On the heels of the spectacle in Ferguson, Missouri I’ve tried reconciling my feelings about what’s really going on there and across the nation in regard to race relations. Despite the undeniable improvement in opportunity for minorities in the U.S. in the last 50 years, I continue to strongly suspect a Faustian bargain of sorts in this so-called “progress.”
My own experience tells me things have changed in these last several decades, and probably why I am driven to better understand what is happening in our nation, to the black demographic. I grew up in a nearly all-black community and was the only white kid in my grade (and as far as I know in the whole elementary school). I’d classify our neighborhood as lower middle class. While I went through the normal childhood trials including a few fights, by and large I got along really well with all of the kids on the block, and the black adults in my life–neighbors, teachers, and the school principal– treated me with nothing but kindness and love. I was invited into their homes. The dads bragged to the boys about their new cars and the moms doted on all of us alike. We roamed the streets until dusk. It could have been my cherubic glowing countenance, or some sort of Southern white privilege, but I rather think it was just neighbors getting along with neighbors.
Four and more decades on, I can look back and see the early signals of discontent that a boy reveling in front-yard football and Saturday cartoons might miss. Things started to get rougher and we moved to a new town, just as racially disparate but predominately white instead of predominantly black. It was clear in this environment that my new friends and neighbors were definitely more “aware” of race.
We Americans now seemingly have a lot more integration in the workplace, in politics, and in our neighborhoods. This is a good thing according to our Catholic social teaching and to basic decency. But what do some of the numbers tell us about how society is approaching and treating minorities, especially black Americans? How should Catholics respond?
Let me say from the outset that all of these topics do involve individuals making choices for themselves; bad choices generally lead to bad outcomes. I’ve never abided bullies or victimhood. Nevertheless, we see bad choices being incented and, let’s face it, we do what we are incented to do. As Catholics we love and serve the Lord, to stay out of hell– now that’s incentive. So it shouldn’t be too big a stretch to think a desperate single mom might take a welfare check to put food on the table for her kids, without spending too much time on the contortions of weighing pride versus necessity.
In Part 2 I will present what I think are the leading indicators of trouble for the black American, starting with the out and out attack on the black family.