Recently National Public Radio reported on the results of a national poll that suggests there is a division among black people about what it means to be black. NPR’s Juan Williams’ report, Redefining What It Means To Be Black In America accompanied the poll results. In short, the poll suggests that black people these days think there are two sets of black people in
The results of the poll are what they are, an indication of the desperation that all black people feel about the abyss swallowing up so many of our kind. This abyss is creating a value system and a mode of being in the world that is unrecognizable to many black people. Hence, many black people feel that two separate sets of black people are emerging. There is nothing spectacular about diverging classes of people thinking that they possess divergent value systems. In every society in the world class has served as a proxy for all manner of divisions, not the least of which are value systems.
The real problem with the report is its core claim, that the group of black people who work, are civic minded and oriented around responsibility are converging on a white value system. The claim is essentially that the value system of "good" blacks is converging with the value system of whites.
The degree of arrogance and paternalism in this claim is astonishing. Does it need to be explicitly pointed out to white and black people alike that white people are not the model against which the rest of humanity is referenced? If the value system personified by 50 Cent is supposedly representative of a separate set of black people, why is not the value system of avarice, deceit and ignorance personified by George Bush representative of a separate set of white people? Why are not the dishonest, unethical and inhumane value systems of Jack Abramov, Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney and Tom Delay representative of a separate set of white people? Why aren’t the redneck whites who hang nooses from trees, who dragged James Byrd to death, who rapped and sodomized Megan Williams, who rape and ravage Mexican women crossing the border and Indian women on their reservations considered a separate set of white people?
White people do not have a monopoly on righteousness or on sound value systems. They are every bit as susceptible to the frailties and ugliness of the human spectrum as everyone else. The claim that responsible black people are converging on a white value system implies that I am converging on a white value system – that somehow the values ingrained in me through the particular journey of my family, my faith, my life and my own critical thought has led me to the doorstep of the temple of white values. Not only is that notion ridiculous, it is personally offensive. Indeed, that idea scorns the morality born of my ancestors’ resistance to oppression meted out to us by the very white people whose value system is now thought to be impeccable.
I find it shameful to have to make this argument so far along on our supposed path to enlightenment. White people and the value systems they employ are neither the standard nor the metric. Value systems ought to be referenced against goodness, against kindness, honesty and human decency. Acquiring that system is a human challenge that we all face.