Great Society Begets Bad Society

John McWhorter, New York Sun, April 26, 2007

On “60 Minutes” last Sunday, rapper Cam’ron told Anderson Cooper that he would not inform the police if a serial killer were living next door to him, as it would alienate his fan base.

The “stop snitching” Zeitgeist has become a shibboleth of being “down with” your people in poor black neighborhoods and refusing to give the police information about a black-on-black homicide, even if you witnessed it. This version of black identity has become so entrenched over the past few years that it is making it ever harder for investigators to crack murder cases.

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I got an earful of this generation’s sense of self not long ago from an overheard conversation between three teens, a boy and two girls, on a subway. Our aggrieved musings over black people’s use of the N-word had no application: all three were using it twice a minute. The exchange kept wending back to the leitmotif of joys of breaking rules: one girl exclaimed how good it felt to jaywalk, the other celebrated the police’s inability to curb open drinking in Harlem.

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The boy recounted a flirtation with being a gangbanger only to be turned off by how the members did not look out for one another. I will never forget how he ended this narration: “Guess I’ll just be black by myself.” Notice that assumption that there is something “black” about being a gangbanger.

Needless to say, all of this was delivered with a smile. These kids were, actually, rather thoughtful. In its way, the conversation was about ideastrends, explanations, opinions. But this is a new kind of thoughtfulness, trumping logic and compassion. It is a religion, beyond the reach of reason.

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One reason black America has reached this point is, ironically, the eclipse of open racism and segregation.

When all black people had to huddle together and make the best of the worst, there was no room for calisthenic acting up. When the community had to generate its self-respect from within, black boys looking black girls in the eye and calling them bitches for fun was unthinkable. A black teen jaywalking for the fun of showing that he could, might have been beaten by the police.

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But the reason these youngsters have elevated this attitude into an identity is because the civil rights movement freed blacks into an America that had just made the upturned middle finger into an icon of higher awareness.

The Great Society sowed the seeds for a black identity based on being bad, and treating it as enlightened to pull poor black women out of the job market and pay them to have children instead. Generations of young people grew up in fatherless communities in which full-time employmenti.e., conformity to a long-established American normwas rare.

Meanwhile, America continues enshrining acrid derision of “the suits” as wisdom. It increasingly gets its news from the likes of the Daily Show. T-shirts read “Fk MilkGot Pot?” Plus, whites constitute most of the buyers of the nastiest brands of rap music, undergirding the genre’s very existence.

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