Thoughts on Race Matters by Dillon Sorensen

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.


53 thoughts on “Thoughts on Race Matters by Dillon Sorensen

  1. Impressive point of view, if I might add. This is a very objective and mature post from such a young man. Consider yourself in a league of your own. Many your age fail to realize and see hom perplexing such matters are.

    And carson tells me he has yet to have you in a course and you are already thinking this way. Carson he is in line to join you in the faculty ranks. You have a future in education Dillon.

  2. Dillon:

    The sociological and psychological aspect or race matters is clearly the purported aspect often ignored in mainstream society; people often contend that race as it relates to a sense of “past tense matters” is made too simple. In essence, it is a problem of the 20th century thus it has no place in the 21st century is a myth — even with the election of a biracial president.

  3. You’re right Dillon, discussing race can be a touchy subject. Black history is important for white people to understand. There is a lot about the black experience that we as white people may never fully understand. Its good that there are writers like Cornel West that can shed some light on the experience. You’ve done a very good job with your post. I’ve not read Dr. West’s book but I have wanted to and your post convinces me even more that I need to. Thanks for an intelligent and thoughtful discussion.

  4. Race Matters is definitely now on my “must read” list … in fact, it might just be on my “must buy” list for Christmas … I’m thinking it might make a good stocking stuffer for a certain someone … and then I can read it, too!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and introducing the book to us!

    ~Mrs. Brown

  5. Dillon:

    I will not be the first to commend you on the depth to which your oratory skills delve, and I am quite sure that I will not be the last. However, your contention that society is against Black America is fundamentally flawed in my opinion. Before I get into what I really want to say though, I want to announce that I am in no way, shape, or form a racist or elitist with stereotypical views of any race. With that said, I believe that the main problem with society today is a lack of accountability. Consider this, while it is true that 25% of all black families live below the poverty level, you must also take into consideration that about 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated, by far the largest racial or ethnic group—by comparison, 2.4% of Hispanic men and 1.2% of white men in that same age group were incarcerated. According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, the number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago. Today, more African-American men are in jail than in college. In 2000 there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college. In 1980, there were 143,000 black men in prison and 463,700 enrolled in college. Something fundamentally changed during this twenty year time period but what was it? Accountability.

    If a person was not successful in the business world, they would blame the government and “the man” for keeping him down and would commit a felony that would end up with his/her own incarceration. If a person decided that he could not keep his children, wife and himself fed, he would leave the family to fend for itself and strike out on his own. If a person developed AIDS from HIV, he would blame it on the medical system for not trying hard enough to develop a cure for the virus (yes I know that it could also be transferred through blood transfusions, but that was a low-occurring accident and hardly happens anymore) despite the fact that they were the ones who could not keep their legs together. If a person cannot afford college and they see a friend who has gobs of money who can attend it quite easily, they blame it on the government for not providing the necessary means of sending him to college without forcing that person to take out a student loan. And this isn’t even a problem that only exists in “Black America” but also exists in other races as well. The fact is, if the people of the world would stop promoting racial warfare and start thinking of ways to help themselves rather than be helped, Race in America could finally cease to be an issue and people could finally move on from the past.

    In essence, Cornell West is essentially trying to add new flare to an old issue and incite anger about an issue that really isn’t even an issue anymore (at least among white America). I am in no way saying that Black America is lazy, but it is time to abandon the passage of accountability to others and decide that there is so much opportunity in America to take advantage of.

  6. ***I am in no way saying that Black America is lazy…***

    Hm. That’s all I feel safe saying.

    Dillon, you’re awesome. I’m checking this book out of the library tomorrow. I’d planned on it when Carson wrote about it a while back, but you’ve convinced me. (Of course, the fact that my hours were cut so that I can get to the library when it’s open helps, too.) Are you sure you’re only 16?

  7. Jaylon, Jim Brown, and Mrs. Brown – thank you for the compliments!

    Carson – Thanks for the kind words about me and for posting this in the first place.

