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Sunday, September 30, 2012

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Thinking About African-Americans & The Democratic Party, Part 1

The problem with aligned thinking—that is, identifying one’ self with a particular ideological way of thinking such as “liberal,” “conservative,” “anarchist,” etc.—is that no one wants to believe the worst of whatever associated group they affiliate themselves with. Take for example last year’s Pew Research study, “Muslim-Western Tensions Persist:”

A new poll by the Pew Research Center finds the majority of Muslims from Egypt, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Indonesia and Pakistan do not believe the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs. The highest rate being in Egypt where 75 percent of Muslims do not believe Arabs were responsible. 

Despite the exhaustive investigative endeavors of American and many foreign law enforcement and investigative agencies, this thinking continues to shape Muslim perceptions about America and the West.
We find examples of this same phenomenon of selective thinking here in the states. Another Pew study found that “Only 49 percent of voters know that (President) Obama is a Christian, and 17 percent continue to say that he’s a Muslim. Among conservatives, 30 say that he is a Muslim” (see: “Many Conservatives Still Think Obama is a Muslim”). Oddly enough, and despite the reality that President Obama has for years attended (and continues to attend) a Christian church, many of these individuals do not consider themselves “crazy” or “fringe” for embracing such baseless thinking.
In 2005, a survey published in the February edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes that year revealed that a substantial number within the African-American community believe that, among other things, “AIDS was produced in a government laboratory, and…was created and spread by the CIA” (“Study: Many Blacks Cite AIDS Conspiracy”).
The point is that we live in a world where it’s too easy to believe the worst of others, and not question whether our allegiances are of a higher moral or ethical caliber. It’s simply too easy for Muslims to believe that Americans are such a duplicitous people that its government would conspire to kill thousands of its own people. Or that all whites are racists. Or that blacks are lazy and intellectually inferior. Rarely do we every question ourselves, or are willing to believe that members of the various groups that we identify with or belong to can commit transgressions every bit as callous as those we slander or are believe the worst of. It’s simply too intellectually burdensome for black people to believe that O.J. murdered, for Muslims to believe that some among their number could have been responsible for taking 3,000 American lives, or for conservative whites to believe that their politicians are every bit the “race-baiters” as traditional black leaders they accuse of the same…ignoring the remote molecule of reality each conspiracy has its basis in.
As an African-American, I find such a propensity to be an impediment to both the political and social well-being of the black community. I see this most evident in how the black community devotes its collective allegiance to the Democratic Party. I say this because during my own years-long history of working with special needs and at-risk population groups, while I have seen some indications of hope I have also been able to put things in a bigger-picture perspective. Many of the same socioeconomic ills which currently plague large segments of the African-American community existed to some degree during the 1964 election season—the year African-Americans began voting en masse for and identifying with the Democratic Party, buttressed mostly by Lyndon Johnson’s support (and Republican opposition) to the Civil Rights Act of that same year (OK Conservatives…now you know why).
This fact is not meant to imply that the Democratic Party as a whole took an enlightened view of race relations when blacks started gravitating toward it during this period. Many Southern segregationists were every bit as conservative—if not more—as Republicans. The difference then was that the majority of Republicans were nowhere near as ideologically-driven or polarized from the moderate mainstream as they are today…the presence of the Civil Rights Act-opposing Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater and his far-right supporters in the party notwithstanding. Republicans were more politically-pragmatic than inherently racist in seeking to court Southern white conservatives who typically identified themselves with the party of the common man rather than the GOP. Many blacks also identified themselves with the common man thread of the Democrats to the point where they were willing to overlook the segregationists and racists who formed in many aspects the nucleus of the Democratic Party to embrace its stance toward potential integration and Civil Rights. Intolerant whites within the Democratic Party, seeing the writing on the wall in the form of blacks all-but whole-heartedly aligning themselves with the party, fled it in typical white-flight fashion in favor of the now-almost all white Republican Party. This is why you have blacks caught between a rock in a hard place in regards to race-related issues. Some Democratic black leaders often insert race into political discourse when it’s not an issue (or use race-related issues to gain media notoriety), while not playing up personal responsibility in addressing black socioeconomic ills. And while other white Republican figures can make remarks like Newt Gingrich’s notion to talk “to the African American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” and Rick Santorum’s play to white fears about not wanting to “make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money" without seeing themselves as “race baiting.”  Seeing others as being "bad" is easier than seeing ourselves the same way.
Even if you discount the racial history and the different racial perceptions between the two parties, one still has to wonder whether black allegiance to the Democratic party has meant a being in a better place overall.  Take the area of economics.
For the last 50 years, there has been a persistent disparity between black unemployment rates and that of white Americans. Last year, “the African American unemployment rate averaged 15.8 percent – twice the white average of 7.9 percent” a figure representative of the reality of a 5-decades long average of black unemployment being twice the rate of that of whites (For African Americans, 50 Years of High Unemployment). While the alliance between the Democratic Party in the big Northern cities and manufacturing industries benefited many blacks economically during the majority of this period when America still had a viable manufacturing industry, the gulf between black unemployment and white unemployment has remained steady for a large segment within the black community. Some short-term Democratic-sponsored fixes (such as government-funded summer employment programs and the defunct CETA program) helped to mitigate the employment problem to a minor degree, but failed to address the root causes of this particular problem, which tend to be more sociologically than political. The bottom line is that the unemployment woes of African-Americans have not gotten any better since we started throwing in our lot with the Democratic Party…worse I you take into account that the highest unemployment rate of any demographic belongs to black males (See:  Record High Black Male Unemployment...A Non-Political Issue).
