By Jelani Meyer
In the 1700s-1800s the African American race was always looked at as the bottom of the food chain. And it stayed that way until about the middle of the 20th century, when the sit ins, bus boycotts, marches, and riots happened. This was around the time that black people in mainstream America started to get noticed, with people like Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Joe Lewis, Jackie Robinson, and Fritz Pollard pacing the way for blacks and making it possible for all African Americans living today to have the opportunities that we have today. But I think that as a black community we have all lost sight of what we used to stand for, which was self-empowerment, self-worth, and strength.
A couple of months ago, racial tension was high when a teenager Mike Brown was killed by a police officer. The black community and law enforcement were once again at odds, like they were when Rodney King was beat in the 1990s, and when the police used to beat blacks in the 1960s, providing evidence that the mentality of both blacks and police officers have not really evolved in 100 years. Both sides of the ongoing battle between African Americans and law enforcement need to be held accountable. But blacks have a long, rich history that shouldn’t be tainted just because a group of people test us, to see if we are really what they think of us as: people with no home training, who raise kids in the ghetto.
According to NHI.org, 52% of blacks and only 21% of whites live in urban communities in America, while 57% of whites and only 36% of blacks live in suburban neighborhoods. Due to gentrification, blacks are currently even being driven out of their urban communities. Gentrification is when poor communities are knocked down and “better,” more expensive living spaces are built, completely replacing both the outward look of a community and its inhabitants. In D.C., gentrification has forced blacks to move to more crowded, more dangerous, urban living spaces. The reason for such a low rate in suburban living for blacks is, (1) They did not feel welcome in their neighborhood and, (2) They cannot afford it. When gentrification occurs and it pushes blacks into more dangerous, crowded neighborhoods, there is increased crime, high school dropout rates, and teen pregnancy rates among African Americans.
Louis Armstrong once said, “Racism is not an excuse not to do the best you can.” From my personal experience with race issues I have found that a lot of African Americans use the ideology, “I can’t, because black people can’t do what white peoples can” excuse hundreds of times. Last year a black student, Kwasi Enin, got into all eight Ivy League universities. He lived in an urban community, and graduated from a low performing school. What this student did not do, was let the stereotypes that were expected of him hold him down. Unfotunately, what Kwasi didn’t do was what far too many black students do: let themselves become a product of their environment. Richard Wright, Nelson Mandela, Jay Z, and Cornel West are all examples of people who did not become products of their environments. The reason black leaders rose up and fought for equal rights is because they did not become products of their environments. The only people pulling down the African American race: ourselves.
We live in a world where gentrification, racial tension, and self oppression are evident. While we live in a world where African Americans can no longer get beaten by a white person for the fun of it, we do live in a world where a police officer can shoot a young black man and not go to trial. African Americans should not be getting driven out of their own homes to pave way for better, more expensive living conditions for a richer demographic. In order for the number of African Americans in poverty to go down, and in order for negative statistics toward Africans Americans to decrease, we must stop using the past an excuse, but as a reason for us to uplift one another. And then and only then can our community get to where it should be in this day and age.