    Lawrence Summers (not really) – I like the name. However, I disagree with you regarding your accountability theory. First of all, I believe that greed has corrupted our criminal justice system over the last 20 years. Today, to get a decent defense attorney, a criminal must pay millions of dollars. And now we are back to the fact that 25% of black families live below the poverty line. Not to mention racial profiling, etc. There are many factors that must be considered here.

    Also, I believe that your assumptions about who people blame are wrong. Everyone does not blame the government for everything. Obviously you do not.

    And race is not an “old issue.” If it was, then I would have black neighbors. I have trouble understanding why you think that race “isn’t even an issue anymore (at least among white America).”

  8. If it was an issue still amongst white America, then the white population would not have been split over voting for Barack Obama. Most reports state that there was a pretty even split between white voters amongst McCain and Barack Obama (plus or minus about 5 to 10 percent from an even split). In opposition, Black America had a pretty clean sweep on Barack Obama (upwards of 96 percent). And it is obvious that not all of Black America was educated about what issues that they were voting for as evidenced by the Howard Stern Interviews. What does that leave other than most of Black America voting for Barack Obama based on race?

    Fact is, Black America wants to hold a grudge against the rest of the world for an issue that most of them did not even live through (case and point: our esteemed president-elect Barack Obama)

    Just a thought………

  9. Who is Lawrence Summers?

    For those of you who do not know who who Lawrence Summers is, read here: He was in opposition to West and West’s ego in a very public debate.

    Cornel West

    In the fall of 2001 the US national media focused their attention on a private meeting in which Summers criticized prominent African-American Studies professor Cornel West, for missing too many classes, contributing to grade inflation, and neglecting serious scholarship. West, who later called Summers both “uninformed” and “an unprincipled power player” in describing this encounter in his book Democracy Matters (2004), subsequently returned to Princeton University, where he taught prior to Harvard University.

  10. They let you use wikipedia as a credible source at your school? neat! Here at Waltrip we get automatically counted off for trying to pass it off on a bibliography.

  11. How about NPR from West’s POV here:

    West characterizes what transpired as an assault on his integrity. “In my 26 years of teaching this is unprecedented for me,” he tells Smiley. “I’ve never been attacked or insulted in that particular way.”

    West also discusses the possibility that he will leave Harvard for Princeton, and that some highly esteemed colleagues might join him, praising Princeton’s leadership as “positive and visionary.”

    Summers met again with West and senior black faculty members on Thursday. He has said he does not want any of the members of Harvard’s well-regarded Afro-American Studies Department to leave the school. He also issued a statement praising Harvard’s history of diversity.

  12. Darn it Patrick, I was hoping that I could keep the Charade up a bit longer……I was hoping that you wouldn’t read this until after school before I could call you and tell you that I was posting. To everybody else who doesn’t know what is going on, My name is Josh B. and I am one of Patrick’s “Public School Friends.” He told me about this blog a couple of weeks ago and I thought I would check it out. You seem to be a pretty interesting person Mr. Carson (do you mind if I call you only Carson?) and your contentions are very interesting. Maybe I’ll stick around for a while and get the feel for school life at Houston Christian.

    P.S. Patrick, say hi to Michelle for me.

  13. Sweet, It’s nice to have a friend on here who I know exactly what he is thinking when he posts… Oh and no problem, I’m sure that she’ll be happy to know that you still remember that she is alive…

  14. Good review Dillion.

    In regards to accountabliity, I have talked about this on my blog countless times. It is a society thing and not a race thing. Our society and country today lacks SO much accountability and responsbility. Everyone now just wants Govco to take care of them. Or their parents. Or whoever. The blame game is played and no one wins.

    Dillon, I don’t think just greed has corrupted our system but political correctness has as well. Our schools also. I think it’s also our crazed addiction to celebrity worship that is bringing us down.

  15. First of all, black voters have long been supporters of the Democratic party. Most blacks were HUGE Clinton supporters, and I am pretty sure he is white. And what I want to know is how many white people did not vote for Obama because he is black. Anyone seen any stats on this?

