Merion West

Black America Won’t Be Saved at the Ballot Box

“As a young black man from Southern California watching the systemic problems ailing my community, I believe that repairing our community must come from within, and the impetus is upon us to repair our culture before it’s too late.”

From Senator Kamala Harris to Mayor Pete Buttegieg to President Donald Trump, 2020 candidates are scrambling to make their pitch to Black America. President Trump, for example, frequently mentions the record levels of black employment that have been achieved since he took office. In April, Mayor Pete Buttegieg plastered his meeting with Civil Rights leader Al Sharpton all over social media. And just this past week, Buttegieg held a town hall meeting in the South of Chicago to discuss race in the United States. (Interestingly, enough, the audience attending the event, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, was “overwhelmingly white”). Meanwhile, other 2020 Democrats from Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren have made a stop on The Breakfast Club a must-do on the campaign trail. 

But the root of the problem ailing Black America isn’t going to be solved at the ballot box in this election—or in the elections to come. As a young black man from Southern California watching the systemic problems ailing my community, I believe that repairing our community must come from within, and the impetus is upon us to repair our culture before it’s too late.

Let’s start with some statistics. Compared to white and Hispanic women, black women are more likely to marry later in life, avoid marriage altogether, and get divorced. Almost 70% of black children are now born to unwed mothers. Wedlock, after all, is the superglue of the family, and children in single-parent homes experience increased rates of teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and getting divorced when they grow up and themselves marry. 

For 52 straight years, black households have ranked dead last in median household income as compared to other ethnic groups in the United States. On top of that issue, 22% of black Americans were living below the poverty line in 2016. This is not to mention the higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse as well poor performance academically that tends to accompany poverty and financial hardship. This is something I see all too often in my own community, even among those I know through the black church I’ve attended my entire life. One single parent family is struggling with a daughter who is failing all of her high school classes with no hopes of graduating. Another child I know, who doesn’t know his father, has been kicked out of three schools, and he’s only seven years old. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see kids struggle like this all around me. 

Black America has been experiencing a self-inflicted epidemic for over half a century. Unlike those who lay the blame on white Americans or systematic racism, our best hope is to change our emphasis on marriage and—in the process—foster a healthier family dynamic. That is how we end the stereotype of the black child who doesn’t know his father.Before his well-deserved fall from grace, Bill Cosby gave his “Pound Cake Speech” at the NAACP Awards in 2004; in it, he criticized the prevalence of single-parent households and argued that it so negatively affects Black America. 

Although Cosby is not the right messenger, the point remains; we must consistently raise our children with both parents in the home. My siblings and I were blessed enough to be raised this way. My father was raised by both parents, attended church when he was younger, and is now both a systems specialist in the aerospace industry and a lay pastor in our church. My mother is a preschool teacher and church minister. Her parents have now been married for more than fifty years. I’m in that fortunate minority of young black people who had a stable, two-parent upbringing. This, more than anything else, is the most important variable in improving the lot of black Americans.  

It’s the job of parents to show children that marriage is not about changing feelings or convenience—but about the vows that were made in front of God and each other. In the era of social media and two-day shipping, people have become more narcissistic, impatient, and worse at delaying gratification; these qualities spread into other parts of life, like marriage. When marriage feels difficult, one or both quit. We need to remember the letter and spirit of our marriage vows: “For Better or For Worse. For Richer or For Poorer. In Sickness and In Health. Till Death Do You Part.” That is what marriage is, and re-committing black America to recognizing the importance of marriage and two-parent households is step one  

When families break down, all members of the family—but particularly children— try to find love, validation, and acceptance from other places to replace what is lost. Gangs, drugs, premarital sex, and teen pregnancy are just a few of the places where young people look to find acceptance and structure. It was very common before and during the Civil Rights Era for black families to put on their Sunday best and go to church together. It fostered a sense of unity within the families that attended and for the congregation at-large. Churches have historically served as a bedrock of the black community. And back to marriage, social scientists have found that frequently attending religious services is correlated with more satisfying romantic relationships in urban communities. 

Rediscovering our long-standing values, from strong families to religion, will—in parallel—help to improve our popular culture. Take music for example. Black Americans used to enjoy hits such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye. Now, music along these lines—as well as jazz— has been replaced by rap music that far too often revolves around sex and drugs, while also peppering in profanity. Also, in terms of popular culture today, it is very common to see boys and young men wear their pants exposing their undergarments to the world, as well as girls and young women wearing wearing low cut tops and booty shorts that leave little if nothing to the imagination. That’s not how we should be dressing. Therefore, it’s little surprise that the school uniform movement has been gaining the traction that is has in urban areas..

So why shouldn’t we leave it up to lawmakers and legislation to fix our issues? Politicians have been feeding us lip-service for decades, while our communities are still struggling. These elected officials prefer not to talk about these hard-to-swallow statistics and issues within the black community because they fear being labeled “racist” or “anti-black” and losing votes. We know now that politicians and policy experts aren’t going to solve our problems; loving parents and praying families will. My mother likes say to say to me, “The ball is in your court. What are you going to do?” I think it’s time to ask the same for my entire community.

Solomon Green is a student at California State University, Sacramento. He hosts a podcast called “One More Thing with Solo Green.”

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