What Can Whites Learn from Blacks? And Why Would It Help?

In an oped in our local newspaper, the writer stated that “white folks should learn to listen when black people speak.”  She then went onto gave her story of how, as a young grad student TA who grew up in a white neighborhood with mainly white friends, she was surprised by what she learned in a sociology class she was assisting on the issues facing black Americans.  She then went on to become an adjunct professor and teach a similar class.

She talked about things like how people frequently touch black people’s hair without asking.  About how there are schools in black neighborhoods where they are lucky if one teacher shows up to teach.  About how housing discrimination that benefited whites has had a lasting impact on the ability of black families to build wealth.  And also about how she was unaffected by the unintentional racist comments that students in her class expressed because she was white, but how black professionals are affected by similar comments, but need to pretend like they aren’t.  Her conclusion was that whites need to listen when blacks speak, and that they should not get defensive when they kneel for the national anthem or talk about discrimination.

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Personally, I am all for hearing different views and from people with different experiences.  Being a libertarian, I particularly like to hear the viewpoint of liberal individuals since the proposals they make seem senseless to me.  I want to understand their beliefs and see the evidence that supports their beliefs so that I can understand why they feel the way that they do and understand why they think the ideas they express will work.  Since I feel that government control leads to waste, high costs, and poor quality products, based on my experience, expanding social programs makes little sense to me.  When you realize that liberals feel most individuals have the intelligence of moss, however, suddenly having everyone (except for the liberal elite) put their healthcare in the hands of government bureaucrats makes some sense.   The question then becomes who is right about the capabilities of the average person and average government worker/agency to do what is best when deciding which course to take, private control or government control.

In the case of the oped, however, when you get past the racist ideas that you can lump all blacks together as victims and all whites together as privileged, I still don’t know why having “white folks listen to blacks” would be helpful.  What exactly are whites supposed to do, and what makes the writer think that blacks would need whites to do anything for them?  I think that whites already know that things are bad, and dangerous, in many inner city black neighborhoods.  The issue is that the solution to those issues will come from people within those neighborhoods, not from whites in suburbs and penthouses.

From my understanding, which granted is based on documentaries and newspaper articles since I have never lived in places like Compton, CA or South Chicago, most of the issues that blacks in those areas face aren’t due to their race or something whites are doing to them.  I don’t think there are white people working to keep blacks locked into those areas, or even taking resources from them and leaving them disadvantaged.  In fact, in the case of schools, I actually think a great deal of money is being funneled from the suburban areas into the inner city schools.  Conservatives groups, which are majority white, are also working to offer alternatives to inner-city kids such as private school tuition and charter schools.  It isn’t like whites could do something, or stop doing something, that would cause the lives of inner-city blacks (and whites, and Hispanics) to become better unless inner-city residents are willing to do what is needed to change their lives.  In fact, I think you could swap the populations of Compton and Beverly Hills and within a year Compton would start looking like Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills would start looking like Compton.

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This issue has nothing to do with race, but of culture.  And this is not black culture or white culture.  It has nothing to do with soul food or African headdresses, or with boiled meats and kilts.  It has to do with the inner city culture and the suburban culture.  With the culture of poverty and with the culture of self-sufficiency.  The primarily white culture centered around meth and welfare found in some rural areas is equally destructive as the primarily black culture centered around crack and welfare found in inner cities.  It is more a function of the cultures of the communities than of skin color or racism.

From my limited understanding, again based on documentaries and news stories, the issues in inner cities, which are primarily populated by blacks and Hispanics, are things like gang violence, a lack of parents in the home (particularly male parents), and drugs like crack and meth.  I agree that it would be difficult to get a good education in a school with constant disruptions, teachers that are not present and not motivated to teach while they are there, and the danger of getting stabbed or shot in the hallways or on the way home from school.  But the typical family currently living in the suburbs today would not accept those types of schools.  The parents would be down at the school in the principal’s office every day.  They would be at the school board meetings too, or voting to replace the school board.  If those options did not work, they would move somewhere else with better schools, because their culture places a high value on education.

Note the flight, of mainly whites, from the urban centers to the suburbs during the 1960’s through the 1980’s when schools and communities in general started to decay.  Granted, some of the reason was based on racism as the number of blacks and Hispanics in these areas grew, but there was also the feeling that the values and culture of the neighborhoods were changing, and the residents who historically occupied those neighborhoods were not willing to live under the new conditions.  There were also factors that further affected the inner cities in the 1970’s and 1980’s, which by that time were mainly occupied by blacks and minorities, like the loss of factories and the rise of drugs.  These factors affected the culture of those neighborhoods, which became “The Hood,” where power, money, and drugs became more important than education and family stability.

