We are not Monolithic

News & Politics

I am a college-educated black male who is Jewish, though I was reared as a Christian. I am a liberal but not a Democrat. I am an advocate of a home that instills discipline and respect in children while also espousing liberal values of helping those who require assistance and a sound education. I am also pro-choice. I was once a vegan, worked abroad while in college and grew up poor in a single parent home. I am worried about the environment and I support same-sex marriage. I'm in an interracial relationship and I am told that I have "good" hair. Now that I have your attention, I want to tell you that I am not unique. Much like me, black people are very diverse and interesting. We are not monolithic.

Based on the uproar over Janice Rogers Brown's recent appointment to the D.C. Court of Appeals, one would believe that she and Clarence Thomas are anomalies in the black community because of their views. They are not.

The common stereotype of black people reinforced by the media paints us as an overwhelmingly liberal group of Christians, who love mainly gospel music, R&B, and rap. It is not true.

Black people as a whole are liberal when it comes to equality between themselves and whites. (I say equality and not civil rights because of black homophobia exemplified in last year's election.) Blacks are very religious, but we are not all Baptists. We are Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Catholics, Pentecostals and followers of Eastern Philosophies. We do not all enjoy gospel music but many of us do enjoy a good rock song.

According to the last census, 36.4 million Americans -- 13 percent of the nation -- considered themselves black. The poverty rate in the U.S. according to 2003 data, was 24 percent for blacks while only 12 percent of the U.S. population overall was at or below the poverty line.

But what about the other side of that statistic? 76 percent of blacks do not live in poverty. Why do we rarely hear about these people? It seems as if the black upper and middle classes do not exist.

We do hear about black entertainers and professional athletes, but we know
little about other black working- and middle-class professionals. According to the Congressional Black Caucus, there are roughly 175,000 black doctors, lawyers and engineers in the U.S. Apparently these people exist.

I believe the growing overrepresentation of black actors and athletes on television contributes to an illusion of rapid success. Because actors and athletes get most of the spotlight, and since there is rarely any other profession featured prominently for blacks, many interpret this as the only path to success for the group.

We rarely see black experts as commentators on news programs except in situations where a black face is needed to discuss a "black" issue like crime, religion, or affirmative action. We see hip-hop performers and athletes as the only models for children to emulate. But there are hundreds of other ways to build images of success. People like the men in 100 Black Men or the women in the National Coalition of 100 Black Women are good places to start for other paths to success.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, by the middle of 2004, 13 percent of black males in their late twenties were incarcerated. That is a little more than 576,600 men, but why we don’t hear about the rest who are working or enrolled in college?

The Department of Education states that slightly less than 75,000 black males received degrees (associate through professional) between the years 2000-2001. Both of these statistics should force us to act and help these males succeed through higher education. With encouragement, higher expectations and necessary tools, they will excel.

We do not live in the world of the fictitious self-made man. It’s crucial to talk about why so many black males are imprisoned and why many have AIDS, or why there are so many black single mothers in the U.S. But it is also important for black youth to see that they can succeed.

While in college I realized that I was a minority: not just racially, but socio-economically. Outside of a few of the athletes I was probably one of the poorest students on campus. Many of my black peers lived lives of privilege. Many had cars, dressed in expensive clothes, and had parents who were already part of the middle or upper class. I wasn’t the only one who found this to be a tough transition.

I was lucky because I had a mother who realized the value of education and how key it was to rising from poverty. If not for her assistance I could have become one of the prison statistics. Many of us do not have a safety net and are afforded only one chance in life for success. We all need role models in our daily lives who are physically present and do not exist on a television screen.

As a result of images presented through the media, many young blacks, particularly males, who work hard, speak well and dress in a professional manner, are accused of "trying to be white," an accusation that treats intelligence and education as if they were not valued by the black community. We don’t have to originate from squalor to be authentically black.

There is no single color of black people. The portrayal of blacks in the media needs to change to images that are more representative of black life. But we as members of this nation need to embrace those blacks we view as oddities for whatever reason. Once we realize that color, interests, beliefs, and goals vary in the black community, we will be able to move forward to a brighter future for the group and the nation.

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