According to the latest census data, until the mid-1990s, over 30% of all African Americans lived in poverty. Since then, the percentage has dropped into the 20s and, since 2000, it has never exceeded 25%. Clearly, there’s an accelerating upward economic trend among African Americans.
According to other census data, in the 1980s, only 51.2% of African Americans had a high school education, and only 8.4% had a college education. By 2006, 80.7% had a high school education and 18.5% were college graduates. That’s pretty impressive. African Americans are not only better educated and better off economically now than at any point in history, but the rate of progress has increased dramatically over the last 20 years.
The current generation of African Americans have much greater opportunities than their parents’ generation had. And their parents’ generation had vastly greater opportunities than their parents’ generation had. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that, among both blacks and whites, there’s a widespread and destructive stereotype of African American culture, based on what is actually a minority of African Americans, — the ghetto culture. The ghetto culture, even though a minority, gets all the media attention. TV, movies, music, hip hop chic, etc. all glorify this violent, crime-ridden, drug-fueled, defiantly anti-white subculture, and foster the impression that this is the “real” black culture. And the worse news is, blacks who have no part in this subculture are made to feel somehow guilty, or “less black,” for the very reason that they have nothing to do with it.
Those who are immersed in the ghetto subculture, either because they’re not motivated to work their way out of it, or because they’ve found ways to profit from it, have discovered the power of guilt they hold over many blacks who have assimilated into the mainstream of American culture. Those in the ghetto subculture minority jump on every opportunity to prey on that guilt, either to drag down those who have soared above them, or to manipulate and take advantage of them in any way they can. Many successful professional black Americans find themselves susceptible to these racial guilt trips. Aware of being a minority in the milieu in which they live and work, they feel an artificial connection to a subculture in which blacks appear to be the majority, thinking that, on some level, that’s where they “belong.” Nothing could be more false or insidious.
Every ethnic group that has come to this country started out clustering together in ghettos for support, and had to fight against ignorance and stereotypes until they gradually assimilated into the mainstream culture. That’s how the melting pot that is America works. It may be wrong to stereotype and automatically distrust those who are different, but it’s part of human nature. It goes back to pre-civilization, where survival depended on banding together with others who shared certain commonalities, and fighting off marauding intruders seeking to usurp their territory. Fear of “otherness” is genetically encoded in our species. As civilized humans, we’ve learned to overcome that atavistic instinct, but its vestiges are still there, lurking beneath the surface in all of us.
From an anthropological perspective, the fear of “otherness” is resolved by assimilation. An “other” becomes part of a society by adapting to the culture, adopting the social mores, and becoming a contributing member of the community. There’s nothing wrong with assimilation. It’s part of the natural evolution of societies. This country has become the great country it is today through the assimilation of all kinds of people from all over the world, benefiting both the country and the people who choose to share in its culture and leverage the myriad opportunities it offers.
The path to assimilation for African Americans has been longer than for other cultures in this country. There are many reasons for that, most of which are beyond the scope of this post. But, certainly, the burden of false guilt that successful black people are made to feel for not being “black enough” can only be counterproductive. It’s the successful African Americans, who are following the natural course of social adaptation, progress, and upward mobility, who are promoting the best interests of their race. There is no shame in that. The shame is on those who would hold them back.