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“There can be no great disappointment, where there is no great love.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am disappointed, I am a bit dismayed and I am somewhat disturbed. Why, you may ask? I’ll tell you. The remarks made by certain entertainers and personalities; as well as the apparent culpability of the “leaders” in the African-American community, has revealed a painful truth. That truth is not the supposed reluctance of the Black community to deal with its “problems,” nor is it the alleged need for African Americans to “play the victim.” It is the relative ease in which we as a people appear to believe the worst about ourselves. While a great deal of time and dialogue has been spent, lately, on our presumed sociopathic behaviors, we have ignored something even more sociopathic – our disturbing tendency to demonize ourselves.

It appears that if we hear something negative about ourselves we are quick to take ownership. “Black people are drugs addicts and drug dealers,” and our response? “Yep, that’s us.” “Most Black folks are lazy and on welfare,” and our response? “Yep, that’s us.” It seems that we don’t challenge, we won’t question and we do ourselves a great disservice. Imagine a patient who goes to see a doctor and the doctor tells that patient that he or she has cancer. The patient asks the doctor, “How do you know I have cancer?” The doctor answers: “I don’t know; you just look like you have cancer.” Now, how many of you think that’s an acceptable answer? How many of you would just accept something that serious without supporting tests, data, a second or even a third opinion, at face value? Yet many of us will swallow the equally damaging and erroneous claims of “important” people when they attack our intelligence, our values and our children. And because we so readily accept these assertions, the miseducation continues.

Welfare and affirmative action have been touted as programs that have benefited blacks more than any other group of people. However, this is not supported by the facts. Let’s take the myth that black women are the largest recipients of welfare and AFDC. The fact is that children, not women, are the largest group of people receiving public assistance. According to 1997 statistics (pre-welfare reform stats), less than 5 million of the 14 million public assistance recipients were adults, and 90 percent of those adults are women. The majority of the welfare recipients were white. The stereotype of the black “welfare queen” has been played over and over again in the American media, causing unwarranted criticism of African-American women and the African-American community as a whole. Nonetheless, we as a people have swallowed this fallacy hook, line and biased-sinker.

Nowadays I can rarely turn on my television or radio without hearing some African-American analyst defending affirmative action (almost apologetically) as if we, as blacks, have been the greatest beneficiaries of it. This just isn’t the case. Although ethnic minorities have greatly benefited from affirmative action policies, white women, statistically, have benefited more than any other group from affirmative action. Contrary to the popular notion that it rewards the "unqualified," affirmative action acknowledges the historical and present institutional and social barriers (discrimination, racism, sexism, etc.) that have hindered qualified applicants from receiving fair and equal opportunities. Education (and access to a quality education) being the primary factor in determining the qualifications of applicants for jobs, makes white women number one on the affirmative action benefit list. How? Affirmative action became a legal and social reality at the same time the feminist movement began to hit its stride. Many women (predominantly white women) who had been housewives and stay-at-home mothers (many of them were also college-educated) began to redefine themselves and enter the work force to pursue careers. Also the rising number of divorces compelled many white women to seek employment and continuing education. The same affirmative action programs that sought to rectify racial bias, strove to remedy gender bias as well. Yet, we continue to allow ourselves to be the whipping boys, because we have bought into the lies, the stereotypes and the half-truths. The cruel irony is that these programs that have been cited as the diabolical champions of “lazy” and “unqualified” blacks, have benefited whites more than any group of people.

We are portrayed as oversexed or lascivious and yet the porn and adult entertainment industry is dominated by whites. Luke Skywalker, R. Kelly and Snoop Dogg are mere drops in the bucket compared to Hugh Hefner, Larry Flint and the Hustler, Penthouse and Playboy empires. Nevertheless, it is African Americans that get accused of being rampant, sexual beasts, unable to control our urges, unable to keep our legs crossed, unable to keep it in our pants. And do we take a stand against such flawed and misleading characterizations? No, on the contrary, we are more than willing to accept full title to them.

I have also received remarks stating that I am acting as if we are an “untouchable race,” that we need to be more “critical” of ourselves. These same people also confess a disgust at our young people’s deplorable lack of knowledge of their “own history.” I must admit that I find such allegations, almost pitiful.

There has been no group of people in the history of this country that has been more negatively touched on than the sons and daughters of Africa. We have been the victims of the most vile and dehumanizing stereotypes and labels that this world has had to offer. As far as the need for us to be more critical of ourselves; once again, blacks have analyzed, dissected and scrutinized themselves and their circumstances more than any group of people in the United States of America. Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Jawaanza Kunjufu, Cornell West and the list goes on and on (not to mention websites such as the Black Commentator,, The Hutchinson Report etc.). These insightful brothers and sisters have held a candle up to our psyches with their powerful and perceptive words. What more do we have to say?

It also seems that we love to decry the notion that our young people can tell us what the words are to the latest rap album, but can’t tell us who James Baldwin is. My beautiful brothers and sisters, allow me to let you in on something: I have taught more white students than I have black students and I know a great many white students who cannot recite the preamble to the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence and can’t tell you who William Lloyd Garrison is, but can tell you the lyrics to the latest Ludacris song. How come they don't come under the same condemnation as our African-American students? Once again, a shortcoming that is prevalent in society becomes a specific black identifier. It is those who continue to say that we as African Americans are not critical enough of ourselves, or that we as blacks believe that we are somehow untouchable, that are truly ignorant of our history.   

