Wednesday, March 29, 2006

America's Racial Plight: The New York Times' "New" Old News

If I see, hear or read one more analysis of "what's wrong with black men," I'm gonna, I'm gonna ...

Erik Eckholm's
piece, "Plight Deepens for Black Men..." which ran in The New York Times, raised quite a media stir. Using data from recent studies, Eckholm concluded that young black men have fallen further behind in education and jobs -- despite burgeoning opportunities of the past two decades.

Media outlets wasted no time trotting out black pundits, activists, commentators and other members of the black "intelligentsia" to explain the dire statistics to the rest of us.

America has this strange little psychological game it plays when it comes to race matters. We talk, discuss, debate, and mostly ignore it, for decades and then stand sincerely aghast when the problem doesn't fix itself.

Way back in 1899, black scholar Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois predicted crime and chaos among the black underclass. The legacy of slavery, unemployment and the inability to receive fair treatment in the criminal justice system, were some of the factors Du Bois attributed to black crime and despair.

Although Eckholm's piece wasn't really "new" news, it still stunned many whites:

"What, 50 percent of inner-city blacks don't finish high school?"

"You mean to tell me 72 percent of 20-year-old black male dropouts are now jobless?"

And ... "Gee, Wally, half of the 20-year-old black men with high school diplomas, are jobless, too?"

"Really? Incarceration rates are still climbing for blacks in these times of opportunity?"

Professional, well-informed blacks address these questions with gusto, as if they were seriously helping America sift through some complicated, newly discovered data.

"It's Bush's fault," some have said. Others blame racism, parents, rappers, drugs ... on and on they go ...

Consider this past Friday night as I sat with my wife and mother-in-law thoroughly enjoying Bill Maher's HBO program, "Real Time." His guests included reporter Michael Ware, actor Jason Alexander, author Reza Aslan and Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston. Before the program ended, talk show host Tavis Smiley popped in for a satellite interview. After exchanging a few niceties, Maher brought up the Times piece and asked Smiley the "what's wrong with black men" question.

Smiley gave seasoned and informed responses. I'm not sure I could have pulled it off as well. Of course, blacks, like everyone else, need a little push. We should all parent better, mentor more and become even more involved in the lives of young African Americans. But, I mean, really, how many times can we talk about a problem without really addressing it? How's anybody, who is remotely clear on history, poverty and the criminal justice system, supposed to pretend that the "black man's plight" is a new or unpredictable phenomenon?

How do people like Smiley keep a straight face when whites act as if some out-of-this-world intervention is necessary to address an age-old American dilemma?

"What should America do about violent black gang members and murderers?" many ask.

Oh, I don't know, how about the same thing we did with the murderous Irish and Italian gangs of the 1900s and 1920s? Why treat black crime like it's a new, foreign form of crime? The same poverty, unemployment, selfishness and hopelessness that fueled the violent gangs of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and other cities, still exist today.

Maher, among others, blame hip-hop and the gangsta' mentality. "Isn't that really the problem?" they ask.

Gee, lemme see ... Kids are raised with gory slasher films, Jerry Springer, "Elimidate," and "Terminator" movies in homes of divorce and materialistic values. Yet, somehow, rap music has this strange, overpowering effect on black kids? This despite the fact that white kids religiously support the genre as well?

But, for sake of argument, let's say it is rap. What should we do?

Probably the same thing we did when America's youth in the '30s and '40s idolized the Hollywood gangster and thug images. Just as Tinsel town countered negative gangster films with positive, pro-justice flicks about G-Men and FBI agents, America could flip the script on rap.

What if the millions who criticize negative rap fought back by purchasing music by positive, uplifting rappers? I'm guessing the industry would cater to consumer demand -- that's if consumers demanded it, of course.

Young rappers model themselves after real and Hollywood gangsters. Let's face it, gangs are as synonymous with America as Rock and Roll.

What did we do to stop the gangland slaughters of Capone, Dillenger, hit man Bugsy Siegel and other Mafia types? For one thing, we made the illegal liquor business legal when America ended the farce of prohibition. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned as it relates to the illegal drug trade? Hey, I'm just sayin'...

Opportunity played a big part, too. The Italian, Irish and other European immigrants were allowed to integrate into America's economic and social systems. This while the country legally denied blacks basic rights until they gained quasi-freedom in the late 1960s.

It's a little premature to expect blacks to overcome segregation, degradation and decades of cultural, economic and social retardation in as little as 40 years. The "plight" of Black men is a byproduct of America's unfinished business.

Eckholm prompts even the well-intentioned to ask, "Why are so many young black men in jail?"

Well ... simply put, we keep putting them there.

America sends more black men to prison than college. Why? Because that's what we've always done. We have a criminal justice system geared to house, feed and contain people, so we use it -- liberally, it seems, as it pertains to young black males.

How many more studies do we need before it sinks in that it's not such a good idea to lock up 25 percent of any male demographic -- as misguided as they may well be?

We know race is involved. We know that prosecutors will throw young black "LeRoy" and "LeShawn" behind bars quicker, and at a younger age, than they do young, white "Bobby" and "Bertrand," even if they have committed the same crime.

Six years ago, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights published a report, "Justice On Trial: Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System," warning that racial disparity in the criminal justice system is the most profound civil rights crisis of the century.

"...In one critical arena -- criminal justice -- racial inequality is growing, not receding. Our criminal laws, while facially neutral, are enforced in a manner that is massively and pervasively biased," the study stressed. "The injustices of the criminal justice system threaten to render irrelevant fifty years of hard-fought civil rights progress."