    And Lawrence, do not try to tell a well-respected history teacher and scholar what a credible source is. I am pretty sure that two degrees, published writings, and presentations across the country give him a bit more credibility than you.

    I would like to know more on this whole Summers vs. West thing. I am trying to figure out how someone could accuse him of “neglecting serious scholarship,”

    By the way, Carson – check out the first video on this page: It is a clip from a documentary that West stars in about modern day slavery. Seems pretty interesting.

  16. I wasn’t trying to tell Mr. Carson what was an approved source, I was just stating a fact that we are not allowed to use that as a source at Waltrip. Sorry, no disrespect was meant by my comment.

  17. Interesting post and discussion.

    At some point in my life, I probably felt a lot like Josh/Lawrence does, and then it occurred to me that black people probably have a better concept of what it’s like to be black and what sort of hardships and inequalities they face than I do.

    A couple of observations:

    (1) The whole prison/poverty debate seems to clearly be a chicken/egg issue. People living in poverty (regardless of race), are more likely to be criminals. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. At the same time, people of criminal backgrounds (regardless of race) are more likely to have problems ever ascending above the poverty line.

    (2) There is something in this accountability idea though. Not specifically with African-Americans, but with society as a whole. Personal responsibility is no longer in fashion, and the results are all over the place. Consider the current situation in our economy: you have lenders giving out loans they had no business giving and people taking out loans they knew they could never pay, and everyone is trying to blame someone else.

    Lack of accountability is not the cause of the plight of African-Americans, but it adds to the problem like it adds to all others.

    (3) Do we have race problems? Certainly we do. Dillon mentioned one example with his hesitancy to drive through poor black neighborhoods (despite the fact that he seems to be a progressive-minded individual), and Josh/Lawrence mentioned another with 96% of the black population supporting Obama.

    Those problems are real, and they’re not insignificant, but I think it’s important to remember that they don’t hold a candle to the race problems we used to have (slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings).

    Progress can take a frustratingly long time, but it is happening.

  18. Roland – I get your point about accountability. However, I think it has less to do with politics and more to do with a change in parenting and educational styles.

    LukeD -I completely agree with you. We are making progress, slowly, but surely.

    Jim Brown – It is cheaper on Amazon that it is anywhere else. After realizing the extent to which I have over paid for books, I will never shop at B&N again.

  19. Excellent work Dillon! Also Dillon, I agree with you that we have made much progress in the 45 years that segregation has been (lawfully) rejected. I believe that to solve this problem all sides of society will have to work at it. There is going to have to be some serious attitude adjustments and critical thinking on the whole of society. Hopefully we can enter into a world of fair equality within our lifetime. I will be happy to read anything else you would like to write, Dillon. You have a gift for writing!

  20. I am pretty sure that everybody had guessed that, we have really different writing styles. I didn’t know that there was another “Josh B.” whenever I started posting….my bad. I hope to meet some of you all someday though because you are all really smart (a lot smarter than the people that I usually get to talk with).

  21. LukeD, I think your assessment on the accountability issue is more accurate. Although I don’t think that Josh was trying to blame the accountability solely on the black community. Accountability problems are everywhere and they specifically happen more in poverty stricken areas (like crime).

    Because there is a lot of single parenting, due to the abandonment of the father, these attitudes are perpetuated. The kid will learn one of two things. Either they will wise up and realize that they need to care for what they have given the effort into making, if you catch my drift. Or they will learn that it is not important to be a father (or to take accountability for ones actions), knock up a girl, and leave her (which will probably lead to the death of an innocent child). I think that if the school system would encourage abstinence instead of handing out free condoms in the office we would not have as much of a problem. I think that there is a reason that God told us to practice abstinence. Not only does it keep STDs at bay, it also reduces moral decay, in my opinion. Like you said Dillon it is a parenting and educational problem. However there might be a link between politics and education since the government runs the public school system, but that is another story and is up for interpretation and most likely argument.

    Once again Dillon, amazing job! That is all.

  22. Yeah, I figured that people had already assumed that, but I just wanted to make that clear. By the way I agree with you completely as evidenced by my last post.

