The Herald Bulletin

April 9, 2014

Primus Mootry: Racial inequality in America: stop the dumb stuff


The Herald Bulletin

---- — The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released another one of those reports about the educational and other inequalities that plague America. Over the years, there have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of expert papers and reports on the subject, along with possible solutions. In each such report, African Americans are at the bottom of the inequality barrel.

In spite of the reports, nothing happens to reverse the problems. We commission studies, then commission new studies to study the studies. This sorry pattern has been repeating itself for decades. The whys and wherefores become fodder for a relative minute of public discussion and even some sort of governmental or private philanthropic policy shift. Yet, the problems continue and, in general, worsen.

If my claim here has merit, then the obvious question is “why?”

Why do we continue to define a problem then ignore possible solutions?

Why, as suggested in a recent THB editorial, do we acknowledge that inequalities are a threat to our entire society, then do nothing about it?

It seems we love to talk about who and what. But that other key question, why, always seems to lead us into self-righteous rhetoric and dumb debate.

In my opinion, the “why” of inequality lies in the underlying assumptions and beliefs about the true nature of the problem as well as our Horatio Alger (“pull yourself up by your bootstraps”) way of thinking. Since, according to the reports, African Americans are at the bottom of the barrel, it is necessary to look at long held beliefs and assumptions about this group as a whole.

Accordingly, when the God-Ain’t-It-Awful reports show that African Americans are in deep trouble, many believe that’s just the way it is. It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. If it is believed that African Americans are shiftless, lazy, and unintelligent, then it makes all the sense in the world that they would be at the bottom of the nation’s social and economic ladder.

It is well documented that such beliefs for centuries have been one way or another promulgated by political and governmental leaders, religious institutions, educational institutions at all levels, health care institutions, pseudo-science, our systems of law and justice, economic theorists and, well, you name it.

As a tiny example, the immensely popular radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh recently implied that President Barack Obama didn’t know the difference between the word “Vatica” and “vacation.” The implication is that no matter what degrees he holds or what his standing, our president is just plain dumb. Really, Rush? If you don’t like Obama or his policies, that’s your right. But to say the man is dumb is, well, dumb.

As to pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, all things considered, African Americans have done a pretty good job at that. For the masses of black folk, I see the problem differently. It’s not about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It’s about millions of black children being cut off at the knees before they reach third grade. This we know. And this we ignore.

If you think this is some sort of journalistic “pity party” for African Americans, I urge you to think again. I believe we already know the solution to most of the problems. The stumbling block is that we, as a nation, refuse to go where the problem is with the resources and strategies needed to address what educator Jonathan Kozol calls “Savage Inequalities.” In this, I very much agree with that THB editorial mentioned earlier. It was titled, “Racial disparity still rears its ugly head.”

I say amen to that. And, yes, the focus should be on black children. But in order to deal with the children, you have to deal with their parents. In order to deal with the parents, you have to deal with black communities as a whole. As one very wise community organizer once told me, “you can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t lead where you won’t go.”

That’s it in a nutshell. You know, in hospital settings, when a patient comes in presenting multiple life threats, they do something called multiple simultaneous interventions. They don’t waste precious time. They get busy. And when they get busy, they don’t work on the patient who is doing well in the next room. They work on the critical care patient in the emergency room. That’s smart.

I say, stop the dumb stuff. Let’s get busy.

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.