Giving Up On Black America

See also: The Glories of Teaching Classics in the Inner-City

To get to any bus that will take me to Manhattan or other parts of the city, I have to keep my eyes on the ground to avoid stepping on three things: dog crap, hacked up phlegm, and spoiled fast food. This is too bad because except for the people who mostly create this problem, the neighborhood, referred to by locals as the poor man’s Riviera, is actually quite wonderful. One reason that I’m not liked on my block is that I rarely make eye contact with people. Unfortunately, I’ve become more occupied with where my feet will land than with acknowledging and greeting my neighbors.

Low-income and under-achieving blacks (and to a certain extent, Caribbean Hispanics) are a problem in the neighborhood. Although they are not the majority, it is their presence that is most obvious. It’s because of them that I have to keep my eyes fixed on the ground. They are the ones who play obscene music, who can’t speak without cursing, and who have no respect whatsoever for a passerby’s personal space. Their teenage kids are the ones that I see pulling the heads off the flowers in someone else’s front yard, or “keying” someone’s car parked on the street. They are the ones whose soon-to-be-pregnant-and-on-welfare young girls unabashedly describe the penis sizes of their numerous baby-daddies-in-waiting, the girls talking at high volume on the public buses for everyone to hear. They are the ones who make and post videos that give girls a crash-course on how to use their bodies to get on the government payrolls and stay there. Most painful and infuriating for me, however, is that they are the ones that make it almost impossible for me to obey my Lord’s second greatest commandment as stated in Matthew 22:39.

When my good friend Rebecca Jessup came to stay with me this past summer to teach Latin and Greek mythology at my summer classical academy, we had our first really good laugh on our way back to my apartment after what would be one of many eventful days at the six-week program. On our way down into the subway, I could see that she was struggling to understand what a dollar van driver was saying to people as they passed by him on the chaotic and heavily littered street. She heard what sounded like, “Q-raddy, Q-raddy, Q-raddy”, shouted over and over. I had already started laughing before she finally asked me what on earth the man was saying. I gave her a rough translation of his West-Indian patois that passed for English in that part of town. He was looking for a few last customers for his van by declaring that his bus was ready to leave right now. Anyone boarding his van would not have to wait for the bus to be filled. I laughed even more when she looked at me in disbelief. Then she started laughing too. Once we got onto the subway, I teased her by saying that this was what it felt like to live in the type of multicultural paradise that white liberals extolled from the safety of their orderly and culturally homogenous environments.

Our love of Latin and the richness of ancient Rome is one thing that binds us. Rebecca is a dyed-in-the-wool white New England progressive, so in terms of race, politics and culture, we couldn’t be more different. But, like me, she is a risk taker. From my point of view, although she lives the life of a cloistered white liberal, she knows how to step out of her comfort zone when she really believes in something. She also loves teaching. So when I asked her to come and help me make the case for Western Civilization in the black community, she did not need much persuading. Within days of arriving back from an overseas trip where she was helping her daughter who had been recently diagnosed with lymphoma, Rebecca was in front of the school, having driven from Belfast, Maine in a decades-old green Subaru. 

From the perspective of most of the parents, the kids, and Rebecca, the six-week program was a great success. It introduced black elementary and middle school students to the joys of a rigorous, integrated and knowledge-centered classical Christian curriculum. Rebecca’s Latin classes were a huge hit and her lower school students could not get enough of the children’s version of Homer’s Odyssey that was used to teach them mythology, grammar and sentence structure. The students were also offered classes in Old Testament history, informal logic, botany, arithmetic, and maps and timelines of the ancient world. They also had swimming and archery lessons. On the last day of the program, there were few dry eyes. Nevertheless, I was not as happy. I knew that the gains were short-term because in a few short weeks, these kids would be going back to terrible Department of Education schools.

Just as the Chinese have flooded our markets with cheap, flimsy products, progressive education has flooded our nation with cheap, uninformed minds. I believe that leftist black Americans are an embodiment of the worst outcomes of this type of education. Intellectually crippled by progressive education’s inferior pedagogy, most of the black Americans that I know have learned to use anti-white multiculturalism as the de facto replacement for the cultural self-respect that they feel continues to be denied them on account of slavery and Jim Crow. They have learned to “level the playing field” by denigrating and rejecting European history and culture, attitudes which are tolerated and even reinforced in both public and private K-12 schools. Since they reject the cultural roots and heritage of Western Civilization, they never actually learn that rich history. This is what puts them at a disadvantage in society -- not the color of their skin.

For years, I have been trying to lay the groundwork for what I hoped would become a movement that would simultaneously expose and help to remedy this tragedy. When I found the answer, classical Christian education, I became hooked. I believed that this was one of many important things that the black community desperately needed: salvation through education that embraced a method of teaching firmly established within a familiar Christian tradition. Rebecca and I had many conversations about classical Christian pedagogy, and she would often ask me why I was so focused on the black community when it came to this type of education. After all, she would say, most of the rest of the country probably suffered from a lot of what I said plagued black America. But I would always disagree because as shocked and depressed as I was over his election in 2008, it was Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 that helped to confirm my worst suspicions about black America.

In spite of lingering double-digit black unemployment, increasing black homelessness, food pantries with block long lines, inner-city schools that were still failing to meet even nominal standards of proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and headline news levels of racial strife, blacks still gave Barack Obama 93% of their vote. 

This non sequitur helped me to face some important facts. First, I began to understand and accept that blacks, for the most part, were not interested in making the case for a traditional, more conservative America. Most blacks, because of an intellectually debilitating education, would continue to equate the conservation of America’s traditional past with a “western civilization” that engineered and condoned many atrocities throughout human history.  Second, it wasn’t so much that blacks had fully bought into the secular progressivism of the silver pony-tailed white far left, but they had unequivocally bought into Barack Obama’s dreams to “fundamentally change” the country.  Barack Obama’s “Change!” was implicitly anti Western Civilization. Third, America could continue to elect black presidents from now until Kingdom come. This will never change black people’s enmity towards whites and their culture. For many blacks, Barack Obama’s elections were a symbolic middle finger to Western Civilization and all of the progress that has come from it -- progress, which of course they have benefited from.

Every black community in America has its own story. But the fundamental dynamic that makes each one of them tick, I would imagine, is probably the same. At best, these communities are desperately confused and inconsistent when it comes to understanding or expressing a commitment to Western Civilization as a cultural ideal or as a shared history that all Americans, regardless of race, can say that they have contributed to and therefore have a stake in. At worst, these communities are just too ignorant or angry to care. The angry ones will never be able to see themselves as anything other than casualties of the white man’s greed and his various never-ending wars. The ignorant ones, like those in my neighborhood, are just ignorant. And although, I know that a classical Christian education is a big part of the answer to all of this, I’m no longer sure that the black community, at large, is even worth it.