Self-Destructive Culture

 Posted by on 10 April 2002 at 12:17 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 102002

Juan Williams opposes reparations for slavery in an op-ed of arguments of variable quality. He makes the idiotic claim that reparations may have the harmful effect of ending “the moral responsibility that all Americans, especially white Americans, have for the history of slavery, legal segregation and the ongoing racism in our national life.” Apparently eliminating unearned guilt, guilt for inhumane and racist acts committed by people wholly unconnected to you, is a bad thing. Despite this boggle, Mr. Williams does make some interesting comments about reparations fostering racism. He writes,

If reparations become a reality, black Americans already battling presumptions of inferiority (they are less hard working, less intelligent and less patriotic, according to whites questioned by pollsters) will also bear the weight of being demeaned as less able than any Mexican immigrant or Bosnian refugee. The newcomers, after all, are not asking for reparations — they only want a chance to make it in America. The result will be a further segregation of low-income black people from the mainstream.

Mr. Williams certainly has a good point about the push for reparations fostering ideas of the inferiority of blacks. Millions of immigrants, even those subjected to terrible racial bias, have succeeded in this country without payments for comparable injustices. The reparations movement thus subtly hints that some aspect of black people themselves is responsible for the proportionally higher rates of poverty, criminality, illegitimacy, and school dropouts among blacks.

Predictably, racists will use the ideas reparations movement as confirmation of their view that blacks are inherently too lazy or stupid or criminal or whatever to succeed. (I ought not have to say it, but I will, that such racism is completely irrational and reprehensible.)

For reasonable people willing to distinguish between race and culture, the reparations movement may have an unintended benefit, attracting attention to the ways in which black culture damages blacks themselves. Such damage is partially the result of the intellectual corruption of anointed black leaders wholly invested in the cult of black victimhood, like Jesse Jackson. Black intellectuals who do not tow the line of racism as responsible for all ills, like Larry Elder, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, and Clarence Thomas are regarded as sellouts, as not really black.

More insidiously, however, black culture damages children by too often pegging academic and material success as a failure as a black person, because such success is merely an imitation of white people. A disturbing 1998 story from The Washington Post details the pressure cooker forced upon black students who value academic achievement.

High-achieving African American students also complain about being ridiculed by fellow black students who tease them if they expend a lot of effort to earn good grades.

Prodded by her parents, Aida Harris always worked hard in school, earning top grades and taking the toughest classes. But by the time she got to middle school, she found that her gung-ho attitude alienated her from many of her black friends.

“People constantly told me that I’m acting white, that I’m an Oreo,” she said. “I was constantly shunned by my black classmates.”

The harassment grew so intense that her grades dropped from A’s and B’s to C’s and D’s. She said that she became preoccupied with her racial identity and let her grades slip in hopes of getting back in the good graces of her friends.

At one point, she told her parents that she wanted to leave public school altogether. “It was traumatic, absolutely traumatic,” said her father, Reuben Harris Jr., an insurance agent and a founding member of a parents’ group focused on raising black student achievement. “She was feeling ostracized and separated from her own people.”

Aida Harris eventually improved her grades, but only after extraordinary intervention by her father. He found time to sit in at her middle school every day, and now he is a regular presence at Shaker Heights High School, where his daughter is a sophomore.

“I had strong support from my parents, which made it possible for me to be independent,” Harris said. “Many [black] kids don’t seem to have the same kind of support.”

Thank goodness for committed parents.

In my two years of public middle school, I was nearly ruined intellectually by much more subtle pressure against academic achievement. I remember telling my mother that I wouldn’t get grades higher than Bs, because I was already in the “Gifted and Talented” program. Girls were simply not supposed to be overtly smart. They weren’t supposed to be interested in learning. As a result, I was desperately trying to maintain a balancing act that would have ended up destroying my opinionated self.

I was saved by a last minute switch to a private all-girls school, Garrison Forest, for 8th grade and high school. Most people simply don’t believe that my intellectual life would have been seriously and most likely permanently stunted by continuing in the anti-intellectual environment of public school. But they are wrong. I would have ended up like the vast majority of girls at WashU: never speaking up in class, never able to do anything alone, never confident in judging independently. And, as with the other girls at WashU, no one would have ever noticed anything amiss. So I was “saved” — in an almost religious sense. My greatest gratitude towards my parents will always be for that change of schools.

So I have some sense for the damage that such pressure to conform to ideals of mediocrity can do to a child. And I feel a sense of vicarious gratitude to every black parent who demands success from his/her child.

In short: Blacks don’t need reparations. They don’t need affirmative action. They don’t need the welfare state. They need a cultural revolution.

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