the people on Fox News, I was fed up with the four babies, five daddy drama that you see in some communities, with people selling their food stamps for crack and black men liquored up in the park. I came to believe many of the problems in the inner city were self-inflicted.
I was fortunate to move out of the ‘hood. I became bourgeois, and I denied being black, telling people that I was French or American Indian. I resented being called an African American. My relatives were born in Ohio, New York and New Jersey. I looked up my family tree and not one was born in Africa. I’m Irish, Indian and Dominican, but my dominant color happens to be black. Why can’t I be called an “American” instead of categorized as an ethnic person? I equated negative things like crack, assault and rape with black people. Whenever something bad happened I would say that n*gg*rs did it.
At that point in time, I wanted to know less about black history instead of more. I believed I knew all that I needed to know about my past: Africa, slavery, civil war, Jim Crow, civil rights, Barack Obama. What else is there to know?
But then a few months ago when I got a book by Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, and I began a metamorphosis. The first time I read it I felt it was too far left. But then I read it again, and I started seeing things differently. He explained vividly the cruelty of slavery and how the whipsawing of the slavemaster and the patronizing of liberals keeps minorities for generations in perpetual dysfunction.
What turned my curiosity into an obsession was reading Robert Kennedy and His Times, by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. His book looks at the roots of poverty. “Something in the core of our society is starting to rot,” he wrote. Later in the book, he writes “poverty is a cover for racial discrimination.” That struck a chord with me.
Reading about gang violence in Chicago and the recent shooting of a D.C. teenager over a pair of sneakers inspired me to begin my own investigation into how this all begin. These events inspired me to direct my rage into an effort to do something about it. I decided to take Robert Kennedy’s advice and get to the roots and causes of problems like violence and poverty. In the coming issues, I would like to continue the conversation on these issues and get input from others on how we can eradicate poverty in the black community. I am tired and I know many others are also.