- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009


The turmoil over the chimp cartoon in the New York Post has breathed new life into the issue of race in America, provoking the familiar outcry by black pundits, civil rights activists and journalists.

The issue of race has been brought to front and center with the cartoon coming on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department speech accusing Americans of being cowards for not talking honestly about race.

The moral capital that will be expended, the money invested in these protests, and the publicity generated should instead go to address a more crucial unacknowledged crisis festering in the soul of Black America - the plight of child prostitutes in the nation’s major cities. Over the last two years, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has labored nearly alone to rid her city of this menace in a campaign to rescue black children. In a PBS special broadcast, Mayor Franklin said, “The child prostitutes are 10 and 11 years old, and the age is getting lower.”

Alesia Adams, a former child advocate, told PBS, “Girls were coming into juvenile court and talking about the same pimp … and they had names branded on them, not tattoos. These are brands. To show ownership of the young person.”

Each year these black male pimps hold their annual ball in Atlanta. There is no protest planned against them, no irate columns, no Al Sharpton leading marchers. How does a dialogue on race serve the interests of these helpless children?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the highest form of maturity is the willingness to be self-critical. Unfortunately, we seem to only be willing to talk about race when whites are portrayed as villains and blacks as victims.

Those of us that have been active in the civil rights movement must move beyond these limited confines and lead an honest dialogue that confronts some of the troubling questions, past and present, that are internal to the black community.

A part of the new dialogue must confront the enemy within the black community itself. The emphasis on race is overshadowing the fact that increasing numbers of our children are being lost in a frenzy of self-destruction and are being preyed upon by adults.

Some years ago Black Enterprise Magazine reported that Washington, D.C., is the most prosperous city for upper-income blacks. The same week the Centers for Disease Control reported that a child born in Washington has a lower life expectancy that any child in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Haiti, because of the high level of violence visited upon these children. The coexistence of these two phenomena should be the topic we address, one far more critical than the future of Rupert Murdock.

The charge of racism was once reserved to challenge social and economic injustice. Today it is used as both a shield and a spear - a shield to protect black celebrities and public officials from responsibility for their personal misconduct, and a spear against any who dare to challenge its use.

King, himself the target of predatory surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover, refused to permit the movement to protect him. Like a tax incentive that became a tax loophole, over the last 40 years the racial issue has slid down a slippery slope to become something far different from its righteous origins.

Many civil rights activists have morphed into a race grievance industry that seeks to interject race into any and all situations regardless of the consequences for those involved. If your personal and organizational interest is organized around the existence of a problem, you have no proprietary interest in solving the problem.

When race confronts principle, race always seems to triumph. We saw this with Roland Burris’ fight to become a U.S. senator. Rep. Bobby Rush first declared that anyone appointed to the Senate by Gov. Rod Blagojevich should not be seated.

When the governor appointed a black man, Mr. Rush and a phalanx of black civic leaders rallied to support him. Not a single voice of protest was raised against the moral inconsistency in Mr. Rush’s actions. This type of double standard is not only tolerated but expected because anyone who is foolish enough to challenge such actions faces the spear of being called a racist or an Uncle Tom.

Race becomes interjected in any and all situations involving a black victim and a white perpetrator. About 12 years ago I was addressing a gathering in Palmdale, Calif. Two 13-year-old boys who were friends had gotten into a minor scuffle and the black youngster died after being pushed down by his white friend.

Groups of protesters stormed in from Los Angeles to demand “justice” for what they declared was evidence of deep-seated racism in the City of Palmdale. I joined with local leaders - both black and white - to confront these intruders and the entire community came together and refused to permit its city to be divided. Our energies were invested instead in bringing aid and comfort to both families in what was obviously a tragic accident. There are endless other examples of the exploitation of human tragedies that only divides us.

Probably the most disturbing of all the abuses of the race issue is one that has resulted in the deaths of unsuspecting low-income blacks. In 2001, in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, a young black man was shot by a white police officer who claimed the young man appeared to be armed. A protest followed that brought in people from around the country and a nationwide boycott of Cincinnati was declared.

The police stated that since they were being accused of being racist, they would no longer be as vigilant in policing the black neighborhoods. During one year, the murder rate in low-income black areas rocketed to more than 800 percent of the rate before the riots. None of the people leading the protest or their families were at risk because they lived in the safety of the suburbs. They were not forced to suffer the consequences of their actions in the face of what some call “police nullification.”

Nor did the sons and daughters of the boycott organizers lose their jobs as waiters, taxi drivers, cooks and deliverymen and -women as conferences and other activities were canceled and the boycott starved the city.

Yes, we do need a dialogue on race if it can be expanded to include the issues here and if it includes other troubling questions. The promise of the civil rights movement was that we would take over the institutions controlled by racist whites who were abusing our people. Today, in most if not all urban centers, blacks now run the institutions that low-income blacks rely upon for services. Only 2 in 10 whites with a college degree work for government, compared to 6 in 10 blacks. This raises the question,why are low-income blacks failing in systems run by our own people?

Dr. King said racism is not bad because it is perpetrated by white people on black people; it is bad because racism is evil and we must all come together to confront evil. If we can agree to come together to confront some of the perplexing problems, greater understanding and cooperation among races will be a byproduct. On the other hand, simply concentrating on talking about race will not yield a solution for these problems.

During the week that the offensive New York Post cartoon was published, there was a story that went largely unnoticed. Two corrupt judges in Pennsylvania received millions of dollars in kickbacks for sentencing juveniles to private prisons.

Where was the protest? We should come together and ask, how many children have been injured? What can be done to fix this situation? What can be done to help the children in Atlanta? To what extent are these problems evident in other jurisdictions? We should not have to know the race of the offenders or the race of those that have been injured.

Coming together to address the problems would benefit many. What by contrast is the payoff if the editor and the cartoon writer are fired and if the Federal Communications Commission sanctions Rupert Murdock? How is society better off compared to the benefit of helping these children and their families and improving the plight of young people in the future?

That would be an honest discussion.

Robert L. Woodson Sr. is founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

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