Bootstraps and Black Youth
Recently when doing some shameless promotion for Dr. Cathy Cohen’s new book Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and American Politics which comes out on September 16th and is a fantastic look into the eyes of Black youth and the way we see politics (shameless promotion), I sparked a war. No, not the illegitimate one based on triumphalism in an unnamed Middle Eastern locale. This was verbal tit for tat that all started when I posted a link to a synopsis and a few reviews of Dr. Cohen’s book on my Facebook page. I was expecting a few likes, maybe even a few questions about the authors intent, what I did not expect was the responses that I received.
One of my Facebook friends stated:
“I’ve only seen the excerpts from this book, but it seems to address, and sugarcoat, the fact that youths (black, latin, white, etc.) are just embodying self-fulfilling prophecies of mediocrity. We need to face the fact that youths, in general, are lacking role models and guidance. We can focus on economic and age factors, but this is, and can no longer be, a racial issue.”
My response to them was :
“Thanks for checking out the synopsis. Unfortunately, I believe you may have misinterpreted the overall gist of the book. What the author aims to prove through case studies and empirical analysis is that despite de jure laws the ensure equal opportunity for all people, young Black people continue to live on the margins socially, politically, and economically.
She contends that political elites continue to spew Horatio Alger rhetoric (pull yourself up by your own bootstraps) without addressing the overall institutional barriers that hinder so many young people of color from having a decent quality of life. Yes, role models are important. However, the disparate access to vital resources in disadvantaged communities and the over-surveillance by law enforcement continues to normalize what the scapegoat should look like instead of getting to the root of the problem. Self-fulfilling prophecies of mediocrity are aided by the stigmatization and criminalization of marginalized groups.”
Right after that another one of my facebook friends stated:
How are Youth lacking role models? Our f***ing President is black – what youth are lacking is an a**whooping. In this country anyone can go to college simply by raising their hands. There is no excuse to be in America and not have a Bachelors if someone wants it”
I kindly linked that friend to Jonathan’s blog post, Ms. Privilege which explains how some folks lack the same opportunities despite a few Black faces in high places.
This conversation shed light on the fact that Black youth continue to be one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented groups in this country. Conservative politicians continue to claim that the key reasons for high incarceration rates and low graduation rates among Black youth is because of their own negative pathologies. Liberal politicians, especially Black ones, continue to chastise us by trying to pass laws that police the way some of us dress by imposing their normative values on us. Both sides believe they know what’s best for us without actually asking how we feel or what we want. Now pollsters are already crediting John Boehner and the Republican Party with a massive victory in November because they say historically young folks and minorities don’t vote in midterm elections. Yet, I still have hope because politics is anything but predictable. In the world of talking heads, spinsters, pollsters, and hyperboles you never know who will go to jail, stuff a ballot box, or burn a Qur’an. But I do know that if Black youth turn out in large numbers in November we can shock the world and show why we have the power to remix Democracy.
If you want to have a running conversation with me about this post follow me at twitter/edwardjames3 or just leave a comment below.