One of the Brothers sent me this link: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2009/03/how_to_understand_the_culture_of_poverty.html and wanted a response. Okay, before getting started let’s say that my criticisms of black people have nothing to do with our skin pigmentation, I am talking about a prevailing set of values/culture, especially among the black underclass (BUC). Sadly, many black people and white liberals fail to distinguish between condemning the deviant behaviors common in the black ghetto with being “black.” There’s a difference—a world of difference between the two. Nobody is forcing black people to identify with (much less defend) the anti-social and pathological behaviors that are so common in the “hood.” One’s value system is voluntary. One’s race is not. Also, before the cavilers jump in, I realize I am making generalizations—I think generalizations that fit with the observations of most people who’ve observed these matters… even if one might feel uncomfortable giving expression or thought to these observations.
The core problem of the black underclass is one of morality and culture. It’s not racism. Racism exists, and the people who deny it probably have some ideological agenda for doing so. The core problem is not poverty. One can be poor and still live a life of self-restraint, integrity, and dignity. Does poverty contribute to the problems the black underclass faces? Yes. Obviously. Does poverty make many blacks more prone to engage in illegal and deviant behavior? Yes. CHARACTER, however, can conquer poverty… but wealth—by itself—can’t build character.
Where to begin? Well, have to recognize, contrary to the PC vogue, that there are simply different classes of people… different classes of black people. Not all black people are ghetto, as you well know, Brother Yahya. Your black classmates at Harvard were very little like the black guys hangin’ out in the neighborhoods where they shot “The Wire” in B-More. The black kids i went to Amherst with were different from the black guys i knew in Springfield—or the goons i see here in Memphis. The problem here for black people in general is that the black underclass—the African-American equivalent of “white trash” has come to define black culture and the black experience, and this is very different from the way middle/upper class white folks look at their dregs.
Now the black poor are poor (and pathological) for a reason. Part of it is the legacy of slavery and racism. But the real problem is in the mindset. We have to deal with the psyche of the black underclass. Although this is meant to be a parody, honestly, how far removed is this from the daily talk on the street corners of black America (warning: this contains A LOT OF PROFANITY):
“We stay failing….” I think that could be the motto for the black underclass. With such a negative mindset that pervades the entire culture of the BUC, how can anything be done to fix it in a reasonable amount of time? Not only is this mindset the standard operating system of the black underclass, there is little or no effort made to try to prevent it from reaching subsequent generations. The parents pass this madness to their children!
When i was in Lebanon, i was with a young Brother (i believe 15 at the time) who had grown up in the projects of Philadelphia. He was a profoundly insightful young man. Although i had some exposure to the ghetto of Springfield in my teen years, i had never encountered anything like i did in Philly—it, meaning the level of pathology there, was like what i had read about in our Black Studies courses in college but I had never actually lived in it. Let me put it this way, I knew the ghetto to a certain extent, but I found it very difficult to wrap my mind around MUSLIMS engaging in behavior that was worse than the non-Muslims I knew growing up in Springfield. In one of our illuminating conversations about hood life, and more importantly hood mentality, in Philly this Brother said: “Some people like it that way.” That was my epiphany, and much of what i had witnessed in my life with black folk is that they actually enjoy being part of the black underclass (and all the (failed) programs intended to help black folks in the G. reflect this). I’m sure you know the saying: “You can take the N-word out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the N-word.” People who have this mindset constitute a certain CLASS (and i don’t mean merely economic class but “cultural class”) of black people. These people, I don’t believe, can be helped very much.
