Trying to dissipate the culture of rage

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

July 28, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

I've been trying to figure out why violence has gotten so bad in our inner cities-- particularly among young black adults.

Just Sunday, for instance, a gunfight broke out in East Baltimore, with stray bullets wounding a 3-month-old girl and her 18-year-old mother. A 23-year-old man, apparently the target of the shootings, was struck four times in the arms and legs. The gunman remains at large.

This was just the latest in a seemingly endless string of shootings here, most of them in East Baltimore, and usually involving gangs of men in their early- to mid-20s.

Often, the gunfire has been so wild and careless that bystanders have been wounded or killed.

Since January, the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins hospitals have treated 24 children for gunshot wounds. TC half-dozen of those children died. All over the city, you can see otherwise healthy young men creeping along in wheelchairs. Community leaders say a great many of these men are shooting victims.

I know all of the traditional explanations for this outbreak of carnage: These young men are embittered victims of the two Americas, separate and unequal, and they live in communities saturated with drugs and guns.

But those reasons are not sufficient. They don't fully explain why things are so bad now, in 1992.

There always have been two Americas, for instance, and even though they remain separate and unequal, they are less separate and less unequal than ever before. Young adults can see more models of success and in a broader range of fields than I ever dreamt of as a teen-ager just two decades ago.

And we can't blame the intensity of the violence on the proliferation of drugs and guns. Drugs and guns are the tools of self-destruction. They are not the causes.

So what's different about today?

I blame a culture of rage that grew out of the black power movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

This culture teaches that all whites are evil and that this society is so corrupt that no black man can succeed in it unless he sells his soul. There is ambivalence about the ultimate goal of the black community: Do we want to reform society so that blacks can participate as equals? Or, do we want to raise our own consciousness so that we forever remain separated and uncorrupted?

My generation -- those in their 30s and 40s -- grew up in an angry time. We witnessed the faltering of the civil rights movement and the rise of militancy, the riots, the war protests, the violent and sometimes fatal clashes between students and National Guard units, between community activists and police.

A self-affirming statement -- black is beautiful -- soon became coupled with a racist one, white is ugly. A movement geared to integrate into the system as equals veered off into strident demands to tear the system down.

Those of us who grew up during that time can put this rage in its proper perspective. Youths growing up in stable households benefit from the guidance of the adults around them.

But the youths who fall through the cracks get exposed to the full brunt of the bitterness that surrounds them without benefit of caring adults to guide them.

Rap artists, such as Sister Souljah, have been trying to make us see this: These young men see their violence, their heartlessness, their lack of regard for human life, as a political statement -- even if their own neighbors and little ones are getting hurt.

The local branch of the NAACP might want to consider how to dissipate this culture of rage when it meets tomorrow to discuss ways of stemming urban violence. Calling out the National Guard, as some leaders have suggested, would only fuel the rage. Further appeals to "stop the killing" would fall upon deaf ears since the NAACP and every other mainstream black official are identified, in the culture of rage, as sell-outs, anyway.

The violence will never stop until each of us comes to terms with our own bitterness. I'll start.

Are all whites evil? No, they are not. To say or suggest otherwise is racist.

Can we transform this society and participate as equals? Yes, we can. We've already made far more progress than our own parents would have dared dream possible.

We've got to begin saying these things loudly and clearly, even though we once would have labeled anyone who voiced them a sell-out or an Uncle Tom.

Right now, the adults of our community are sending out mixed messages to our young. We are infecting our children with our own bitterness.

And in their confusion, our young are striking back -- lethally.

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