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It is true that there were a lot of factors that affected those neighborhoods.  That was then, however, and this is now.  Most of the wealth middle-class individuals accumulate during their lifetimes comes from their own work – not inheritance.  Most people buy their own homes, pay for their own children’s college (or the kids pay for their own school through loans), and buy their own cars.  There is no secret society for white that provides jobs, access to schools, and other perks.  If anything, minorities have an easier time due to affirmative action at colleges and companies wanting to increase diversity, which never means hiring more whites.  Poor people have it easier since they do not need to pay for anything – they just need to put forth the effort to apply and then apply themselves.  The inner-city communities can continue to complain about the past and live day-to-day, or they can change their culture and make things better.  It will take a large number of people in those communities to decide to make a change since a few individuals cannot make the change.

As a white person growing up and living in suburbs most of my life, except for about six years during college, I don’t think there is anything I could do to help inner-city communities.  All I can do is say what I would do, since perhaps that would be helpful, but those living in those communities really need to chart their own path and help themselves.  If I woke up in the Southside of Chicago today, and there were a large number of other people who wanted to make a change, the first thing I would do is form a community improvement council to work together since I could not do it alone.  I would work to make the streets safe, which would require a lot of help from the police.  And chasing the police out, as Black Lives Matter is trying to do, is exactly the wrong action since the police are the solution, not the problem.  If the police really were the problem, I would work to replace the city government, who hire the police, and I would encourage people in the community whom I trusted to go into law enforcement.  (Realize that the black residents of Furgeson, MO, could easily replace the entire city board and mayor at the next election, and then form whatever sort of police force they wanted.  This makes more sense than burning their town down, if they really want change.)  Because the drug dealers and the criminals would likely not go quietly, I would make sure I was regularly armed and that those in the neighborhood watched out for each other since the police take time to arrive.

Once the streets were safe, I would then work to improve the schools by getting rid of the students who weren’t there to learn (setting up alternative schools with strict discipline to help turn those around that could be saved).  I would also work to elect a good school board, which in turn would hire good superintendents, who would hire good teachers and improve the schools.  As the interest and work-ethic of students increased, many teachers would improve on their own as they became more motivated by being teachers and not babysitters.

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As the streets became safe and schools improved, these neighborhoods would start to see people move back in who would improve things.  There would be entrepreneurs, restauranteurs, and wealthy individuals who want to live in urban areas close to lots of customers and entertainment.  These individuals would not only bring jobs, but also the work ethic and the culture of success.  They would be mentors for people growing up in those areas who today are mentored by gang leaders and drug dealers.

So that is what I would do.  I would love to hear from Black Lives Matters individuals to understand their viewpoint.  Would your lives be better without police officers in your neighborhoods?  Why can’t you just elect a different city council and make changes in the police force?  Why don’t your sons and daughters join the police to make things better?  What do you think would make your lives better?  I’m listening – what do you have to say?

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  1. I understand that you are contrasting the good culture of the whites vs bad culture of the blacks, and even though I agree with your observations, I also wish you could look a little deeper in to the reasons behind the cultural behaviour.

    For instance, why would blacks value money and power more than education and family stability?

    If you looked in to the reasons behind such cultural differences, I would be glad to hear from you – again on the matter (because had you been given the exposure and experiences of the blacks, they may turn out to be stronger n better at handling difficult situations than you can).

    I believe the unfortunate blacks do the best with what they have – and if they knew better or hoped for better, the story of blacks would be different. And also, given the suggestions of what can help improve black culture, please give it a shot. I will be glad to hear your experience in improving the black culture

    • Thanks for the great comment and thanks for reading. Note I’m not really contrasting black and white culture, but inner-city culture, which includes areas that are mainly populated with blacks and minorities, and suburban culture, which includes areas mainly populated by whites. Certainly suburban culture isn’t perfect since it includes a culture of debt and divorce, but certainly suburban areas tend to be safer and quality of life is better.

      I certainly agree with your comment that blacks who live in inner city conditions may be stronger and more capable than I am, given their ability to deal with such conditions. I also like your comment “if they knew better or hoped for better, …” What can be done for individuals in such conditions to realize that things could be better? And would that knowledge come from white suburban communities, or from within black inner-city communities themselves?

      • My apologies..being African, the image I had in mind while reading the article was that of Africans vs whites, then the historical predisposition to privileges given to the whites. And it was actually bold of you to write about what I consider a sensitive and emotive issue (comparing whites & blacks-even in a city)

        On the question you posed: I believe exposure could help blacks improve their culture. Cultural transformation requires more of individual effort to make a difference – with the individual efforts combining to transform culture and beliefs.

        Am actually a product of such challenge via exposure. People have trusted me to make the best of my life, then given me a chance to make the difference. They don’t always do the effort for me. I do the effort and they support me.( they are the reason I grow and get better – and even makes me contribute better to my local society.

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