d. E. Rogers

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A Switch from Hopes of Equal Opportunity to Entertainment

In Articles by d. E. Rogers on February 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm

When I was growing up, many in my generation made plans to do something work-related with their adult lives. We wanted to be lawyers, doctors and engineers. Some expected to work city, county, state and federal jobs like the post office, the department of motor vehicles or for the water or gas companies.

One reason for this is that we followed in our parents’—and sometimes grandparents’—footsteps. When we didn’t follow in their footsteps it was often because they encouraged us to do better than they had done. They wanted us to be the firsts in our families to graduate high school or college, or even the firsts to own businesses.

When an adult would ask one of us what we wanted to be when we grew up, we’d say proudly: “I want to the president,” or “I want to be an astronaut.” We had faith in the possibilities of what we could accomplish with an education and through plain old hard work. Now, everyone wants to be a rapper or an actor.

Why have we allowed the focus of our communities to change from one of gaining equal opportunities in the workforce to that of a culture that thrives on extreme entertainment value? Especially disheartening about this phenomenon is the fact that we are blessed to live in a time when we have unlimited access to information through the Internet. If we so choose, we can learn and prepare for success in almost any profession known to man. We can even research fields that lack specialists, and fill needs.

Rapping and entertaining have the potential to be fulfilling and respectable careers, however, the many prominent representatives are far cries from the ideal of equality and empowerment for what our predecessors marched, protested and even gave their lives.

Fifty years ago, there were identifiable aims regarding hopes for Black America, and for what future generations could achieve. Our community has produced an African-American President, and this speaks to the potential of our people. What we produce in the future depends on the hopes we pass on to our youth. Within the freedoms echoed by Dr. King in his “I Have a Dream” speech is the abundance of choices that we have today. Let that little young boy and young girl know of all the endless opportunities that lie ahead of them—and help them blaze a trail for Americans to follow.

Celebrating the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Articles by d. E. Rogers on January 17, 2011 at 11:01 am

Every January we’re given the opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made individually and as a community by celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King worked to obtain civil rights for all; he spoke out against the Vietnam War and the horrific consequences that poverty wreaked on anyone living in it.

We’re fortunate to live in a time when we’re able to reap many of the benefits of his struggle to bring equality to the United States of America. However, we continue to face similar issues today that Dr. King’s generation faced – widespread poverty, the War on Afghanistan and inequality in the legal and educational systems.

The younger generations are so far removed that many don’t remember the struggles of the 1950s and 60s. Most have knowledge of Dr. King and his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech, but many don’t comprehend the depth of the compassion that drove the man to live his life in service of others.

As we reflect on the courage, selflessness and sacrifice of such an amazing leader, we must consider our responsibilities to the community. We must determine if we’ve continued on the path that Dr. King and his contemporaries blazed for us. Additionally, we must ask ourselves if we’ve moved forward in the truth that all people are created equal, and if we’ve continued to nurture that belief in consecutive generations.

Dr. King’s generation suffered together, and then organized peacefully under his direction to better their lives. His commitment to others and leadership example are still relevant today, perhaps now more than ever. It’s up to us to keep his legacy alive – a legacy that respects and demands equality for all.

The Age of Blackness

In Articles by d. E. Rogers on July 15, 2010 at 7:26 am

The Harlem Renaissance was one of the most momentous artistic movements not only of the 20th century in America, but in the entire history of the world.  The Harlem Renaissance generated an awareness of identity for blacks, while at the same time accomplishing the considerable task of forcing the white majority to admit the magnitude of contributions from an ethnic group that had for the history of the country been too easily considered something less than human. The Harlem Renaissance is probably remembered most today—if it is known at all by a generation who seem to think the contributions of blacks to the cultural landscape of America began with Bill Cosby and rap music—as a detonation of the imagination that exploded from the fertile minds of more than a mere handful of blacks in all media of creative expression.  Less well understood is that the Harlem Renaissance was also a movement about the politicization and consciousness-raising of a disenfranchised segment of the American people. Typical of the manner in which black culture has been juked and ripped off and homogenized and underappreciated, the Harlem Renaissance for a great many people extends no further than some novels, plays and poetry. In fact, the Harlem Renaissance was literally an explosion of talent that covered music, dance and the fine arts as well as literary endeavors.  The creative geniuses that led the Harlem Renaissance to the forefront of the American cultural landscape used artistic expression to engender a major impact on all aspects of society. At the same time, it served to give millions of people their first opportunity to establish an identity that had nothing to do with a history of being owned as property.

