Dillon Sorensen is a sophomore student at Houston Christian; Sorensen, who is a regular here at the Proletarian, offers this piece from the perspective of a middle class white student attending an affluent private school; if you follow the comments left on this blog, you are well aware of the depth and complexity offered by Sorensen. You will find other posts on West that have been posted on this blog here.
On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of legislation that outlawed racial segregation into law. While the very idea of racial segregation in America seems to be part of a distant past, we must not forget that it has only been 45 years since the CRA was passed, and race still matters.
Upon hearing Carson rave about Race Matters, I decided to purchase a copy. Initially, I questioned whether or not it would affect me as a white person. My questions were soon answered in the preface, in which Dr. Cornel West tells a story about a time in New York City when he attempts to wave down a cab. When ten empty cabs drive past him, Dr. West becomes frustrated; and when a white woman next to him immediately flags one down, he is irate. I read and considered the paragraph over and over. How many times have I been the cab driver? How often do I subconsciously judge others based on their skin color? Why do I feel endangered when I drive through a poor black neighborhood, but not a poor white one? I know that most other whites also face similar questions, and in order to answer them, we must gain a better understanding of the problems that face black America.
Published in 1993, just after the Rodney King Riots, Dr. West’s collection of essays addresses various issues facing the African-American community, such as black leadership, sexuality, affirmative action, and Black-Jewish Relations.
While I thoroughly enjoyed all of Race Matters, I was greatly impacted by the first chapter, entitled “Nihilism in Black America.” In this chapter, Dr. West states that:
“The proper starting point for the crucial debate about the prospects for black America is an examination of the nihilism that increasingly pervades black communities. Nihilism is to be understood here not as philosophic doctrine that there are no rational grounds for legitimate standards of authority; it is, far more, the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaningless, hopelessness, and (most important) lifelessness. The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world. Life without meaning, hope, and love breeds a coldhearted, mean-spirited outlook that destroys both the individual and others.”
And that is the problem in black America. Often, we fail to look at psychological and sociological components to the issues we face in America. When an entire segment of the population feels as if they have been left behind, they feel hopeless. When they are not given adequate education and their families are falling apart, black children feel as if their lives are meaningless. They feel that way because their parents felt that way, and they will pass it on to their children. It is the vicious cycle of poverty; a cycle that black Americans are all too familiar with.
After all, 25% of African-Americans live in poverty, while only 9% of whites due. One in two Black children lives in poverty. On average, whites are expected to live five years longer than blacks. Employed blacks only earn 65% of the wages of their white counterparts. The nationwide unemployment rate for blacks is 10%, while the unemployment rate for whites is 5%. It has been estimated that the rate of births to unwed black mothers in 70%. And the list goes on and on…
Question: Why are blacks socioeconomically disfavored? Is it because they are lazy? I doubt it. Do they just need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps?” Well, there are no bootstraps to pull on. I believe that Dr. West is correct; the plight of black Americans can be attributed, among other factors, to the “nihilism that increasingly pervades black communities.”
Have we made a lot of progress in 45 years? Yes; we just elected an African-American to the highest office in the land. But, there is still much work to be done. Race Matters will open your eyes to the struggles that face black America, and everyone, regardless of race, should read it. Dr. West will not waste your time, and he will force you to think extensively about race relations in our country every single day, as you should.