Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Missing the Point

Here is Rod Dreher, being clueless as usual.

I swear, he is utterly incapable of seeing what he is writing, or what he is reading.  (Here's the original article, the point of which Dreher has utterly missed.)

Instead of grasping the point, Dreher retreats (once more!) into banging his favorite drum.  Those black people! Their terrible culture!

He uses as his example the story of a young man, Jadereous Davis, who is the subject of the Washington Post story.  Jadereous is from Mississippi, growing up in a town where the poverty rate is triple the national average; where the schools are awful; where there are no jobs and no prospects of jobs.

The Washington Post tells us this young man has already been arrested and convicted (at 19) at least once, and now owes $1200 in fines. The cause of this conviction?  He was driving his aunt's car without a license, and he missed a court date.

Jadereous also been ticketed, twice, for speeding.  Maybe this is reckless behavior.  Maybe it's DWB.  In any case, he's lost his license.

Rod Dreher comments on the behavior of this young man -- who comes late to his graduation, to his jobs. Dreher sees the fate of this young man as his own fault.  And he extrapolates from this to the entire culture of poor black in Mississippi as a whole.

Why can't these people just realize, Dreher wonders, that if they learned to act right -- get to work on time, care about education, stop behaving badly -- that they too could succeed in America?  They too would get educated, find good jobs, climb that ladder to the upper-middle class.

Here, the reader, not as clueless as Dreher, might raise an objection.

What schools, exactly, will provide them with this education?  The substandard and underfunded Mississippi schools* that this young man has been subjected to all his life? (The Washington Post article notes that Jadereous Davis's school has no air conditioning and broken plumbing; ineffective and underfunded programs; and that it receives, regularly, a D or an F from the state.  There are, usually, 28 students per classroom.  It's also 95 percent black.  Local white students attend a private school with two Confederate flags adorning its entrance.)

Jobs: Where exactly will these jobs come from?  The young man in the article is surrounded by a Mississippi without jobs.  Those jobs have all been shipped overseas.

One of the real few jobs that has not been outsourced -- driving a truck -- is not available to Jadereous, since due to his tickets and the fines, he has lost his license.

Further, this is a kid who has no family stability.  None of the adults in his life have jobs that pay enough to live on; a number of the adults in his life have been incarcerated. His mother left him, and then when she came back, she mostly caused problems in his life.  During his adolescence, he was homeless, moving from one relative's couch to another's.

I've been reading Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi with my Working Class Literature students over the past weeks.  It's instructive to compare Anne Moody's experience, growing up as a working class kid in Mississippi to the previous book we read, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Both are about working class girls, young women, growing up in poverty.  Both are about young women who have to go to work young to support their families.  Both are about young women who believe in the value of education.

But there are difference between these two life stories. One, certainly, is black culture.  Anne Moody's culture differs from Betty Smith's in striking ways.

But the other difference is white culture.

Betty Smith / Francie Nolan could trust that her education would lead somewhere.  When she left Brooklyn, she went to the University of Michigan.  And graduating from that university, she could trust that her degree (and her connections) would take her places.  They did.

Ann Moody, graduating from high school, went to a substandard college.  Graduating from that college, she found no doors opening to her -- no connections, no jobs except menial labor work. She was still a black woman in America, and that defined her path.  White culture defined her path.

This is what Rod Dreher refuses to acknowledge.

He blames Jadereous Davis, and every other poor black person in Mississippi, for their poverty and their desperation.

He ignores how hard they fight -- hell, go read that article; read it's conclusion; Jadereous Davis is still fighting -- despite the odds against them.

And he does this, because if their poverty and misery is their own fault, then he can sit smug and happy in his privilege, where he is happy to sit, and take no action at all.

Many people confuse white privilege with guilt.  "I refuse to feel guilty for something my ancestors did!" is a response I've heard more than once.

White privilege, or any sort of privilege, isn't about guilt.  Guilt is a useless emotion.  Privilege is about action.  You know, as Rod Dreher should know, that you have an advantage in this country.

I certainly have an advantage in this country, in a number of ways -- I'm white, I'm educated, I'm intelligent, I'm neurotypical, I'm native-born. You acknowledge this privilege, and then you use it to open doors and give a helping hand to those without privilege.

You don't pretend the privilege isn't real.  You don't say everyone is equal, because America. You don't say, I got mine, jack, and everyone else can just get theirs. You do what you can.

 *Dreher cites his "friend" who went down to teach in one of these "predominantly" black schools, and having been there a year and a half is now feeling "grim" about his job. Why? Oh, black culture, of course.  You can't teach those black people anything so long as they're allowed to continue behaving black, you know.)

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