To attach a well-defined demarcation line to the Harlem Renaissance by picking just one single artistic effort that spurred it is useful only for igniting debate.  Black authors had been published for decades and some of those novels were even best-sellers; what makes the Harlem Renaissance stand out was that the topic of those literary works were no longer limited to thematic issues engendered by a history of slavery. The true derivation of the Harlem Renaissance cannot and should not be traced back to any individual work, but rather to the assortment of shared interests by those craving to promulgate the spectacular burst of creativity through the founding of literary magazines and the publication of novels. This communal push to cooperate and help one another was vital in turning the Harlem Renaissance from a simple literary event into one that enveloped all the fine arts.  In addition, the movement was equally vital for the way it created a search for a prouder identity for an ethnic group previously defined not by who they were, but who owned them. Although the artists created very important and lasting works in the disciplines of literature, art and music, the Harlem Renaissance rapidly became just as important for the manner in which blacks could acknowledge and embrace a new identity.

The intellectuals contributions to the vitality of the Harlem Renaissance is based on the manner in which these figures defined what positive role models for blacks were.   One of the enormously significant traits of the Harlem Renaissance is the realization that collaboration was considered a better way to assist even the individual works than competition. An instinctive sense that any single artistic enterprise was going to define all others created an effort by everyone involved to produce a cultural tapestry that served not just other artists, but audiences as well. In fact, the movement essentially created the idea of the black intellectual for both Americans and Europeans. The creation of the “New Negro” in Harlem represented the emancipation from the last vestiges of slavery; those of low esteem and even self-doubt and self-revulsion.

Critics, however, question whether the Harlem Renaissance really achieved its aims of forging a new identity for blacks separated from the history of slavery. One of the criticisms is that by trying to create a distinct culture separated from the past abuses and even the contribution of Anglo-European traditions it succeeded only in alienation. A more potent criticism is that the Harlem Renaissance reproduced only the specific identity of the middle class, intellectual elite of an ethnic group trying to impress its background and views on a population still dominated by lower-class and uneducated people. Still another criticism is that the very goal of forging an identity for an entire ethnic group and socially edifying them was grossly ill-conceived because the overwhelming number of blacks are mostly unaware of it or know it only as history at best. The foundation of all criticism of the Harlem Renaissance is that it contains an inescapable element of hypocrisy in that it attempted to create a separate identity that was based mostly on the bourgeois ideology inculcated by its intellectual and artistic leaders from a white society and educational system. What can be extrapolated from the criticism is that it sought to achieve little more than a black representation of the white middle class establishment.

But in the end, the criticism that the Harlem Renaissance received meant nothing to the empowerment that those living during that time period showed in their many artistic endeavors. The legacy that the Renaissance left for blacks can be seen in all walks of life today. Even though, people do not give the Harlem Renaissance its true credit or impact on how it shaped our world, we should all be grateful that the Harlem Renaissance existed. If it had never existed and the voices of black people suffering never heard, then one can only imagine what real change our country would have seen. Who knows but one can always speculate that maybe our world would still look at blacks as being less than human if the world didn’t hear their cries for equality.

Racism vs. African-Americans in America Today: AT-A-GLANCE

In Articles by d. E. Rogers on June 30, 2010 at 4:01 am

There is no question that America’s history has been plagued by racism. Slavery remains a dark stain on America’s history which many would rather forget. In fact, there are some who believe it is forgotten, and that racism is no longer a serious issue in today’s American culture.

It is certainly true that racism is not as serious a problem now as in the past. Up until the civil rights era there were many parts of the country in which the government openly supported racist laws. While government support of racist policy is (mostly) a thing of the past, there is still an undercurrent of racism in the culture of America today.

Racist Stereotypes Remain

Today there are few people in America who will openly confess to being racist, and those people and organizations which do, such as the remaining Ku Klux Klan, are usually viewed as social outcasts. However, there are still many stereotypes against African-Americans which influence American culture. Most of these stereotypes are about violence and sex. A study in Philadelphia, for example, found that African-Americans were overly represented as perpetrators of crimes in local news outlets when compared to the actual rates of crime in the city.

Sexual stereotypes are also common, and African-American men and women are often depicted as aggressively sexual. While this stereotype is sometimes twisted into a compliment, it results in severe consequences. African-American men are more likely to be assumed guilty of a sexual crime than men of any other race in America. African-American women are more likely to be involved in the sex industry, but are often paid far less than white women.

