One thing I have learned well in my life is that there is no need for courage if there is nothing to fear.
I speak at high schools whenever I am called.
Sometimes, I call.
I take it as part of my duty as an educated and enlightened Black man-to stand in front of young Black boys and young Black men to show them their own possibilities, because I come from the same places from whence many of them hail.
Sometimes, I am joined by other Black men who either feel the same sense of duty, or are goaded into it by others who recognize it and refuse to allow them to escape.
And when they are goaded, sometimes, the fear and awkwardness is so apparent I nearly feel sorry for them.
I know what is occurring, because it is the same situation as when an American born citizen visits his father’s native land. He recognizes many similarities, but not having grown up in the foreign land, he also recognizes many differences.
The biggest problem is that some of us who believe that we have “arrived,” have merely bought into the empty promise of America–the illusion of the melting pot and the reward for pretending that there are no racial barriers and that hard work and education are always rewarded for everyone.
The belief in this illusion is the intrinsic barrier between open and honest communication with the youth, because they are still wise enough to know that there is a problem. Some of them embrace that problem as a reason to work twice as hard, while some of them embrace that problem as a reason to give up.
When adult Black men show up, it is our duty to model for them, or at least to advise them of the result of either choice.
But sadly, many of us are in derelict of duty, because frankly, we are afraid of what we escaped from, and/or whom we left behind.
Even for some of us who show up, we do the youth a disservice by lying to them. Unwitting lies, but lies nonetheless.
Some of us lie to them by claiming that there is no real struggle based on the color of our skin.
We lie by telling them that the color of our skin never held us back and never really made a difference at all.
We lie and tell them that we excelled because we were simply hearty and smart individuals who embraced the American dream.
You see, by embracing the illusion of inclusion in America, we set up a roadblock to understanding. Without the illusion, we could understand ourselves and others better.
Without the illusion of inclusion, we would all be forced to admit that schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods are severely underfunded. We would have to admit that the preparation for a better life is less sturdy than in other neighborhoods. And by making these admissions, we would have to say honestly to our white counterparts over lunch, or golf, or cosmopolitans, that America is a dirty bitch, which would make us stand out, God forbid, and have to carry that damned “troublemaker” badge that our forefathers and foremothers carried, but that many of us so timidly shy away from.
But too many are unwilling to admit that their benefits in life are the direct result of compromise, which has little to do with those people on the bottom who face welfare, gang warfare, drugs, alcohol, racial profiling and hatred from some of those above them.
The problem is that after the Civil Rights movement, some frightened Negroes were deathly afraid of having to do any real work for the race, having become comfortable with taking the benefits earned on the backs of many, while pretending that their progress is all about the individual.
What we are dealing with is the same attitude felt by the country Blacks when intermingling with the city Blacks, which isn’t really a Black thing, but cuts across all color lines, as city whites neither have any real desire to interact with their rural brethren who they view as less civilized. Part of the inheritance of integration is that now, many citified Negroes take on that same attitude about their brethren in impoverished areas of the same cities.
Because finally, for the first time since our arrival from slavery with the empty promise of freedom, a generation of Negroes has abdicated their responsibility of breaking through and going back to pull up others.
This abdication of responsibility is why we see gangs swell, even following concerted efforts to abate their activity, as if breathing–in with a breath of swelled membership, and out with the deflated exhalation of unsustainable efforts from those around them, but not many above them.
And, with such an abandonment of those at the bottom, why wouldn’t the newly arrived Black intelligentsia feel uncomfortable going back to a place they have been lying about never having been?
Yes, the new lie goes beyond the previous prevarication of having no connection to Africa. The new lie claims not to have ever been connected to Harlem, Watts, Houston’s Fifth Ward or the South Side of Chicago.
And with no apparent connection, these foreigners awkwardly tiptoe through urban areas, afraid of the drive-by shootings and the violent crackheads. They are afraid to flash their headlamps at oncoming cars with no running lights; afraid to wear red for fear of the Crips; afraid to wear blue for fear of the Bloods and afraid of the homicidal teen looking to murder someone just to get a rep.
They have no idea how much of these fears are based on reality, because the only connection they have is through biased television news reports, ignorant rap records or stupid movies.
With no connection, it is easy for silly Negroes to speak for the impoverished, claiming that they are just too lazy, or too weak, or that they only want iPods and sneakers–using these claims as excuses for refusing to assist or to even send assistance, which would be a loud and ringing admission of the true connection that they are simply ignoring for the benefit of their white friends who are really unimpressed.
Rather than doing any real work, or really, rather than admitting that they are one generation and a few paltry decades away from such an existence, today’s disconnected Negroes would rather be foreigners in a place they should be able to call home.
They would rather be afraid and lie about it.
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opens in Los Angeles this Spring. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org.