Growing up in America

When I was young I found myself in a very diverse community, the South Side of Chicago. I can adamantly swear under oath that I found different cultures fascinating. But in particular this is about people of color.

The Black and Hispanic families often lived differently than my white pals. I discovered that was the result of two things. Money and culture. I learned that white people live differently than blacks and wealthy live differently than poor. Culturally our music and books and clothes were different. But the 60s brought us all closer to a more unified culture as we had music crossing over

What I also found was that poor persons of color displayed a stronger sense of justice. While young Jews often were afraid to confront antisemitism for fear of the physical or social results which might flow, the persons of color were quite likely to confront it. The white ethnics in my area often inflicted violence on us Jewish kids, merely because we were Jewish. The black kids did not single us out. They beat us up sometimes for being white but not for our religious status.

And when I was growing up, everyone was aspiring to become successful participants in society. Black, Latino, Irish, Polish, Italian et al. We laughed at the same television shows and talked of how we would someday grow up to be……(fill in the blank)

But something happened around 1970. The sociologist started to declare that young black boys were being raised to be super-predators. Incorrigible, incapable of rehabilitation and fearless was the description of what we would find in our midst. And in response, legislatures created sentencing structures to assure that young people of color would be imprisoned as long as possible to protect us. Then they passed laws making crimes like possession of crack cocaine harsher than an equal amount of possession of powder cocaine.

I looked around and people of color were being marginalized, criminalized and disenfranchised. Upon their return to the streets, we no longer shared aspirations or cultural contexts. These men no longer could share the American dream of affluence deriving from hard work. They were prohibited from living with family in public housing projects, they were denied access to resources designed to rehabilitate and reform behavior and lifestyles. Slowly they grew into a large criminal subculture. Much less enmeshed with middle class America and much more savvy in the ways of full-blown criminal enterprises, trained in the school of hard knocks and prison tiers.

People of color seem so bitter to so many whites who feel they are being held responsible for the sins of our great grandfathers. But the discrimination now is no less violent or insidious when you marginalize entire inner city communities where jobs and education are as scarce as hens teeth. Maybe the average white man is not perpetrating this offense but our government, our police and our correctional centers are perpetrating every day, all day.  We have done little to create equity in education and opportunity. If you criminalize for life and then penalize continuously for the early sins, you create the self-fulfilling prophesy of a super-predator who is impervious to rehabilitation and assimilation. (And let us not forget the influence of a for profit prison system.)

The confederate flag and statues are not the true issue as much as access to prosperity. Persistent denial of the realities, of the absence of opportunities in achieving the American Dream is the REAL issue.


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