  23. I agree, it is time for the redistribution of wealth to take effect because I know that I don’t make $150,000 per year…….or was it $200,000 per year……..was it $250,000 dollars per year? I really wish Obiden would make up their mind about who should have to pay more taxes. At this rate, it will be “if you make $50,000 per year……” in a little less than three months.

  24. Josh – thanks for all of the praise. Perhaps I should start blogging.

    You make an interesting point about single parents. As nice as it would be to get everyone to practice abstinence, I just do not think it is a realistic expectation in America. To put it bluntly, people like to have sex.

    Kristi – I agree. Carson should spread the wealth.

    Patrick – I hear that Obama was just going tax everyone who made above $0/yr so that everyone will be broke.

  25. No, Dillon, unfortunately it is not realistic and believe me, I know way too many people that show me just that.

    Oh and Patrick nice point on the redistribution. Some great sarcasm there!

  26. I think Jim Brown should be patient and focus on being “nice” … and hope that Santa might have his elves make him a copy … or at least purchase the copy that is already in Santa’s shopping cart at Amazon …

  27. I agree, Dillon, about the parenting and education. The thing with the accountability and single parents and condoms and such….yeah, you are right. People like to have sex. That’s fine. Along with the need for more accountability is the need for consequences for ones actions. Take a look at all these bailouts. Is that teaching anyone anything except “when I make a mistake, Govco will just come in and bail me out”?

  28. Yeah, I am not a big bailout fan either. I will not pretend to know a lot about them, because I do not, especially in regards to the economic consequences. But, considering that $750 billion could have been used to implement a universal health care system, build more schools, or feed the hungry, I am not a big fan.

    And now they want to bailout Detroit. What a stupid idea. The American auto industry has been collapsing for years. The Chinese and Japanese have proven that they make better cars, so we should let them do it. If only we could get them build some over here…

  29. Exactly. I am speaking about Detroit on my blog now and their failure.

    Just as with giving condoms away, throwing money at problems (health care, schools, etc…) will not help. We have been throwing money at schools for years and have nothing much to show for it. As you said, it starts with parenting and goes on to better public examples. Along with that is consequences of ones actions and accountability. It all sounds so simple and, really, it is. We just choose not to implement it. We would rather lounge on the couch and watch American Idol than actually open a book and learn or sit down and teach our kids. Sad.

  30. Roland,

    I sort of agree with you. Parents play a big part in this. But, I do think that some problems need to have money “thrown at them.”

  31. Democracy Matters — west’s other work is very good and very different from Race matters; he does a nice job looking at the double edge sword of democracy. I read it two years ago. I need to re-read it.

  32. Dillon, I enjoyed your review on West’s book — you are quite articulate, and clearly you’ve struck a chord here. You know where I stand . . . more in class. Thanks, Metty

  33. I’m not trying to be sarcastic or cynical, but I’m just curious. What does West believe is the solution to the problems faced by blacks in America? Has he written anything on the solution to the problem, or has he only written on the causes of the problem?

  34. By the way Dillon, you did a great job. Your writing skills are amazing, and your thinking is so deep and complex.

  35. Chris,

    Thanks for the compliments bro. It meets a lot coming from you.

    Race Matters does not really offer up any solutions. Rather, he states that:

    ” My aim in this book is to revitalize our public conversation about race, in light of our paralyzing pessimism and stultifying cynicism as a people. As a radical democrat, I believe it is late – but maybe not too late – to confront and overcome the poverty and paranoia, the despair and distrust that haunt us. Since democracy is, as the great Reinhold Niebuhr noted, a proximate solution to insoluble problems, I envision neither a social utopia nor a political paradise. My goal is to be as bold and defiant in my criticism of any form of xenophobia, as honest and candid about the need for civil responsibility as social accountability of each one of us, and as charitable and compassionate toward any political perspective from which we can gain insight and wisdom to empower us.”

  36. Good job Dillon and i could not agree more with you on this one, race still matters

    unfortunately some people make pre-determined thoughts about a person based on race.

  37. Pingback: A Christian Democrat « The Proletarian

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