It seems that the definition of what it means to be black in America has been hijacked by a cell of radicalized hoodlums. This group has infiltrated the movement to improve the image, progress and well-being of black folks in America. Blindly, "real" black people have given them the authority and permission to represent us, inaccurately, to America and the world. So, if these idiots who riot, loot, fight and terrorize innocent people in the name of blackness are our new leaders, I couldn't possibly be black anymore.
I believe the majority of black Americans are faith-centered citizens, dedicated to the proposition that freedom and equality is a right that must be cherished and developed. We believe and have been an example of how freedom is essential to human nature and how it can be cultivated out of the most improbable circumstances.
It has been adherence to these values that led to the rapid advancement of blacks from the cotton fields of the South to the highest offices of America. Ironically, while black individuals are earning and buying more as a whole, black people are faring worse in every measure of well-being, including health, wealth and education.
The question we must ask is, “Why are we now spiraling downward, when 50 years ago we were closing the gap between blacks and whites?”
I propose that we have made a very tragic assumption around individualism. We have assumed that what was good for the individual was good for everyone. We have pumped resources into poor communities to support the advancement of black people in the hope that we could turn things around. Yet, these efforts were targeted to help individuals with the assumption that those individuals would develop the communities from which they came.
After nearly 40 years of school desegregation and millions of dollars spent on our local voluntary transfer program, we have graduated thousands of urban blacks from county high schools. Many have gone on to graduate with college degrees and secure high-paying jobs. Yet, many of these successful blacks are disconnected from the communities from which they came. We have promoted the belief that success is measured by your ability to move away from poor black people. Therefore, most of the people who can get away from majority-black communities will move as far away as they can.
It is the lack of value for black people by black people that has led to this disconnect. Black people must see and recognize the value of black lives. We must understand that we are equal inheritors of this great nation. We are a part of the creative and moral fabric of our nation. And we must not allow that truth to be thwarted by a small group of misled, underdeveloped and misguided youth.
We must be both cheerleaders for the best in the black community and first responders to the harm caused by the worst. We must be the first to correct these young people. We must be the first to speak out against their misbehavior. I am disappointed by the lack of outrage expressed by the black community for the violent assaults on black people by black people. In addition, the random violent acts by area youth in the name of protest is unacceptable. Shame on these young people for their actions, and shame on us for our lack of action.
If there is going to be an enduring and respected black community in America, we must continue to develop and discipline our children. We must recognize the value of our presence and accessibility to black children, both our own and our neighbors. There is a direct correlation between the amount of time we spend together and how valued we feel by each other. Let’s make the time to be fathers, mothers, friends and neighbors to the people who need us.
Harlan B. Hodge is a social worker and youth development professional in St. Louis. He is the author of “Character Chess, 10 Character Lessons Through the Game of Chess.”