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EDITORIAL: A look at black America

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

EDITORIAL

It is a gripping series that takes viewers on the personal journeys of black Americans from every walk of life. "Success, struggle, pain and pride," as the narrator touts. From wealthy and middle class to poverty-stricken, single-mothers, single-fathers, successful entrepreneurs, those of mixed race, and descendants of slave owners. It can be anyone's story from anytown America, but this one is told through the eyes of blacks. The two-hour, two-part special running on CNN (concluding tonight) titled: "Black in America," is worth a viewing. Part one, which aired Wednesday, is titled "The Black Woman and Family"; part two, airing tonight focuses on "The Black Man."

The issues run the gamut - from drug use to health disparities, faith, family, crime and education. Experts, authors and celebrities offer analyses, but solutions to what still plagues black America aren't as easy to come by. As one analyst put it when addressing the horrific educational gap that still exists in America: "Education is the fundamental civil right." We agree, but his controversial solution to addressing this dire issue was to offer money to students - grade-school students no less - as an incentive to complete their class work. One child was saving part of the $100 he was "awarded" to offer half to his struggling father. Touching no doubt, but truly troubling.

There are other facts that are raised and can be disputed, such as the assertion that the government welfare system was one of the best things for black women, despite the fact that it alienated black fathers. There also is criticism that welfare reform is now hurting blacks because they should have "longer- term benefits." Employers, not the government, are in the business of doling out "benefits" and the success stories that have resulted from those reforms are in the majority. Welfare was meant (and should remain) as a temporary fix for those in a bind - not as a lifestyle choice to be handed down generation after generation.

There are sobering statistics that should give us all pause. Forty-nine percent of murder victims are black, and blacks are 50 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in Washington, D.C. An estimated 800,000 black men are currently in prison - more than at any other time in history. And black men are six times more likely to go to prison than white men. This sounds dreadfully dismal, but one expert also points out: "Most black people aren't in jail and haven't been arrested." That's a picture not often painted by the media and should be reiterated.

There is blame for the government's "war on drugs" that has resulted in putting more black men in prison for "petty" drug offenses. This is brought into perspective by conservative commentator and former "Cosby Show" actor Joseph C. Phillips, who remarks: "These are not innocent people who have been rounded up by police and sent off to jail ... and are somehow victims of injustice." He asserts that the victims of most of their crimes are other black people and those "drug laws" were meant to protect the black community.

It is also apparent the role that faith and church plays among the black family, but so too is the black church's abysmal record on addressing HIV/AIDS and the epidemic that has one in every three black children born out of wedlock.

Present-day racism is also addressed - from "teachers who ignore black students" to "economic inequality" to where we have come as country since the civil-rights movement.

A former convict and drug addict-turned-preacher said of today's incarcerated black male: "The future is bleak." We firmly disagree. Despite the odds, it is never too late for reform and personal responsibility. The future is bright for those who persist.

Going forward with the insight and knowledge gained from the series is a challenge for us all is to recognize that we are one America. And though divided at times, we can work on the solutions for what ails us all.