ethel's words

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[and invites the epithet “Uncle Tom”]

Response to: “Blacks trapped in poverty because of bad choices”

(Reprinted in the Salt Lake City Deseret Morning News, Oct. 14, ’06, p. A-11; from Los Angeles Times.)

It would be unseemly for an old white woman to call a young Black man an “Uncle”. That wouldn’t be accurate, anyway. This is 2006.

But I am not dropping history; history is the substance of the present. And it is history education that you seem to lack, Juan Williams, self-described Black man. You sound awfully white to me and I can’t apologize for my eyes and my cerebral activity.

I spent a lot of my younger protest years in touch with the Black (then Negro) community of Salt Lake City, Utah. There has never been, in this City, any square block, or half-block, with entirely Black or mixed minority residents, but most of the City was lily-white. (Today we have nascent, or maybe fully developed, barrios that seem to be entirely Latino.) Still, racism has always been well-defined here.

But I think that I could not have understood the challenges without the books. (I have donated my Black collection, so I guess I must depend on my 84-year-old memory to mention titles.)

Babies are born to single mothers, you declare, Juan Williams. Probably the fathers are single, too. Can we say mother-right should receive some respect? Can we suggest that some of the oppressiveness of marriage diminishes its popularity?

You say that “the black family [has been] the cornerstone of black life for generations.” Hey, guy, how many generations since slavery? I have been acquainted with women whose mothers were born into slavery. Family? Slaves were denied any semblance of family, even the right to have a surname. The right to marry one’s choice, after nearly every state in this nation had anti-miscegenation laws, was a privilege granted in my lifetime.

I learned so much reading E. Franklin Frazier, “The Negro Family...”. (I have forgotten the rest.) And Dr. DuBois! William Edward Burghardt DuBois--praise his name. He taught me the poetry of the Earth, the beauty of Black women, and among my treasured books is “The World and Africa”. (No, I did not withhold this venerated volume when I proffered my collection.)

While on books, of course Langston Hughes has a place in my heart, and so many others, too numerous to mention.

I surely do not presume to think you, Juan Williams, have not read all that I have read. But maybe the difference could be that I was poor and you were at least somewhat affluent. Many of my Black friends were better off than I.

I observe there is little or no appreciation in the upper echelons for the source of all their comforts. Poverty is a stratum, peopled with laborers who keep your shirts sparkling, your markets stocked with gorgeous fruits and veggies, your vehicle maintained, your linens fresh, your restaurants and public buildings clean, your toilet aseptic, and your landscape beautiful.

Power teaches that providing food for a society or a family is not a worthy occupation and deserves only the barest sustenance. (How did a chef pull that off?)

Don’t talk to me about “drop-outs” unless you are sure you can tell the difference between “drop-outs” and “push-outs”. One plaint that discomforts me is this oft-repeated “Oh, my gran’pa from Denmark made it without help” and, “Well, the Asians succeed”. Let me try to disabuse you, Juan Williams, and everybody, of that supercilious insult, as I feel rage (I’m a Left Radical, not a Liberal) rising to my ailing heart:

Where to begin? Even today, I see young Black mothers being too strict with their kids--a tradition--they want to do all they can do to prevent a mis-behavior, no matter how tiny, that might send their child to the principal’s office or worse. (In my school days, the principal had a razor strap, and no hearing, no trial, no appeal; there were mistakes that I knew and failed to protest at age eleven but never forgot.) When a child is afraid--even of ridicule--they cannot learn, cannot develop their best talents.

So the Jim Crow laws and the Posse Comitatus leave a residue, and those immigrants from today’s Africa whom you mention have not been taught “American fear”. They believe the myths of freedom and justice they come to. And the Asians! I have special admiration for most Asians, but I am not blind to the fact that in the recent years, many Asians come here loaded with Yankee dollars. Less political ones (poor ones) were often greeted by “refugee committees” that helped them find housing and employment. (I am not forgetting, with profound sorrow, the horrors endured by the Asians who came or were brought here in earlier times.)

And please, Juan Williams, look at the plight of the most mistreated of all--the Native Americans. Cheated by the oil companies and the several governments, robbed with impunity by street opportunists, harassed by police--what choice did they miss? They did not even choose to come here (to their sacred lands) and were driven by The Gun to strange places.

And the dark hues of human skin in our concentration camps--our “prisons”--: Are you too rich, too removed from injustice and oppression to see that our prisons are concentration camps for young men of color? How hoity-toity can a Black man get? Well, about the same as any status-defined white man. And that’s the whole point: It’s discouraging, but we’re all alike.

Ethel C. Hale

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