After the mindset, we have to deal with behavior. I’d say that if you want to begin to fix the problems of black Americans, you’ve got to deal with their favorite pass time: namely, serial fornication. The normalization of fornication has been an Indian train wreck for black culture. Even the secularists recognize that much of black poverty stems from single parent households (i.e., breeding illegitimate kids). Additionally, the serial fornication does nothing but engender distrust and disdain between black men and women. How can a man trust in a “girlfriend” or spouse who has been with a couple of dozen men before him? How can he “respect” a woman whom he was able to sleep with after meeting her a couple of hours earlier? Furthermore, the serial fornication emasculates the black male. He has no reason (once morality is taken out of the picture) to take on responsibility and be a real man when he can get what he essentially wants from a woman while remaining a bum. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
Because of the “de-moralization” of black America and the normalization of fornication, it has opened the Pandora’s box of sexual deviancy. Nowadays, the black woman not only can’t trust her man being around other women, she can’t trust him being around other men! This DL (Down-Low: homosexual men who pretend to be only into women) culture has become VERY common in black culture, and it is one of the main ways AIDS is spread amongst black women. From an Islamic perspective, after blasphemy and murder, fornication is worst abomination. When you don’t have a problem with a 70% illegitimacy rate in your culture, how in the world do you think you can stabilize your situation and build strong families or communities? You can’t, and that’s why i consider the thing done—it’s time for black people to find a new identity, and I say this all the more for black American Muslims. It’s time to make that exodus.
Some other points. Regarding the economic solution that W.J. Wilson proposes, i don’t see it being practical. In my opinion, the economy for the lower and working class blacks is thru. Stick a fork in it. If whites—meaning, white middle class folk—can’t hang in this era of globalization, then all the more the poor and working class blacks can’t. Regarding manual labor jobs, the blacks cannot compete with the Mexicans. Now, there are more of them (Mexicans) and they have LOTS OF KIDS; they have at least as good a work ethic reputation as blacks; and they work for A LOT LESS. As for black women, they need a wake up call. These low-end office jobs that many black women have will be taken in the future by Latinas, who are seen by many as easier to get along with AND. THEY. ARE. BILINGUAL.
I am not optimistic for the black underclass not only b/c of the new global economic realities, but there is little in the BUC culture that indicates that it wants to improve its condition. Simply consider the ideals of today’s poor black culture. Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated by those sectors of the economy that have a vested interests in the perpetuation of black pathology. What comes immediately to mind is the prison industrial complex and its ancillary institutions (the court system, police, social services, etc.). Also, there is the popular culture. There is very little in black culture today that is independent from the “black” media popular culture. Where do the poor blacks get their values from beyond TV (and the streets)? Black people don’t control the “black” media, and it is clear that the neo-minstrelsy and moral degeneracy featured therein is profitable for a few, albeit destructive for many. And even if the black popular culture were run by blacks, I doubt that the cupidity of the black elite would cause them to do things differently (simply consider Black Entertainment BEFORE it was sold to whites (or Jews)).
As for solutions, I think that folks have to concede that some people are going to make it (in-shaa’ Allah) and many will fail. People and cultures become extinct—or at least become irrelevant. Other than filling up prisons, inflating welfare rolls, chasing balls, and singing and dancing, what purpose does the black underclass serve in the American economy? Are they building their own environmentally self-sustaining communities? Are they prepared to deal with the Chinese? Are they prepared to deal with the new information economy? What institutions are the black underclass building—or talking about building—for the next generation?
I am not saying that all poor blacks should be abandoned and left to the fetid culture of the streets. You can do the W.E.B. DuBois-10%er thing. Find those youth who SHOW PROMISE and GET THEM OUT of the ghetto, introduce them to the opportunities in the outside world, and make a difference in their lives. But for those who “like it that way,” I don’t see the point in spending increasingly limited resources on people who don’t want to change.
My suggestion for African-American Muslims is to develop their own distinct identity from the black underclass culture. I mean making a CLEAN BREAK from the pathologies of the black ghetto. If we put aside feelings of tribal solidarity and just look at contemporary black ghetto culture and weigh it on the scale of the Sacred Law, we will see that there is little salvageable in it. Also, i think exogamy is going to play a big role in this. As African-American Muslims travel (and as African-American Muslims continue to diminish in strength and relative numbers to other Muslims in this country), they are going have broaden their marriage prospects. Having children who are multiracial, multi-cultural, multinational, and multilingual will (if the children are given a good religious education and identity) give them a major advantage over their non-Muslim American peers in this global economy. These multicultural Muslims will, in turn, develop their own collective identity as American Muslims, God-willing. And they will be American Muslims in a globalized world. I’m not pessimistic for those who are serious about getting their stuff together, but for the rest, they will just be left behind. That’s the way I see it.
Praise Allah, and Allah knows best.