- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Time to exhale.

I used to consider myself a special character while growing up in the District, a most extraordinary city that, until a generation ago, produced extraordinary people despite a segregated public school system.

Here we have the seat of the federal government and architects of the most powerful government on the globe and a hybrid local government unmatched in these United States. We blacks have a chance to have it going on, as we say.

We live where we want to live, send our children to schools where we want to and vote the way we want to vote. The population is overwhelmingly black, and the racial makeup of the local government workforce reflects that.

Here again, we have all that, yet we complain about everything.

When our black mayor in Washington ordered regulators to shut down slums where blacks and Hispanics lived in filth, we cried "gentrification."

When our black mayor urged us to reform the majority-black school system, a school system that for 20 years has turned out illiterate and ill-prepared black children, we cried "racism."

When our black police chief tried to raise the bar on recruiting standards, we cried "foul."

When nonprofit institutions opened charter schools, we yelled "conspiracy."

What gives? How did we become so confused? When did we stop taking care of ourselves? When did we displace (or is it misplace?) our priorities?

I mean, certain stuff we just know. We know where the best peach cobbler and ribs are in town. We know when reruns of "Martin," "Good Times" and other black shows come on our local TV stations. We also know when and where we are supposed to vote, we just don't exercise that right the way white folks do.

Now I know what I just said angered some of you, because I played heavily on stereotypes. As a matter of fact, I might have even made my editors a little uncomfortable I'm sure my family will be.

Then again, I often use extremes to make a point, to justify a point, and I most often go to such extremes when my feelings have been hurt.

And right about now, people, my feelings are very hurt. They are hurt because we tend to miscolor issues or outcomes we disagree with and too many white folks do the same.

I'll explain this by using one issue all Americans have in common: public education.

Now, regardless of race, economic status, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religious belief, every American who pays taxes pays into America's public education system. Even if you do not have children, your tax dollars are poured into America's public education system, right? We can all agree on that, right?

Now follow me. Let's take a close look at the District, "Chocolate City," which has a majority black population, majority black elected school board, majority black teaching corps and a majority black school population. It also has a high dropout rate, ridiculously high per-pupil budget and low test scores.

Now how can that be? How can we spend all that money on education and still fail to educate our children? Is that because Hitler was right about white? Is that because our black American ancestors were denied formal education? Is it because the District's black children stay up and watch music videos on BET all night long? Is it because our teachers are dumb?

Might it be because the black folks most responsible for educating our children are not doing their jobs?

Indeed, the primary guilty parties are the black parents and the black elected leaders. Frankly, you cannot draw a more logical conclusion.

Even those of you in disagreement know that Hitler was a lunatic, and that all D.C. teachers can't possibly be dumb. And we are so far removed from those ugly days of slavery that you really and truly can't use that as an excuse, either.

Our children, our black children, are uneducated through absolutely no fault of their own. They are uneducated because we don't demand they be educated. Rather than spend a few hours each week at our children's schools, we prefer to engage ourselves five hours each week with Oprah (who, bless her heart, has no children), or standing in line three or four times a week buying fried chicken wings (with mumbo sauce, thank you very much) at a fast-food joint, or gussying up for a night on the town with someone else's man (or woman).

We'd rather do a lot of other useless things than focus on our children's schooling.

But, hey, don't get mad at me. Don't let what I've just said hurt your feelings. You and your lame excuses hurt mine.

More importantly, they are hurting our children. Don't you get it?

Deborah Simmons is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. She can be reached by e-mail at simmon@twtmail.com.

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