Media extravaganza about quiet duty

October 14, 1995|By ANDREW RATNER

MILLION MAN March? If Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan really wants to send a message, let him detour the whole entourage up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to a neighborhood like Baltimore County's Sudbrook.

A community of modest, well-kept homes in a northwest slice of the county, it's as middle America as you'll find. Dads shooting baskets on driveways with their kids after work. Moms chatting over the back fence. Teens mowing lawns. Folks washing their cars and tending hedgerows.

And nary a white face in the place.

There are other predominantly black neighborhoods like it, and white ones, too. Folks busting their rears to provide for their families, to shape their children, to keep their homes tidy.

But the march. It's a big gimmick. A made-for-TV circus. A way for so-called leaders who crave the spotlight's warmth but who had been frozen out of it for a while to bask in it once again. An artificial creation for the talk shows to gum for a couple days. Another ''obsession for the media to surf on,'' as Baltimore's Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, recently said of the O.J. trial.

You can march for civil rights, or AIDS awareness, or to save the whales. But a group demonstration calling for individual responsibility is a contradiction in terms.

Unfortunately, it's also a metaphor for these times -- an age when personal responsibility has devolved into what folks used to say about the weather: Everyone talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.

Webster's defines responsibility as ''something for which one is accountable.'' But in America anymore, responsibility is a group effort.

V-chips and term limits

TV's a bad influence on your kids? We need legislation mandating children's TV -- and a V-chip to screen violence, since that's asking too much of parental oversight, too.

Politicians are bozos, but voting's a bother? Term limits are the answer.

Personal life's a mess? Let Geraldo and a studio audience have at it first.

Mr. Farrakhan's looking to impart lessons in responsibility? Let him march his flock over to Tokyo.

The head of a major bank just resigned there because an underling caused a billion-dollar loss. It wasn't the boss' fault, but the tradition in Japan is for the head of a disgraced company to step down.

Meanwhile in America, top executives flee their failures on golden parachutes. Or, in the case of Maryland clothier Merry-Go-Round, the attorney and accountant sharks treat themselves to fancy dinners on the tab of the firm they've been hired to rescue from bankruptcy.

Why would anyone begin a crusade for responsibility in Washington anyway, home of finger-pointing, the trillion-dollar deficit and Bob Packwood?

Not an event

Responsibility isn't pompous. It's quiet. It's not an event. It's an ethic. It's actions, not words. It's an inner strength, not a macho swagger. It's not spectacular. You might even call it boring. (It's most certainly not the Crips and the Bloods raising money on L.A. street corners to fly to D.C. to take part in some media blitz.) It's the Ripken streak (not THAT again) -- minus the fame and fortune.

''Responsibility is often meant to denote duty, something imposed upon one another from the outside. But responsibility, in its true sense, is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being,'' wrote Erich Fromm in ''The Art of Loving.''

''Responsibility . . . rests solely with the individual,'' the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said. He was speaking of the enforcement of civil rights, but could as well have been speaking of responsibility in all facets of life.

It's being there every day for the people who depend on you, your spouse, your kids, friends and co-workers, whether you want to take a day off or not.

The Million Man March? Its message is not historic nor a uniquely black thing.

It's more of the same drivel Americans like to swallow: that responsibility can be pursued easily or collectively or any other way besides one-to-one.

Andrew Ratner is director of zoned editorials for The Sun.

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