Part of the problem is that local Democratically-controlled administrations were so busy schmoozing up to the major manufacturers (i.e., job providers for many African-Americans) in the areas they dominated that they allowed themselves to be blinded to changing economic realities, and were caught flat-footed when many American industries either folded or moved overseas due to increased global economic competition from abroad.  Over-relying too much on the idea that their economic bases would never change, many Democratic administrations on the local level lacked the foresight and/or vision to sense how local economies were quickly changing, and failed to replace failing business models with rising business models.  This is why China manufactures more "green energy" commodities like solar panels, which could be both an economic and employment boon to urban areas like Detroit or Toledo, than America.  And although it may be easier to believe that the Republican Party simply doesn't give a damn about black employment as an issue, we might want to stop and ask ourselves has the Democratic Party benefited blacks any better?
Black teenage pregnancy rates, although lower than in most periods over the last 50 years, continues to lead those of every other demographic in America. I can recall growing up in the 70s and early 80s a time when teenage pregnancy was something of a social Scarlet Letter…a symbol of personal moral failure and shame. Quite simply, it was considered a grave wrong, with easily comprehended negative consequences which the mother-to-be would have to suffer with for her foreseeable future. Liberal-leaning women’ groups and related organizations’ allegiance to the Democratic Party—in their zeal to empower women—helped to remove the social stigma from teenage motherhood, to the detriment of the black community. I can recall how when a young teen became pregnant, she would simply “move away” to some relative’s distance house to avoid the social stigma attached to premature motherhood at the time. Today, combined with liberal New-Age parenting philosophies which emphasize “getting to know your child” rather than the traditional model of being a parent first, the current liberalizing view of teenage pregnancy is that it is something of a group pathology among poor African-Americans rather than an individual lapse in judgment with no forethought of consequences. Stories like the 2009 revelation of 115 teenage mothers/mothers-to-be (out of 800 girls) located in one Chicago high school would seem to give this view some credence (See: 115 Moms, Moms-to-Be at South Side High).
And as you would expect, the pundits on both the left and the right have things wrong.  Poor black teens are not as much pathological as they are making the best “rational” choices that they are able to considering their sociological circumstances. Many black teenage females live under harsh socioeconomic conditions which—in the same way they fail to see the importance of learning algebra or history—do not allow they to see the practical costs of teenage motherhood. Unlike many of their white (and/or conservative) counterparts, many do not see college, the prospect of a high-paying job/career, social status, marriage/a stable monogamous relationship as being realistic or even attainable goals. As such, the prospect of “ruining their lives” via an early pregnancy is just not a factor in their judgment lapses. They simply view themselves as not “giving anything up” by engaging in risky behavior which could result in premature motherhood…or even worse. This may sound far-fetched until you consider that we saw the same phenomenon occur in the sole high school in the small fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts back in 2010. According to the principal of Gloucester High School and news reports, some 17 girls formed a pact to become pregnant on purpose. The link: “The once thriving fishing community has seen jobs drift overseas. Economic depression has left many teens trying to fill the void” ("Teens' Pregnancy Pact Shocks Mass. Town").
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Seeing teenage pregnancy as a pathology among a particular demographic rather than an error in judgment tends to feed into the ethos of seeing others are capable of engaging in behavior which we can't see ourselves engaging in.  Just ask Bristol Palin.
On a related issue, as exemplified by the Chicago teachers’ strike in recent weeks, many schools in Democratically-dominated large urban cities are in trouble in every way imaginable. Yes, teachers unions hold some responsibility, but not as much as one might think. Teachers unions have always been acting as teachers unions do, and compared to now, their culpability was not always considered an issue back in earlier decades when our public school were relatively functional and turning out talented students. And those who like to blame unions solely as the problem for failing urban school don’t think about teachers unions operating in more affluent districts, often Republican-leaning districts where test scores and student performance seems to weaken any argument of union impairment of potentially high-performing schools; it’s only in the areas where Democrats are heavily linked to unions where unions are perceived as solely being the problem; thank the Republicans for scaring up this anti-union bandwagon.
However, the Democratic Party’s penchant for creating well-meaning programs which end up having the opposite intended effect are an issue. For example, expanding social security entitlements to include students who are identified as “at-risk” creates a whole host of problems related to “bad schools.” These kids, who are more often than not simply over-diagnosed with “mental impairments” rather than identified as teens in need of home-based discipline, and forced upon public school teachers by virtue of “their right” to the same educational accommodations as other students. These often disruptive special needs children add another burden to teachers who are expected to bear many other responsibilities—with none of the authority—such as social worker, counselor, part-time parent, disciplinarian, tutor, baby-sitter, maid, and advocate just to name a few. Democrats aligned with the public school systems are acting as appeasers to the real problem with African-Americans in black-dominated public schools, lack of parent support for students in these schools…preferring instead to support programs which keep poorly-performing schools barely functioning. Many of these Democrats are afraid that if they adopt the Republican mantra of personal responsibility that they might alienate African-Americans as a voting bloc. This is not to say that charter schools, the “solution” Republicans love to promote, is the answer; most poor and urban areas are over served by the charter schools, which are not fully or empirically proven to be better than public school in educating black youth (“10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You”). If charter school are so much better at educating students, why don’t they appear—or rather why aren’t they allowed—in more affluent areas in the same numbers as they appear in urban/black areas?
Again, it's always easier to see "those people" as the flawed individuals rather than consider that we are just as capable of being "those people" under a similar set of circumstances. The situation has not improved much for the black community under the African-American/Democratic Party alliance.


To be concluded...

1 comment:

  1. Been waiting a long time for you to slay libs just like you do to conservatives(yes I'm a diehard Republican). Thanks for the balance finally.

    ReplyDelete