Acid gets thrown in their faces, yet they still come. The teacher doesn’t show up, again, but the kids do, every day, even when they have no books. The very poor somehow come up with the money for tuition and uniform, and the kids come every day. Scenes like these occur all over the world.
But not in certain parts of the US. Not in the places where homies ridicule them for “acting white” if they so much as open a book. Or accuse them of being “fake” if they study rather than hang out.
The young know the value of learning,
but not where their buds ridicule them
for “acting white”.
In the first of these cases, they are African-American teens and young adults, and in the second they are First Nations youth. In both cases, following this pseudo-ethic dooms every one of them to a lifetime of poverty and failure that will probably include long stretches in prison.
I have been hesitant to write about this for two reasons. The first is contained in this article’s title: it’s a lifesaving message that will never be read by those young people who need it most. The second is that I’m an old white guy, and any suggestion from a white guy that some element of black culture is a social disaster is met with cries of racism, because it sounds like the Republicans who blame black poverty on the supposed natural inferiority and laziness of African-Americans.
But several recent articles about virtually identical problems among First Nation peoples removes the taint of racism (see this article about Priestess Bearstops, for example). It happens with First Nations people, it happens with African-Americans, and I have no doubt it happens with Latino, Asian-American, and other cultural groups. Ever see pictures of Afghan teens who are utterly stoned on the readily available heroin, their lives already ruined forever?
This message stands zero chance of being read
by young people about to throw their lives away.
The tragic thing is that my message stands zero chance of being read by any of these young people about to throw their lives away, because they never read anything at all. Nothing. And that is because to read is to “act white”, or “fake”, not to mention that many of them can’t read because they have studiously—so to speak—avoided learning how to during twelve years of free education so hard won by our ancestors.
You and I readily see the tragedy in this social suicide. Students in, say, South Korea don’t think studying is “acting white”. They wouldn’t have a clue what you were talking about. They go to school during the regular school day, then they go to more school, and go to school on weekends and during vacation time, because they (and their demanding parents) want them to come out on top. This kind of excessive enthusiasm is characteristic of several Asian cultures. These students are the job competition for our students.
These attitudes are an artifact of poverty
and the hopelessness it engenders.
These bizarre American anti-education attitudes are an artifact of poverty and the hopelessness it engenders. We know this because these attitudes do not exist among affluent adults of any social group.
The thing they absolutely are not is racial weakness, although that is exactly the claim made by Republicans.
Ah, but what can we do about it? Here it becomes more difficult. There are a few obvious things, such as supporting scholarship funds and campaigns to encourage education that you and I can do. But such things don’t reach down and grab a kid who is so very close to the point of no return. I can’t do that.
What these young people need
is a mean-ass person to grab them
against their will and not let go.
It takes an unusually wise and strong kid to recognize the trap, and swear to avoid it. Someone like Priestess Bearstops. Most require a powerful grab from within the culture, a take-no-nonsense mean-ass person to grab them against their will and not let go.
The best those of us from outside the culture can do is to make sure a rescued kid is given the financial resources, resources that by definition are absent from cultures of poverty, that will allow her to make the most of life. That’s the easy part. All power to those who do the grabbing and holding on.