It costs more to send and keep kids in prison than it does to send them to trade schools or community colleges. Instead of investing so much of our tax resources on the back end (the incarceration end) why not invest on the front end? Jump on young LeRoy's problems as soon as they surface. And what does LeRoy need? Clothes, tutoring, mentoring, food ... tough love?

Jump on it.

Sure, it'll cost a lot more in time and energy, but the investment would pay off in the long run.

Instead of tossing young black drug abusers and dealers into prison where they'll become old drug dealers and abusers, why not create real federally funded educational facilities where prisoners earn high school diplomas and learn real trades for the real world?

Here's a crazy notion: Give tax breaks, subsidies and federal contracts to businesses that employ or sub-contract to these newly-trained ex-cons. Just as F.D.R.'s Public Works program provided dignity and experience in the post-Depression era, a new deal-inspired program would stop many black males from becoming dire statistics. Such efforts would be well buoyed by a community's commitment to buy the products or services of these participating businesses.

Radical? Not in the least. This is but one of many serious reclamation projects that could be instituted if Americans were serious about the plight of young black males.
History has provided numerous examples to follow. We could fix this problem. We already know how. It's time we stop reporting the obvious, feigning surprise and trotting out black commentators to gingerly interpret what we already know.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Leave O'Reilly Alone ... He's Just Crazy

I remember a drunken, seemingly deranged bum in my old neighborhood who walked around with soiled pants, talking to himself and cursing anybody and everybody who crossed his path.

If my mother caught her kids laughing at the bum, she'd scold us, "Leave that man alone. Can't you see he's crazy?"

Fox's million-dollar blabbermouth, Bill O'Reilly, reminds me of that neighborhood lush. Perhaps we "liberals" ought to leave him alone, too. After all ... he's just crazy.

There's no better explanation for the man's behavior. Last year in January, as a guest on his program, "The O'Reilly Factor," I told the host that the "liberal" media commentators he criticizes, rarely resort to the type of name-calling and insults he does on his show.

"That's not true," O'Reilly countered, adding that he never calls people names.

I had just heard O'Reilly call California Senator Barbara Boxer a "nut" and her constituents "loons" on his radio show days before our interview. So, there I sat, in front of millions of his viewers, trying to convince a soggy alcoholic that he'd again peed his pants.

After labeling me a "fraud," O'Reilly promised to check his transcripts. He wagered a dinner at Tony's, a posh restaurant here in St. Louis, if my accusations about Boxer turned out to be true.

The next day, Media Matters for America posted several of O'Reilly's personal attacks (

"Brown was right and I was wrong ..." O'Reilly begrudgingly admitted on his program that night. Of course, he reneged on the dinner bet by changing the focus of our debate.

I was still a "fraud," O'Reilly maintained because I use "Media Matters' stuff all the time ... they just feed it to him, and he prints it."

Whatever, Bill.

After pointing out in my column that O'Reilly was "spinning" his way out of his own wager, I let the matter go. I held on to a naive notion that the huge slice of humble pie O'Reilly was forced to swallow might help him come to grips with his long history of casting disparaging zingers.

Silly me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I listened to O'Reilly's debate with former M.A.S.H. star and activist Mike Farrell late last month. Farrell commented that O'Reilly had gained credibility due to his style of "personal attacks."

"No, I don't do personal attacks here, mister," O'Reilly responded authoritatively (

Media Matters busted O'Reilly again, this time with a video montage of his greatest put-downs. On the tape, O'Reilly described Media Matters as "vile, despicable ankle-biters" who use his words "out of context" then "feeds stuff to the mainstream media to discredit" him.

I then
wrote in my column that O'Reilly, other conservative pundits and even the president tend to blame the media when things aren't going their way.
During his March 17 television show, O'Reilly lashed out at actors Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, Senator Russ Feingold and other "ultra-liberal" members of the "Kool-Aid left." I was among those included in the "personal attack:"

"Fanatical, progressive columnist Sylvester Brown," who writes for the "liberal St. Louis Post-Dispatch," took "information from a far-left smear website, which routinely distorts comments from anyone the site doesn't like."

The fact that I print "dishonest garbage" says "a lot about" me and the Post-Dispatch, O'Reilly continued. The "tens of millions of people" who watch or listen to his shows, know I'm "distorting the truth," he claimed. "Just as they know the far-left smear websites are in business to injure rather than inform." (m

Whatever, Bill.

It used to be fun catching O'Reilly in his own lies. But now ... well, it's just sad. I mean, he must see himself on video or read his own transcripts that clearly prove he routinely engages in personal attacks.

I just don't get it. It's not a sin to publicly diss your opponents. I'd be a fool to deny calling O'Reilly "crazy," knowing darn well the statement is right here with my name attached.

Why doesn't O'Reilly just fess up? He could say it's part of his schtick, a byproduct of his passionate positions, or he could blame it on his birthplace, New York. "Hey, we New Yorkers insult people -- fughedaboutit!"

But, no. Like the soiled, cantankerous drunk who blames the bottle for his condition, O'Reilly invites ridicule when he denies, dodges and responds with paranoid proclamations that the "liberal" media and "smear web sites" are out to get him.

It used to be fun exposing Fox's biggest windbag but now, after realizing O'Reilly is stuck in the permanent spin zone of manic denial and manufactured enemies, well, it's just sorta sad.

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