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“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to
By: Asma Momina Mahmud Bryant
lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours. It is an amazing journey and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life begins.” (Bob Moawad). In the black community there is a constant struggle between the present and the past. There are those who have allowed the burdens of their ancestors to create burdens for them today. These are the people that allow their selves to be mentally conditioned by the white majority to believe that they are nothing and that they will never be anything. Then there are those of us in the black communities that have conformed to the majorities’ set of rules and regulations. They have attained a glass ceiling of allowable success and then feel stuck. They have their under privileged black brethren below them and feel disconnected from them. They have the white faces above them and as much as they would like to think they fit in and belong with them, they know deep down in their hearts that they will never be one of them. In my special topics paper, I will examine Michelle Alexander’s, “The New Jim Crow” and challenge some of the theories that she expressed in her writing while analyzing the difference in mentality of the underprivileged blacks versus the black elite. I will explain how the underprivileged blacks and the black elites are both mentally conditioned by the white majority and that the only way that they can free themselves from the grasp of their oppressor is by unity within the community, deprogramming from the “white is right” mentality, and building of a separate but equal nation.
In Alexander’s, “The New Jim Crow”, she speaks about the unavailability of black males due to mass incarceration. She talks about how black men have been systematically targeted by the judicial system through programs such as the War on Drugs. She feels as if society criminalizes black male youths when they mess up one time yet they give white male youth a pass when they commit similar crimes. Once the black men have been convicted for a felony offense, it taints them for life. She argues that, “They will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives- denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.” (Alexander). She talks about how black society feels as if it is okay to discriminate and look down upon these felons as well, because they were committing crimes and they “get what they deserve”. Thus fore, a new kind of Jim Crow is created where a mass amount of black male felons are separated from society due to harsh felony laws set in place. Later in the article she gave her perspective on how the black elite versus the urban poor viewed the theory of mass incarceration. She noticed that the black elite felt that the only way to combat this black male criminalization issue is through moral uplift within the community. On the opposing side, her and many underprivileged blacks place majority of the blame of black male criminalization on systematic racism.
The last few sentences of the above paragraph made me think about the different mentality levels of the underprivileged black and the black elite. It made me question who was really at fault here. Do we blame the system as Alexander did in her theory? Do we blame the underprivileged blacks who never seem to do right and make our race look bad? Or do we blame the black elite for acquiring their wealth and then abandoning their not so fortunate brethren? Then once we finish pointing fingers and placing blame how do we as a people get out of this situation? My theory is that all three are to blame. The poor black community is at fault because they do not try hard enough. The black elites are at fault because they are all for self and take every opportunity to literally “sell out” when they can and the American system is at fault because this system was set up to keep blacks enslaved, once physically but now mentally.
Poor blacks have consistently placed the blame of their lack of success on their environment and systematic racism. They make excuses why they can’t get a job. They make excuses why they can’t get a good education. They make excuses why they can’t create a business. They look at police as their enemy; which they are. According to Elijah Anderson, “The police for instance are most often viewed as representing the dominant white society and as not caring to protect inner-city residents.” (Anderson 2000) They have the media spewing negative statistics about them every day. Statistics such as, they have the highest prison rate, they have the fastest growing HIV rate, they have the lowest marriage rate. Anything that is statistically negative about the black race, the media brands and markets. The underprivileged black then takes these statistics as law and continues to perpetuate these negative things. They are like a baby who was told from birth that they will never amount to anything; and that baby believes it and in the future, that is what they become; worthless. Instead of resisting the police and the judicial systems’ stereotypes about them, they accept their position in life and they prove their so called enemy right every time. Poor blacks acknowledge the fact that they will never be accepted in white society, yet they fail to move on with their lives to a point of financial betterment. In order for them to move past the ghettoes they must challenge their environment and show determination. These underprivileged black youth, instead of forming gangs to teach each other how to slang drugs in their own community, need to be encouraged and taught to form gangs to teach them how to do currency trading and stock market. These are smart black youth who can mathematically calculate their money and differentiate a dime from an ounce. So why can’t they move pass the illegal measures and move into legal ways that makes it hard for the system to criminalize them? Some argue that these poor blacks have no one to sit down and take the time out to show them a better way. This is where the mentality of the black elite comes into play.
