Deficits, Gaps, and ‘Bad News’ Jones
Are Black Readers and Children ‘Overdosing’ on Negative Opinions?
by Adam Abraham
SACRAMENTO — There is a general “unspoken” opinion in publishing circles that black people, on the whole, aren’t “into reading” as much as other major population groups, and we don’t read as well. As difficult as it might be to admit it, academic test scores tend to support this idea. Year after year, in community after community, we see that reading levels of black grade school children, even in some of the most affluent areas, consistently lag behind those of whites.
As a way to compensate, “affirmative action” (now “diversity”) advocates vehemently call for what amounts to acts of academic grace by school administrators in order to continue permitting low scoring black (and Hispanic) students to enter elite colleges without having demonstrated academic proficiency. But the last time I checked my conscience, preferential (unfair) treatment based on race or ethnicity is still wrong, and not in the best interest of anyone.
As the twenty-first century starts to get into its stride, perhaps we can take a fresh look at some of our now “old” issues. While it’s easy to analyze and even criticize social problems, it’s important to take the position that with fresh vision, they can be solved. As such, let us look at the “problem” of reading.
I read a lot. However, I don’t read much that is “about” black people specifically, or directed at them. The reason is simple. The messages tend to be dour, dire, disturbing, disdainful, or simply dumb. It’s as though we had some kind of a jones for bad news. I’ll give you a case in point.
The Black Commentator is a respected information resource on the Internet. It bills itself as offering “Commentary, analysis, and investigations on issues affecting African Americans.”
However, what do they start off the New Year with? Bad news. Get ready for a very negative assessment of America, its place in the world, and the likely impact of current foreign relations policies (i.e., Iraq and the “War on Terror”) upon black Americans. The title piece (January 1, 2004) was “Black America Must Prepare for the Long Deep Slide.” It is indeed dour, but in no way is it dumb.
The writer provides well researched, and communicated analysis of America’s current forcible militaristic approach, as fomented and implemented by the Bush Administration. Indeed, I agree whole-heartedly with the analysis. But, getting back to the reason that black people may not read as much as others, the writer insists that black Americans see these developments as another “axe” that is about to fall on them. This is pretty much standard practice. If you’re black, you’ve got to be angry, on the lookout, blindly waiting on white people to take some action that will enable us to have a better life. If you’re black and choose a positive outlook, and see power as something that is within you, you’re considered blissed out, a copout, or a sellout.
If what the Black Commentator writer is saying is true and America’s going to take a fall, then it’s going to fall on all Americans. Why should black Americans set themselves up psychologically to “be hurt” more than anyone else? This approach needlessly extends victimhood as a “carrot” to willing minds. It should not be bitten.
There are many people – black people included – who will look at the same information and analysis about the current state of affairs, who will have the same feelings about the causes, but will see myriad opportunities staring them in the face.
Why are black Americans, in this day and age, still assumed to be “representable” by a predominantly negative, and victim point of view? Why do writers presume that their negative opinions about the future are either what or how all black people should think about it? Indeed, it’s the consistently negative outlook that I find to be off putting.
Here are a few examples:
“It is at this point that the Dream Period ended, definitively, for Black America. There will be no return in the foreseeable future to the times of robust and general domestic growth. Instead, the era of American decline is well underway, and is likely to be punctuated by abrupt, dramatic, and extremely dangerous social dislocations, during which we will learn the fuller meaning of living ‘in the belly of the beast.’
“Like a strange name called out in the bedroom, the specter of American madness cannot be erased from planetary memory; even if George Bush is ejected from the White House in November, this society has shown its horrific ass to the rest of the species. America writhes in flagrante (literally, “in blazing crime”) in Iraq, caught in the global gaze like a rutting dog unable to disengage itself from the object of its lust.”
This is a very good writer. I disagree with the first paragraph. I agree with the second. Here’s more:
“But there is now no doubt that the U.S. is fated to shrink as the world withdraws from successive layers of entanglements with the madman. Black America must therefore prepare to marshal its collective assets for a long period of retrenchment.”
“What is certain is that the retrenchment will require a militant Black leadership that is willing to go toe-to-toe with corporate power, lest African Americans be overwhelmed in the scramble for scarcer resources.”
The analysis itself was factual, reasonable, and brilliantly presented. The conclusion however — regarding the need for a militant black leadership — was not. The best thing that black Americans, and all Americans can do in the face of any repercussions from the instability that our country has created, is (1) to continue forth giving birth to their own optimistic and inspired dreams, and (2) vote their conscience at each opportunity. Militancy is only an exercise in powerlessness by powerless thinkers. They most often end up as celebrated victims. I suspect that the barrage of negative opinion and predictions “bothers” many other blacks, especially children, possibly unconsciously, to the extent that they can only “bear” so much.
Militancy will be no more effective in bringing about more safety, openness, and cooperation, than will militarism. It doesn’t ennoble the militant, or his or her ideal. It’s amazing to hear someone write so eloquently about how our militaristic, bullying approach has alienated many countries of the European Union, and then advise that militancy – which works on the same principles – should be the core strategy for black Americans. What sliver of logic makes it wrong for America to throw its weight around militarily, but right for any group of Americans to embrace militancy as a tool of social remediation?
There is something positive that each individual can do. We can elevate our expectations, not only of the here and now, but of the future. We can’t control how others respond, but we can set, and then fulfill our own higher self-expectations.
Look at, and look for that which helps us achieve our personal goals; including information, knowledge, skills, and relationships. Place health, welfare, shared interests and values, and meaning above color and ethnicity in the importance matrix of our relationships. This will build friendships, trust, and faith. It will expand our experiential horizons. We will progress toward our goals, enjoying more of life’s precious moments along the way. The energy we waste being angry will be channeled into manifesting our higher dreams.
That’s what I miss when I read much of what’s directed at black people. It’s hope, and confidence in our abilities as human beings. It’s a realization that each one has the power to move mountains… of history, disappointment, injustice, and frustration… without bringing harm to a single soul. I wish President Bush understood that, but he doesn’t. We can remind him. But the best way to do it is to live it ourselves.
I believe that if more black Americans read encouraging thoughts and ideas from people they have come to respect, they would read more. Beyond that, the various “gaps” and “divides” that bedevil angry and frustrated social watchdogs, would begin to disappear.
If we will only dare.
Adam Abraham is author of I Am My Body, NOT! and A Freed Man: An Emancipation Proclamation (Phaelos Books), and host and producer of An Equal America. Mr. Abraham can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his web site, www.phaelos.com.
Copyright © 2004 Adam Abraham. All rights reserved.