We Must Take Back Our Race

that modern-day Amoses and Andys specialize in. The only difference is that no one has to put on the blackface anymore–we come with our own.

After so many battles won, we have chosen to lower the standards of decency in our own communities, particularly over the past 15 years. One of the consequences of this constant barrage of obscenity and self-hatred has been the utter corruption of how we speak to one another and about one another. And no, I’m not making any excuses for Imus. He’s old enough and smart enough to be held accountable for what he says. I’m saying that it’s long past time we held accountable all those–regardless of their race or ethnicity–who trade in the degradation of our people. Yes, the time has come to take back our race.

Consider what this degradation has already cost us.

How many young African Americans have already given up–surrendered to the apathy and diminished expectations that have engulfed our culture? How many of our children risk ridicule, ostracization, and even violence from their peers for daring to excel academically and to aspire to a life beyond “the street?” The price we are paying for all this is incalculable in many ways, but consider just a few figures: After narrowing the gap in high school dropout rates between blacks and whites during the ’70s and ’80s, blacks have gained little ground since 1990. The disparity is even more egregious in our urban public schools–in New York City, less than 50% of black students complete high school in four years, compared to more than 70% of white students. Not surprisingly, this culture of low expectations is a particularly damaging contributor to the crisis of young black males. According to the nonprofit Justice Policy Institute, in 1980 black men enrolled in higher education outnumbered those incarcerated by a quarter million. Two decades later, black men behind bars exceeded those on campus by 188,000. That this would negatively impact the stability of black families and communities is obvious. Nearly 43% of black families were headed by single women in 2002, compared to just 13% of white families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

How can our young people excel if they are mired in a culture that expects the worst of them; a culture that celebrates criminality; a culture in which the most egregious slurs have replaced terms of love and respect; a culture that entraps them in the depths of society’s margins just as surely as any Jim Crow law ever devised? How can we as a people thrive in a culture that denigrates excellence, education, and achievement while glorifying ignorance and mediocrity as authentically black?

The answer is, we can’t. We must do something about it. We must take back our race. But where we suffer the greatest need for leadership is within our own community. Those of us in positions of power and influence, including the very CEOs and companies celebrated in this and every issue of BE, must step up. African Americans

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