I recently had a conversation with a young man I mentor. The poor guy was just 22 years old, and had impregnated four women in four years. He was uneducated, unemployed and living with his mother. I could not help but see this man’s future and all the stress he’d created for himself.
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I then thought about another young woman I mentor who’d done the same thing, except she was the one choosing to sleep with enough men to give her four kids of her own by the age of 22. She too was “four-for-four,” with four kids, by four men, in four years. Also, she was living with her mother, on welfare, with no job and no education.
Like anyone else, I found myself asking, “What the hell is going on?”
I am not sure how anyone might feel about my reaction to the horrible choices of these kids. To be honest, I yelled at both of them. I also wanted to yell at their mothers, who served as primary enablers of their behavior by letting them live under their roofs rent free. I knew that something was missing in their ability to make logical choices and that much of the damage was irreparable.
I told each of these young people what I perceive to be the hardcore truth: No parent who loves their children would bring them into the world under these circumstances. I made the girl cry and the boy is so ashamed that he may not talk to me for another six months. The truth is that I really don’t care.
The fact of the matter is that these difficult conversations need to be had with our kids. As much as we’d like to blame white folks for all things that enslave black people, there are far too many cases where the first person to enslave a black man or black woman is himself. When I glance at my people around me, I see many of us doing all the things that guarantee that you’re going to be powerless in America: Remaining uneducated, wasting all your money and choosing to engage in illegal activity. So, when cousin Pookie keeps going to jail every weekend, we are expected to feel sorry for him because “the man got his foot on Pookie’s neck.”
Mind you, there are a multitude of systematic factors that play a role in the dismal outcomes of our kids: Horrible educational systems, a biased criminal justice system and unbalanced economic systems. But where we go wrong is that many of us are far too quick to ignore any role that our cultural shortcomings might play in our outcomes. Anyone who criticizes the black community is perceived as an Uncle Tom, a hater or someone who “just doesn’t get it.” Once again, when it comes to this criticism, I just don’t care.
There are millions of “us” who do the right things and make the right choices. Unfortunately, racism can even affect those who are educated, disciplined and intelligent in their decisions. But until we honestly confront cultural norms that lead to disappointing realities, we will always find ourselves volunteering for our own oppression.
The music we hear on the radio is an interesting case-in-point. After being fed a recipe for self-destruction, we see too many of our young men going out into the world as uneducated, gun-toting buffoons who think that it’s their job to penetrate any working vagina within a 100-mile radius. There is no white man who forces us to spend our last few dollars on Air Jordans, or to ignore any teacher who encourages us to go to college. No one tells college freshmen that every Saturday night should be spent at the club instead of the library. All of this our decision.
The bottom line is that all of us are complicit in teaching our children the wrong things, not pushing them to higher standards and not expecting the best out of them. Having a child in school is not nearly as effective as pushing your child to make straight As. Teaching your child to own their own business might help him/her to avoid the challenges of corporate slavery. While we can’t control the actions of everyone around us, all of us can do something to push those we love to reach for the best in themselves instead of the worst.
All of us can take it to the next level if we choose to do so, it’s time to walk away from the excuses.