Causes of violence lie not only with blacks

January 11, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

My buddy and colleague, Courtland Milloy, says he expected to catch a lot of flak in the black community for his column Sunday in the Washington Post, and by golly, he is right! In fact, Courtland, my man, allow me also to hurl some flak your way.

You are wrong, buddy. Incorrect. In error. Barking up the wrong tree. False. Counter-factual. Out in left field. Next time, kid, give me a call and I'll spring for a cup of coffee and try to set you straight.

Mr. Milloy, like myself, attended last week's summit conference on crime and violence in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the National Black Leadership Search Session on Violence, the three-day colloquium was jointly sponsored by Jesse Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition and the Congressional Black Caucus. Its purpose was to discussthe problem of black violence and try to focus national attention on the issue.

I left the conference disappointed by what I had seen and heard: The conference work sessions offered nothing more substantial than the same old people making the same old speeches. If speeches could stop bullets, every man, woman and child in the black community would be invulnerable.

But Mr. Milloy left the conference thoroughly disgusted. In his Sunday column, he argued that it is time black Americans acknowledged that we -- not racism, not the legacy of slavery -- are responsible for our degraded condition.

Wrote my friend, "This weekend in Washington, our most articulate black leaders spent most of their time searching for ways not to use the words, 'personal responsibility.' "

"Fear of appearing to blame the victim or air dirty laundry or let whitey off the hook prevents blacks from speaking honestly to and about each other," continued Mr. Milloy. "But the facts are these: Self-destructive behavior requires holding the victim accountable; stinky laundry needs fresh air; and white people are not on the hook. We are."

And he concludes, "We are guilty of selfishness and self-hate, of being afraid of white people while dying to be just like them. Only a divine pardon can save our sorry souls."

Speak for your own soul, Mr. Milloy, not mine, thank you. The fact is, the black community in which I was born and raised has always been very harsh in its judgment of what my mother calls "no-good, sorry people" who refuse to do for themselves, people who abuse alcohol and drugs, who do not respect the property of others.

The elders in my community have always instilled in us the value that we had to work twice as hard and be twice as good as anyone else, particularly whites. In fact, black America today in many ways is wealthier, stronger and better educated than ever before in American history, and largely because of self-help.

But most people in the black community also understand that society still has a responsibility to be fair; to reinforce, rather than undercut the values black parents try to instill in their children; to build up neighborhoods rather than tear them down.

At the conference on violence last week, black leaders noted that the major, white-owned financial institutions in most communities remain reluctant to reinvest in black communities despite the billions of black dollars invested in those institutions. Commercial concerns that take black consumer dollars remain reluctant to hire and promote black employees. The local, state and federal governments continue to maintain disparate levels of service despite the billions of black tax dollars they collect.

And when black people do exercise their considerable economic, political and social clout to push society toward change, they are accused of whining, and of begging for hand-outs. No wonder a proportion of our young feel that they belong to an impotent, despicable community. No wonder they hate themselves, hate their leaders, feel contempt for their institutions.

The leaders talked about this in Washington last week. They talked until many of us got sick of hearing them speak.

But hey! They were right. And since society does not seem to hear, perhaps the real problem with black Americans is that we blame ourselves too much. Perhaps our failure, Mr. Milloy, lies in not keeping "whitey" on the hook of accountability, where he belongs.

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