During the past four weeks a letter written by Jourdon Anderson, a former slave, circulated the Internet. The letter gives Anderson’s response to his former master’s request to return to service. The circulating document garnered many comments. All overwhelmingly decry slavery or are cheers for Jourdon’s refusal. Despite these strong attestations against slavery, in reality America’s racial climate towards Americans of African descent is inversely proportional to the strongest expressed sentiment.
For me, recounting events of American slavery is painful; as painful as removing a new scab from a deep but tender wound. So why am I writing this? This is my response to one who asked me to share my opinion about African American’s poor economic emergence.
The prevailing sentiment on slavery is “get over it, live in your time”. I find it difficult to get over when vestiges of this inhuman behavior are ever before me supported by a ubiquitous modern technology. They suffer our young and waste natural resources.
Examine Anderson’s letter it is positive in action and thought. In action, Anderson got over the injustice inflicted upon him and moved on. To what? Pouting, killing, robbing, stealing or raping? No! He moved on to a better station in life, one in which he used the skills he learned in slavery to support his family; and moved on to dream of a better future for his children. In thought, Anderson walked away from slavery and its painful memories and embraced a new life governed by logic over emotion.
Revisit the letter. There is no ranting, no emotional outburst. The letter is cogent and it appeals only to the superior gifts of man. It is a lesson for all; the aggrieved and the privileged citizens of our time. Its message is clear. Appreciate what has been accomplished and use it as a basis for a better situation.
Many, having repeatedly seen injustices inflicted on the weak become frustrated, helpless and harden themselves to this psychological pain. Others seek to respond.
The most vociferous response is to levy Christianity or capitalism as culprits for African Americans confinement to the lower rungs of the American economic ladder. Ironically Jourdon blames neither systems nor persons.
To those who believe Christianity a culprit, work for changes in the Christian leadership for women, gays, and handicapped worshippers in your church. Success in this mission values person over accidents of physical attributes or limitations. If you are not a member of a church, join one and communicate your vision for a Christianity with a leadership open to those capable of serving. If capitalism is a culprit, lead a campaign to educate support of African American enterprises. Even limited success opens opportunities to the aggrieved. These are just two of the many extensions of the Anderson’s approach to a group.
Regardless which approach is adopted, its must value the group’s present accomplishments and extend those them to the group family. The approach must broadcast and honor the interconnection of group members. In other words, all must come to honor an injustice to one member is a potential injustice to all members. This isn’t anything new. But when universally embraced then it will be new.
How can this understanding be implemented? One approach is to allow those who can do; to do. Celebrate the achievement of members. Encourage abilities and talents. Grow opportunities and reward abilities with opportunities. Any step, however small in this direction, betters the group situation more than blaming – no matter how articulate the reasoning for assigning blame.
The time is short or the gap in the economic ladder widens. All must embrace parts of this approach otherwise present conditions worsens. I pray for the day when the aggrieved takes on this mantle. Then and only then will we a rise. For as long as the talented are isolated and abandoned from the masses the group can never rise to the height Jourdon reached.
The End of the Segregated Century, a recent report by the Manhattan Institute, seems to shout down my remarks. The report declared all white neighborhoods are effectively extinct. It reported only 0.5% of America’s 70,000 neighborhoods are now white and argued that since the 1960’s, ghettos neighborhoods have dropped for nearly in half to 20%.
Jacob Vigdor, a coauthor of the report, notes the biggest drop in segregation over the past decades has been in place because of gentrification and depopulation of ghettos because of better access of credit has spurring movement to the suburbs. The greatest desegregation of neighborhood had taken place where the most subprime lending was available.
John Logan, a Brown University sociologist, believes the Manhattan Report is over the top. He reckons people who wish to move away for black neighborhoods still encounter barriers, even for those making good money.
The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank complied as report card on a range of measures of racial and ethnic equity in the country’s 100 biggest metropolitans areas. The author of the report, Margery Turner, says even in metro areas scoring high marks, the average black American is more likely to live in poorer neighborhoods, go to weaker schools, less likely to find a job and less likely to own a home than the average white.
The Economist February 11-17, 2012.