Letters for the week of June 11-17, 2003 

A wave of letters responding to "Rich, Black, Flunking," seeking causes, explanations, and ways to get past the problem.

"Rich, Black, Flunking." Feature, 5/21

Breaking the code of black parental responsibility

The critical response of many black leaders and some of the Shaker Heights parents confirms John Ogbu's findings. Many blacks are prone to believe that racism alone is to blame for black kids' failures. Who among us thinks this prejudice is not communicated in the home, in casual but meaningful remarks disparaging teachers, administrators, and the school district as a whole? As a former teacher and counselor, I know these comments are often made by black parents, because the black students repeat them in class.

These must be seen as more than just criticisms, often well-deserved, of a white institution or white faculty. They indicate a broad range of actions and inactions by these black parents. I have seen disputes between teachers and students, and the black parents Ogbu speaks of are the ones who use these disputes to question the qualification of teachers and schools to educate. A persistent message that questions the legitimacy of public schools is bound to have an effect on any child. Again, listen to what the kids say in class.

Black leaders would argue that Ogbu is blaming black children and excusing the "white" institution. This is code, designed for those same parents, who will repeat the argument in the home and make the child blame poor grades on racist teachers and a racist school.
Lowell Denny, Oakland

Who let the Toms in?

We seem to have seven blind men and an elephant. The elephant: academic failure of black students of high socioeconomic status. The blind men:

Blind man 1: The cause of academic failure is low teacher expectations and/or an indifferent educational establishment.

Blind man 2: The cause of academic failure is the black culture of victimhood.

Blind man 3: The cause of academic failure is educational abandonment of black children by their parents.

Blind man 4: The cause of academic failure is societal racism and discrimination.

Blind man 5: The cause of academic failure is low school funding.

Blind man 6: The cause of academic failure is unqualified teachers.

Blind man 7: The cause of academic failure is peer pressure.

Blind man number 8, poverty, does not have a place around this elephant. Nor should Blind man number 5, but one of the persons quoted put him there. Is it possible that the cause of academic failure is all of the above, in varying degree with each student? Yet each person in this story had his/her pet theory of what the elephant looks like, and none is willing to consider anyone else's.

As a descendant of the "involuntary immigrants" called slaves, let me inform Mr. Ogbu of this fact. Every black child who is such a descendant is informed from the moment of his/her birth that he and his people have no culture; that the language of their ancestors was ooga-booga gibberish; that their religion was superstition and voodoo; that they never invented anything or accomplished anything; that the best thing that ever happened to us was to be dragged kicking and screaming into slavery; and that the most we could hope for is to become the best imitation white man we could be.

Some blacks, such as McWhorter, Steele, the Powells, and Condoleezza Rice, have internalized this view. But for most of us, we realized that when the standard of black success is how white we are in language, deportment, values, and beliefs, then there is something wrong -- and yes, racist -- in that view. Name one black American descendant of "involuntary migrants" (as opposed to an African who immigrated to a country that would not have permitted him to immigrate in the year he was born) who is a success in the white world, or a success by white standards, who is firmly rooted in black culture, outside of sports, entertainment, or the arts. Between dreams deferred and caged birds singing, we can't hear any freedom bells ringing.

By the way, what are McWhorter's and Steele's claims to fame other than being racial and racist attack dogs for right-wingers? Why did you seek these two Toms out for commentary?
Victor C. Anderson, Oakland

Beware the knee-jerk backlash

I can't compliment you enough on your Ogbu article on his study of black students in Shaker Heights. It's not only a great, in-depth feature; it's a great service to the black community and to our country. Unfortunately, I suspect that you too will get hit with the "racist" label in the knee-jerk reactions by many who can't escape the politically correct dogmas that they have been brainwashed with. But the truth has to be put out there before any real healing and corrective action can take place. You have my admiration for having the courage to print this.
George Tamas, Santa Barbara

Responsibility is shared

I think there's something missing in the entire debate you describe. Just for full disclosure, I'm not an academic, not an educator, not black, and have never been in Shaker Heights. That should disqualify me from participating in this discourse except, perhaps, for the fact that I was an "involuntary immigrant."

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