We are crossing the dangerous threshold where myth is becoming reality and reality is becoming myth (this is increasing with each passing day). We have cloaked ourselves in the stereotypes of the most contemptible aspects of this society and have treated them as if they are unique to our culture and identity. Makes no difference to us if the majority of drug dealers and users are white, makes no difference if the “typical” criminal is a white, non-Hispanic male or that black males are less prone to abuse their partners than whites. We have no problem believing that it us who are the greatest perpetrators. And those of us who reveal these truths are considered to be “enablers,” “in denial,” “playing the victim” and/or “making excuses.” As I have viewed the writings of  other contemporary thinkers – my radical and progressive brothers and sisters (this includes thinkers such as Tim Wise and Noam Chomsky) – not one of them has hinted that racism, poverty or any other societal factor, is an excuse for any people to disregard personal responsibility. Nonetheless, that is the charge that is usually leveled against us frequently and furiously.

If we are so ready to condemn, then why are we not equally ready to commend? Where was the “well done” for our young black sisters when the press release from the National Center for Health Statistics (dated December 17, 2003) stated that teenage pregnancy had gone down by 30 percent in the past decade and that the sharpest drop of any group was African-American teenage girls – 40% in the last decade and 50% since 1991? Where was the collective “bravo” for our young people when the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of the Census acknowledged that the African-American dropout rate (as of 2001) was at 10.9% - the lowest it’s ever been? Also, it was almost identical to the national average (meaning all students) of 10.7%. Most of us appear to be unaware of this information – so it appears that our youth aren’t the only ones who need to study more. Yes, I’d love to see the dropout rate down to 0%; but that shouldn’t preclude us from celebrating what we have achieved. I think it would be wonderful if none of our young women became pregnant in their teenage years, but I am proud of what they have done.  The high-profile prophets of black negativity, who are so geared up to impugn our youth, could not be found to herald their triumphs just as enthusiastically.

When teasing and peer pressure are looked at as being greater factors to black student achievement than who is teaching our children and what is being taught, I consider that type of thinking just as pathological as gang activity or fatherlessness. Further evidence of this need to falsely indict ourselves, are the comments Spike Lee made on the Tavis Smiley Show (Thursday, July 22) when he insinuated that blacks don’t embrace and support dramas as much we should – citing the lack of turnout for movies such as Antwone Fisher. Interestingly, Denzel Washington (producer & director of Antwone Fisher) was on the program the following day. Tavis put the question of whether or not blacks supported dramas as they should and Denzel’s answer was: “Well dramas, first of all, don’t do as well, period. Black or white, they don’t do as well.”

After watching the interview I decided to research to ascertain which claim was true. I found that of the top 100 highest grossing movies of all-time, there were only 6 dramas (and a few of those were not what I would call “true” dramas – Titanic, Gladiator, to name a couple). I also looked at the top grossing dramas that were released during the summertime (summertime being important because that’s when dramas usually do the worst – studios like to roll out the action flicks) since 1982. Out of the 59 dramas that were listed, 9 were either produced or directed by African Americans (Do The Right Thing, Boyz-N-The Hood, Mo Better Blues – if you haven’t noticed, two of these movies are Spike’s); had a predominately black cast (What’s Love Got Do With It) or one or more of the leading roles were portrayed by African Americans (Corrina Corrina, Courage Under Fire, 187). I know to some this may seem trivial, but I don’t happen to think so. Spike’s indictment serves as yet another example of how quickly we condemn ourselves. Of how something that is endemic to society or humanity as whole, is portrayed as unique to the Black community. A side note: When Antwone Fisher was released on DVD and video, it sold one million copies in 3 days.

I have had the opportunity to speak to several white reporters and journalists, and I flatly refuse to answer any of their “what do you think is the problem with the black community” questions. It is not because I am in denial, nor is it because I have a problem with “tellin it like it t-i is.” It is for the same reason a general doesn’t answer to a private, or a publisher to a journalist or a principal to a teacher – superiors do not answer to subordinates. By this I am not saying that whites are subordinate, but in an equal society (and Brother Senator Obama said there is no white America or black America) why should I have to answer questions about the supposed deviant behavior of the black community, when whites do not have to do the same? The minute I answer one question, I am saying: “I am inferior.” For me, it is absolutely that simple. Do we, in the black community, have real concerns? No doubt about it. Can we do better? Yes, most definitely. Misconceptions, miseducation and misleading stereotypes do not offer any real answers. The Christian scriptures tell us that “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” As we, as a community, declare war on irresponsibility, ignorance, crime, poverty and the vast number of concerns that we face; we must be circumspect. I would think that we, who live in present-day America, would know exactly what it means to declare a war based on flawed and unproven information.

Dr. Edward Rhymes, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is a consultant in the areas racism, equity & diversity, education and adolescent development. He is also a Visiting Asst. Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Be sure to check out the Rhymes Reasons page on his website,



September 2 2004
Issue 103

is published every Thursday.

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