The black elite have elevated their lives and their family lives to a point where they can say, “We have arrived”. They own a five bedroom house. They drive a big bodied Benz. The father is CEO of a Multimillion dollar establishment and a member of the Boule. The mother is a philanthropist/doctor/lawyer all at the same time and in the Links; and the kids are at the top private school in their city and members of Jack and Jill clubs of America. This elite black family hasn’t a clue what is going on “on the other side of the tracks”. They have disassociated themselves from anything that is not within their social circle. The only time their children go to the world of the under privileged is when they do a couple of hours of required community service hours to maintain their membership status. Even then they do not see the true reality of these underprivileged kids. This elite black family does not feel as if it is their responsibility to teach these people of the ghetto how to act. Some may have given up because they have tried to reach out and give a “hood brother” a helping hand but that “hood brother” failed them and embarrassed them and to the white society you will be held responsible and judged for bringing “hood brother” into their ranks. Those blacks that do own their own business feel as if it is not their responsibility to help. In Lois Benjamin’s “The Black Elite” one of his interviewees by the name of Benson Robinson said, “Everyone should be concerned about him or herself and there are too many blacks on welfare, as well as too many begging in the black community for his help.” (Benjamin). This is a common ideology for those blacks that have reached the top. Elite blacks must understand that poor blacks have no one else to save them from a repetitive negative situation except them. Whites will not save the underprivileged Negroes. They do not care to nor do they have a motive to. Elite blacks should have a motive to help the black underprivileged because through white societies’ eyes, as harsh as it may seem, all blacks are looked upon as unworthy Negroes. Black Elites must thoroughly accept the fact that they will never be a part of white society no matter how hard they try. They are forced to feel the systematic effects of racism only by a rude awakening; perhaps by constantly getting pulled over by white cops while driving their Bentley Coupe, or when they get arrested for breaking into their own house when they lose their keys. Or when they constantly get passed up as partner at a firm they have worked at for 10 years because their white coworker of 5 years was “more qualified”. That is the only time that these Black Elite are reminded that you are not one of them. Once these black elites realize this and build their own and use their underprivileged black urban brethren who were subjected to the same racism that they were subjected to, to help build these businesses only then will the black community be strong enough to reject and even ignore the systematic racism they have endured. Only then will they have the option too. They will no longer have to be subjected to the glass ceiling in white corporate America. They will no longer have to run from the police out of fear of doing ten years for selling crack cocaine because that crack dealer will be able to get a job as a respectable pharmacist at Mr. Jenkins Pharmacy without having to worry about discrimination. Lastly, there will be more learning institutions OWNED by blacks where they will be mandated to learn their history, their worth, and be deprogrammed from the mental slavery of the American system.
What Alexander did in her, “New Jim Crow” article was place all the blame on the systematic aspect of racism. She did not acknowledge the faults of this criminalized majority. The felons she speaks of in her article had an option to do right or wrong and unfortunately they chose to do wrong knowing the consequences they faced as black males. It is not new to these black males that the system is against them. They have seen their fathers over generations being locked up by the white man’s system. Whites and their system have been against them since the start of slavery and they know this. Yes, they will get discriminated against if they do decide to make the choice to become a felon. So why make that choice? At what point do we stop making excuses and stop using those excuses to hinder us from getting what we deserve? We are hurting no one but ourselves.
The black community must change their mentality. We must accept the blame as an entire community first. Then once we accept that blame we must look at what we can do to change the situation. We must adapt a “united we stand” mind frame, because we will not be able to fight anyone or anything that is against us without unity amongst us. We must morally uplift our youth by teaching them that they are better than the jail cells, that they are smart enough to graduate, and the key skills in wealth building. We must challenge the white man’s system, which constantly oppress us and let them know that we will not stand to allow any more of our black males to fall victim to their system. That is the only way we will see progress within our community.
Asma Momina Mahmud, Bryant
Fourth Year Student at Georgia State University
Sociology 3030 Sec 015
Spring Semester 2013
Would like to attend Law School in the future....