I’m that crazy old black guy who for the past seven years has gone around my working-class neighborhood picking-up, liquor bottles, pop cans, candy wrappers as well as a potpourri of garbage dropped unceremoniously within the six-block area I call home. Although, I have performed this municipal service in other cities that I have lived. Now that I am on the south-side of 70, you start to wonder why so many people in inner city neighborhoods don’t show some civic pride to at least pick-up the crap in front of their dwellings. I guess they are waiting for some sort of government program, or omnibus bill sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. After all, I’m sure there must be a way to lay this lack of basic civic comportment at the altar of institutional racism, or some form of critical race theory nonsense.
Maybe I am getting a little testy in my senior years. But when individuals accost me on the street telling me I missed a liquor bottle or Skittles wrapper in front of their dwellings. Mind you, the same garbage that would sit there for weeks, if I didn’t take the initiative. Something has gone terribly wrong in many urban areas were a “Waiting for Godot” attitude is pervasive, especially in far too many black neighborhoods.
By the way, when I diplomatically informed these individuals that I don’t work for the city and that I’m just a retiree who likes to keep the block cleaned- up. I get the dreaded two-headed Negro stare.
You can blame Jack Hall, my father, for my non-cool, take responsibility for yourself and the neighborhood attitude.
Prior to the so-called benefits of Johnson’s Great Society Programs of the 60s, which in retrospect slowly relieved many lower-class blacks and their heirs of basic” civic responsibility”. A mind-set that many of us were socialized in, despite the very real racism that my dad, my siblings (many of them born in the 1930s and 1940s) had to live through. We were poor (by American standards), but we weren’t trashy. Houses were kept up and yards were taken care of. People just wouldn’t casually disperse litter. At the very least, if we did litter, it wouldn’t stay there and begin to collect to the point where the neighborhood’s visuals became toxic. This no longer seems to be the case in the inner cities of Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago or Portland.
One evening back in the 1950, me and my younger sister were walking up to the local store with my dad so he could purchase a pack of Camel cigarettes. Unfiltered by the way. I threw down an empty box of Good and Plenty, and my dad who was behind us, said very pointedly, “boy, pick that up!” My father was no Ward Cleaver. You did whatever the heck you were directed to do. But I remember that incident. I couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, but countless times when my parents, my dad specifically, wouldn’t let us just casually litter. It was a socialization pattern, that was endemic to those of us in the third ward area or Rochester, New York. Today, the Jack Halls, the fathers, the responsible parents are an endangered species, a cultural anachronism in many inner cities.
Now this writer is aware that not all inner-city neighborhoods are the same. As someone who has lived in 10 different states since 1975, there are many African American communities who do take pride in the visual aesthetics of their streets. But at the same time, a cursory drive through many lower-class neighborhoods provides one with a stark reminder that too many children, adults and parents are not acculturated with civic pride, nor personal responsibility, to keep things up where they reside.
This lack of civic pride is hardly limited to the black underclass. Many newly arrived immigrants have picked-up the bad habits of indigenous minorities, and contribute to the optical discordance omnipresent in many urban areas.
However, this lack of social accountability within the black underclass, speaks to a larger problem, which has its origins in the breakdown of the black family in the Post-Civil Right era. This social devolution is characterized by the explosion in single parent headed households, as well as the conspicuous absence of anything resembling a responsible father figure. Subsequently, children are not taught nor exposed to the basics of normative middle-class values.
To interject, among many in the black underclass, fed for decades by the peer reviewed nonsense emanating from critical race theorists and black studies departments, this is often labeled “acting white.” The ubiquitous influence of street culture in many black neighborhoods has provided an efficient blueprint to nowhere. Among many young urban black kids, or for that matter many of their adult counterparts, there exists a malicious cultural identity. Being a cool jack-ass in jail overrides being a responsible citizen, a good student, or steward of one’s neighborhood.
Despite the ruminations of the black political class, that has nurtured a wards of state mentality in the black underclass. I might add, all for their own benefit. Personal responsibility and civil accountability is absolutely free of charge. Getting many urban black poor to see this is of course counterproductive to the goals of black organizations like the NAACP or NAN which has a vested interest in blaming the lack of progress among the urban poor as cause by institutional racism.
Does racism exist? Sure, it does! But most of the problems facing today’s black urban poor are self-inflicted.[i]
In short, the greatest obstacle existing in many inner-city communities is not racism, nor is it rogue law enforcement.[ii] It is a deeply entrenched behavioral poverty, concurrent with the breakdown of the black family since the 1970s. There are simply not enough Jack Halls providing the discipline or “excuse free zones”[iii] necessary for many of the urban poor.
[iii] See., I can’t spell cat, but my self-esteem is high! America, July 5-12, 1997, p14-15.