When President Obama and Attorney General Holder spoke to the nation on their personal experiences with racial profiling and criminal justice bias, they created a bond with every other black man that has encountered similar discrimination. If two of the most powerful men in the world could relate to the experience of the average black urban youth, surely the rest of America could as well.
Unfortunately that wasn't the case. Rather than creating universal empathy, Holder and Obama's candid talk with the nation set off a wave of divisiveness led by conservatives who can only see black America through the lens of distress, distrust, and fear.
The conservative movement has decided that this is their opportunity to have their "Willie Horton" moment, and is looking to amplify white middle-class scorn of America's black youth. Under the guise of "tough love" and "frank discussion" conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill "I'm not a conservative, I just get paid to sound like one" O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and hosts of others have decided that they want to chime in on the problems facing black America.
It is not that what they are saying is grossly inaccurate. 72% of black births are to unwed mothers, black people make up half of the prison population, the unemployment rate for black Americans is at 14% and over 50% for black teens, and homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men.
However, it is how they are using this information that makes their motives suspect. The statistics are used to promote the notion that the so-called disintegration of the black family is causing the problems in the black community. It is those babies making babies and low-moral young women, coupled with those sagging-pants-wearing, easily-impressionable, violence-seeking, foul-mouthed young men that is at the root of the issue. This is straight out of the Ronald Reagan "welfare queen" and George Bush Willie Horton playbook.
What conservatives are doing is feigning empathy while they project scorn. What motivation would anyone have to help with a systemic problem that is related to draconian drug laws and a racially-biased criminal justice system when you can hang all the problems on a bunch of kids that were too irresponsible to stay in school and use birth control? Why look into the lack of extracurricular after-school programs which would keep young hands and minds from being idle on the streets when you can blame it all on some rap video? Why look into the lack of vocational education and training opportunities, such as plumbing, electrical lighting and fixtures, TV repair, auto mechanics, carpentry, general contracting, HVAC, PC repair, network administration, and gardening that could be put into immediate use to support neighborhood beautification projects as well as translated into immediate job and small business opportunities when you can promote that it is all because of hyper-misogynistic rap lyrics? Why look into the need to support more than the high-stakes testing in our education system when you can say that you just need to pull your panties up? Why look into the benefit of supplemental school programs designed to focus on social and life-management skills like conflict resolution, cultural awareness, and tolerance when you can just say, aren't condoms free? And why address disparities in drug enforcement and the glut of illegal guns when slogans like "Just Say No" are so much easier to swallow?
The Senate has just confirmed B. Todd Jones to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That means there are three black men at the top of the food chain that can speak as black men to issues in the black community, but more importantly they have the power of their offices (president of the United States, attorney general, and director of BATF) to go into the black neighborhoods and get the guns and enforce the laws. That would be a place to start if you want to make an immediate impact in reducing violence on the streets of black communities.
It is the only time in the history of America that black men have been in charge of the federal government and law enforcement apparatus and in a position to stop the cycle of resentment and scorn that is represented by the rhetoric of the right. Now is the time to get control of the message that fuels white middle-class scorn of the black community. Now is the time to work on increasing the contact points between that demographic and the black community. Now is the time to get control of the negative images that are the stables of nightly news coverage but are disproportionately higher when it comes to the black community. Now is not the time to allow the right to exacerbate white middle-class scorn against the black community.