Unpleasant Truths About Race Relations
By ROBERT L. WOODSON SR.It was, of course, perfectly natural that in the heyday of the Civil Rights movement racial solidarity among black people should prevail. In reality, the movement did represent the interests of black people generally — poor and not-so-poor, educated and less educated. But increasingly, over the last half century, the interests of the race hustling elite in the black community have diverged from the interests of ordinary black people.
What distinguishes the recent unrest in Baltimore from other protests around the country over deadly encounters with police is the difficulty protest organizers are having linking the death of Freddie Gray to his race.
From Ferguson to Milwaukee to Madison, “Black Lives Matter” has been the rallying cry. Because Baltimore’s mayor, police commissioner and half of the 3,000-member police force are black, including three of the six officers indicted in Gray’s death, there seems to be confusion about where to assign blame. But there is little confusion about where to direct anger.
Many black activists complain that little has improved for blacks in West Baltimore since the 1968 riots. They used the conditions of poor blacks to make the case for voting rights that would help put middle-class, college-educated blacks in positions of power and offer a better way forward for all blacks.
However, five decades of civil rights legislation, anti-poverty programs and community renewal initiatives have not eased the persistent hopelessness that exists in many low-income black communities, including Milwaukee. Why not?
It is time to explore some unpleasant truths. The seeds of distrust were planted even back then as to whether the interests of poor blacks were sacrificed by their new black representatives, in government and in social service businesses. Poor blacks have been the victims of a cruel bait-and-switch game, where the demographics of all blacks were used as the bait; when resources arrived, the bulk of them went to middle-class providers.
If race were the primary culprit in injustice and poverty, why are poor blacks no better off in institutions run by their own people, including city governments and public schools? If government safety net programs were the answer, why has $20 trillion spent on the programs over 50 years failed to improve the lot of the poor? The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the highest form of maturity is the ability to be self-critical. Black America needs a serious self-examination.
What are possible solutions?
Before external resources will be effective in improving and rebuilding blighted areas, there must be improvements in the attitudes of young people living there. This attitude overhaul should be led by leaders from within the community, not outside professionals.
Urban riots, for example, create a demand for more spending on social programs, but also depress property values in black neighborhoods and deter investment in these same neighborhoods. Hostility toward police fuels a liberal narrative about cops oppressing poor black people, but makes it hard for cops to protect the poor black people who are the main target of crime.
It’s long past time to start looking critically at black elites, and asking the question “just whose interests are they really serving?”
Gwen Moore, Lena Taylor, we are talking about people like you.