Reader's response gives racists too much credit

July 10, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

Ah, letter writers! I love 'em all, even those who despise me. At least they read the columns. My greatest fear is not that I may enrage readers, but that I'll write a dull column. At least a couple have provoked some animated responses.

This eloquent letter came from Carla E. Williams of Baltimore: "Dear Mr. Kane:

"I love reading your column. I know that I'll either be in complete agreement, or be so totally incensed that I could scream. Your column from yesterday (May 22), 'Black immigrants lead themselves to success' brought the latter response.

"Why is it that so many folks just don't get it? Black immigrants from Africa, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, or wherever do not have the same experiences as we (African Americans) do because they obviously have access to resources that enabled them to come here in the first place, either to further their education, take jobs, or get married, and that automatically puts them in a different socioeconomic status than the majority of African Americans born and raised here. Have you checked out the education and income levels of African Americans who now live in Africa or the Caribbean against the natives there? I daresay you'll find a similar difference in the medians of those same statistics.

"Another thing. The condition that we African Americans find ourselves in is not based solely on the amount of melanin in our skin, so the premise of your article is weak from the start. I agree with you that racism does not cause teen pregnancy, homicide or the numerous social ills that affect us disproportionately. But the legacy of white racism in this country has left us in the kind of poor socioeconomic position that does create these ills. That's why Blacks from other countries can come here and do well, just as native Blacks in this country who come from hard-working families do well. They already have the tools required to build themselves a good life. But a great many others who are left at or near poverty are there because they are the descendants of those who never really had a chance. Where else in the world have you found that a people were able to overcome 400 years of slavery and oppression in just over 100 years, especially when the system that enslaved us has not undergone any radical sort of change? Especially when there has never been any real large-scale effort to put us on equal footing with the majority population? When there is any kind of attempt to do just that, it is forcefully challenged by those who fight to protect their superior status. That, by definition, is racism.

"Certainly there are those of us who are able to take advantage of opportunities for advancement when presented with them. But can you honestly say that all of us are presented with those opportunities, when so many of our children attend inferior, undersupported schools; when their parents are without direction or education; when they live in neglected neighborhoods with little hope? These are the reasons so many turn to drugs, sex and violence. And these problems are the legacy left to us by white racists in America. Can you make the connection?"

No, Ms. Williams, I can't. You see, as you mentioned, African immigrants, Caribbean immigrants and those native-born American blacks "who come from hard-working families do well." The only connection I've made is with hard work and success, which is exactly the one you've made. If foreign-born and native blacks are succeeding while other native blacks don't, we have to look for reasons other than white racism, don't we?

Let's leave the foreigners out for a second. The native blacks who have moved into the middle class in record numbers in the past 30 years and the native blacks at the lower rung of the economic and educational ladder experienced the same racism. How come white racism was an impediment for one group and not the other?

One connection I can make is seeing the error in giving white racists more power than they have. To do so reinforces white supremacy. If we say that white racism, or its "legacy," drives blacks to drug use, teen pregnancy and violence, aren't we saying, in essence, that blacks have no control over themselves? Aren't we conceding that we can't really make the simple choices to abstain from drugs, teen sex or violence?

And isn't that the classic argument white racists historically used to justify slavery and Jim Crow?

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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