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February 28, 2005

Nowhere in Africa

The wife and I watched 'Nowhere in Africa' on Tivo last night. It was the story of a family of three German Jews who found their way to freedom from Nazi atocities by leaving Germany for Kenya. It portrays their adjustments to this reality as the war progresses and their child grows. There's a lot to this excellent story, but this is not a review of that film. This is a question about racial integration in America.

Over at K Street Friend and here provocative questions are raised about the success of residential integration. Questions like these:

Are many members of black America adopting the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class, and are trying to distance themselves from the black poor?

In the 1960s, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs broke the open barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some blacks was now wide open. More blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of – they fled blighted inner-city areas in droves. The new frontier, business where the dollar is made and where significant wealth and resources are at stake.

But, is there a widening rift between the black haves and the black have-nots that has been blurred by racism, ignored by blacks and hidden from white society?

Is black wealth, like white wealth, now concentrated in fewer hands?

Yes. Everyone wants to distance themselves from the black poor. Even you don't want to hang around your poor cousin. So? The answers are all yes. And while it would be interesting to engage in all of the questions presumed by the presence of these questions, we really don't have a forum for that anywhere do we? I mean I could build one in a week but I really don't have the patience (nor the budget at the moment) to do the marketing. It'll happen, don't worry.

It occurred to me yesterday while I was cleaning up the garage to find my football to go on a walk with my son, that I don't trust blackfolks who refer to whitefolks in the abstract or vice versa. If you don't have the social skills to make a lie of all the stupid stereotypes we put up with, you really are a social failure. I think a goodly number of Americans have to admit to themselves that they lack the skills to take their own personal relationships beyond the state of the races, circa 1950. That's just too bad.

Families are trying to do right by their own values. But how often are they really questioned? Sometimes living outside of your comfort zone means having to listen to other people talk about the way you raise your children. How many times have we heard about the village it takes to raise a kid? Yeah all well and good when the village of folks is just like you. But have you ever dealt with a village of strangers?

I'm going to take it personal for a hot moment. You see one of my children is a superstar. That child has always been a straight-A scholar athlete, popular leader in school. Also one of my children is a ball of absent-minded energy with a penchant for boo boo jokes. So I know what it's like as a black parent at a predominantly white school to watch other parents as they push their children to being friends or pull their children from being friends with one or another child from my family. I leave most of those matters to the spousal unit, and am not particularly sensitive to them, but I recognize the dynamic.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that I could make mountains of these molehills in self-righteous black anger. I don't because living in the predominantly white 'burbs is not the holy grail. It's just another place to live. And until more and more legions of blackfolks get over that hump, we are going to continue to hear moans in anticipation that the answer to all those questions is "Yeah, so?"

It's hard living in rural Kenya if you are a German Jewish refugee during WW2. It's not hard living in Euro-American suburbs if you are an Afro-American in 2005. So when I ask people about whether or not the legendary dysfunctions of the ghetto are worth suffering, I do so with that in mind.

One cannot deny the historical fact of the Great Migration. The South Side of Chicago is black because blacks fled north in the wake of the failure of Reconstruction. This is why the Urban League was formed. Millions of African-Americans got sick of sharecropping and left the rural South for the urban North. And today millions of African-Americans are abandoning the urban centers for the suburbs. That's the effect of the aggregate progress of thousands of families who have, one by one, made their decision to leave the old ways behind - as was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. We should expect new Urban Leagues formed in support of this new migration.

If there are any scholars out there, I would be interested to know how the politics of the new urban dwellers evolved.

Posted by mbowen at February 28, 2005 10:21 AM

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