Racism in the Media

The study in Philadelphia isn’t the only example of racism in the media far from it, in fact. The Entman-Rojecki Index of Race in Media, one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject, has found significant differences between how African-American and white characters are portrayed in movies. Black women are around five times more likely to be depicted as violent in movies, for example.

Racism in news programs is even worse. The Entman-Rojecki Index has found that it is four times more likely that an African-American’s mug shot will be featured in a crime story than a white person’s mug shot. Stories about African-American suspects are also twice as likely to show the suspect restrained than stories about white suspects.

The Katrina disaster was one of the most obvious examples of this bias in the last decade. The majority of the negative press coverage concerning looting and criminal behavior in post-Katrina New Orleans was focused on African-Americans. Some sarcastic commentators parodied the media coverage by observing that “Black people ‘loot’ food, but white people ‘find’ food.”

Economic and Social Differences

One of the most blatant examples of how racism remains in America today is the prison system. Approximately 10% of the male population of African-Americans between 25-29 are incarcerated at any one time, five times the rate of the next highest group. Racism also faces African-Americans who are looking for a job. While the national unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is over 17 percent.

This isn’t merely a problem which is hurting urban or poor African-Americans, either. Middle-class African-Americans in cities across the country also find themselves suffering the same plight. Columnist Bob Herbert recently wrote about the problems facing African-Americans in Memphis, where he found that the “median income of black homeowners in Memphis has dropped to a level below that of 1990.” African-American families across the nation are more likely to be left unemployed no matter their income. The only thing more shocking than this is the relative lack of coverage in the press – while papers will happily report the statistics, few media outlets are willing to investigate the possibility that this difference is caused by racism.

Police Treatment and Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is one of the remaining examples of how racism still exists in the government. Simply being an African-American greatly increases your chances of being pulled over by police. One study in Maryland found that 76 percent of motorists stopped on a stretch of highway were African-Americans, while African-Americans only held 20 percent of all drivers licenses in the state.

Of all the topics surrounding racism in America today, racial profiling is by far the most hotly debated. The racial profiling debate moves forward on a daily basis, and while the debate mostly focuses on law enforcement, racial profiling is also a problem among the general public. No recent case illustrates this better than the arrest of Neli, an African-American teenager with Asperger’s. Neli was sitting outside of a school library when someone called the police stating that there was a black male with a gun. As it turned out, there was no gun, or any object like a gun – but by then Neli had been confronted by police.  Many journalists and civil rights activists have rightly pounced on this case as an example of racial profiling, arguing that there was nothing different about Neli that would have made him stand out from anyone else in the area that morning – except for the fact that he is an African-American male.

Light Skin and Dark Skin Racism

One of the more subtle issues surrounding racism in America is the difference in racism against African-Americans based on the shade of their skin.

Multiple studies have found that racism against African-Americans is more severe for those who have darker shades of skin than those who have lighter shades of skin. One grim Stanford University study found that in death row cases an African-American defendant was twice as likely to receive the death penalty if he had very dark skin and traditionally African features when compared with African-Americans with lighter skin and more European features.

Similar findings have been discovered in regards to employment. A Bucknell University study found that African-Americans with light skin were more likely to obtain a job than African-Americans of dark skin, although both were less likely to receive a job than a white candidate.

In Conclusion

The unfortunate truth is that racism still exists in American culture.  Many Americans of all races would rather not admit that this is the case. As a country we like to believe that we are civilized, and that we no longer let petty concerns such as race influence our views.

The evidence, however, is irrefutable. African-Americans are more likely to be depicted as violent in the media, are more likely to be sent to prison, are more likely to be pulled over or investigated by police and more likely to be unemployed. While America has made progress from the days when African-Americans were enslaved or blatantly persecuted by the government, our country still has a long ways to go.

By

d. E. Rogers, author of Crossing Color Lines

Sources:
Entman-Rojecki Index of Race in Media – press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/210758.html
NPR: Sex Stereotypes of African-Americans – npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10057104
Infoplease: Prison Population Exceeds Two Million – infoplease.com/ipa/A0881455.html
Washington Post: Unemployment for Blacks to Reach 25-Year High – washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/14/AR2010011404085.html
The New York Times: As Racism Wanes, Colorism Persists – theboard.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/as-racism-wanes-colorism-persists/