Thursday, November 27, 2014

They're All Our Kids

At the end of the DVD for the Tom Hanks film "Captain Phillips" there are the added bonus features that accompany most releases today. In one segment, the film's technical advisor talks about when he consulted with the US Navy Seals. The Seals, when speaking of Somali pirates, told the man that the "...pirates aren't the problem. What's happening on the Somali mainland is the problem." The Seals were speaking of the fact that Somalia is a rogue state mired in poverty, corruption, gangs, and violence. These things force its people to go out onto the sea and perhaps do something they don't really want to do.

When the shooting of Michael Brown first occurred, I wrote a post asking the question "would you?" I explained how Ferguson's population has over 20% living below the poverty line ($23,492.00/year for a family of four).  In addition, the unemployment rate amongst black men is 50%. The Brookings Institute points out that in America's 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods with more than 20% below the poverty line doubled between 2008-2012. In addition, 2011 census data revealed the average net worth of black owned households in America is $6,314.00 dollars. The average value of white owned households: $110,500.00 dollars. We now boast a worse race related income gap than South Africa did during apartheid. Also, a black male is 25 times more likely to get shot by a cop than a white male. Five times the number of whites use drugs than African Americans, yet African Americans go to prison for drug offenses ten times more. Our black communities are the equivalent of a failed state, like Somalia, except these states border America.

There are other problems facing our inner-city communities, and I know this because I spent a year teaching at an inner-city school in Newark and then two years mentoring young men at the school. Now I teach at a High School for at risk inner-city kids where the population is all black and hispanic. The young men tell the same story as those in Newark: lack of a positive male influence in their lives. I am not dumb and know this factor plays a significant role in what's going on in urban communities. But instead of pointing a finger and shaking our heads, or driving by (quickly) with the windows up, or driving through on the way to somewhere else; maybe it's time to look at urban communities more like our cities and less like theirs. We look from the outside in and then have the audacity to claim there is a prevalence of white racism. No better example of this, then Ted Nugent's asinine post-Ferguson rants. A friend of mine who is a New York City policeman, and has a unique perspective on this recent mess, wrote a note to me saying Michael Brown "...completely scripted his own death".

Michael Brown didn't write his script. That script was written a long time ago when our inner-cities began rotting on the vine in the 60's and 70's. Brown was just the latest character in this tragic scene. My male students tell me stories all the time how they are followed by police or stopped. The boys constantly talk of the struggle they have with doing the right thing as opposed to falling into the narrative that has been written. They don't realize they can write their own narrative and this is largely because they're living a life mired in poverty, crime, violence, and lack a strong male to help build a sense of self expectation.

The one question no one has asked in this whole mess: How do you think Michael Brown viewed himself? Here was a kid who had graduated high school and was on his way to college. Was he an angel? No. But he was about to embark on a path that would have allowed the penning of a new script. Instead, he fell into his old part. We look at him and ask why. The fact is his story is not unique, it's constant (If you want to read a great example, check out the book by Jeff Hobbs which tells the story of Robert Peace from Newark. It will blow your mind). That's the problem here. We look at Michael Brown and shake our heads. We'll forget about him until the next one happens (there will be a next one), and then the same questions, accusations, and assumptions will be made. Here's an idea: Let's not wait. Let's do something to fix this problem because it's no longer a their problem. When young kids are dying in the streets either at their own hand or someone else's, it's time to take a step back and ask Why is this happening to OUR kids?

One of the most upsetting things about these incidents is too many people turn to the fact that black men kill black men more than cops do. Instead of constantly leaning on this, why don't we change it? Instead of looking at the young black men dying on our impoverished, dysfunctional inner-city streets and saying "it's their problem" why don't we take a step back and look at the big picture: This nonsense is happening in American communities. This is the greatest country in the world and, yet, young men and women with hopes and dreams never get a chance to realize them. Think of Michael Brown not as a "black", "minority", or "inner-city" kid. Think of him as what he really was: an American kid just like yours and mine.