Letters for the week of June 18-24, 2003 

Next time you fret over your latest $64 street-sweeping fine, consider how much you'd pay if you actually owned a garage instead.

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"Car Loans as Pricey as the Car," Cityside, 5/21

The subterranean world of shadowy car loans
Excellent article. However, you are missing a little-known but important piece of the story. Many people like Michelle Thompson get approved for loans for which they don't really qualify, with payments they can't afford from the start.

On top of all the abuses you have chronicled, dealers frequently put false information on credit applications. They show inflated income. They invent additional sources of income. They understate rent. They show phony down payments. All this without the car buyer's knowledge. Lenders don't check -- they approve based on the false information. The car buyer is guaranteed to fail, ending up with a repossession and a huge deficiency balance still owing. These are a dealer's most profitable deals. The buyer has no bargaining power whatsoever -- the price, even the choice of vehicle, is dictated by the dealer. And lenders almost never hold the dealer accountable, even in those cases where the lender learns what really happened; lenders don't want to make volume dealers unhappy, and they simply accept the losses. This form of predatory lending is a big part of the automobile industry, and it is virtually unknown and unwritten about.
Will Slote, Binghamton, NY

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

It's about responsibility
Susan Goldsmith's article made some very interesting points about the state of race relations in this country today. I think, however, that the attitudes of academia and the public alike, regardless of race, are typical of those of Mr. Ogbu's detractors. It seems to be quickly becoming a norm in our culture and our academic institutions to blame someone else for the problems or perceived inequities we experience in our day-to-day lives. Very few take the time to look in the mirror and ask themselves what they could have done differently or, more importantly, what they will do differently the next time such a crisis confronts them. While it can be said that it is human nature to blame the other guy, it seems as if we are doing more of it lately.

To make matters worse, our society and the social programs we've created tend to foster an idea that victimhood pays. While not denying that victims do exist, it certainly seems that there are a lot more victims now than there ever have been. We read it in our papers and hear it from our professors and politicians every day. The idea of victimhood, however, allows individuals to shirk all responsibility for their actions. As well, it's a powerful political tool to get votes at a ballot box or to secure funding for social programs. It is being propagated by those who benefit the most and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to those who are being manipulated into it.

Until our society is able to support a culture that focuses on accountability and personal responsibility, we will continue to have racial discord as well as a huge host of other social problems. That includes our academia and our politicians. I concur with Mr. Ogbu's research and believe that he's uncovered an issue that NONE of us is comfortable hearing about, but one which we must all carefully weigh, consider, and ultimately act upon in the near future.
Sean A. Smith, Puyallup, WA

It's about mindset
I taught high school in South Georgia for one year. The school was 95 percent black and poor. Everyday I had to deal with hearing students say doing well in school was "acting white." They were brutal to the few who actually tried to learn. Until black America changes this mindset itself, nothing can be done. I entered education full of high ideals and realizing I would make no money. Daily emotional pain from watching bright young people throw their lives away by simply not trying was more than I could take.
Dale Walsh, Doraville, GA

It's about values
I am an African American who has taught for both Oakland and San Francisco Unified School Districts, and over the years I observed how students (Africans included) have come from other countries and surpassed African Americans whose first language is English in all subjects in just a few months of arrival.

I place part of the blame on the hip-hop culture, which romances the gangster life, and the other on not valuing education.

While the African Americans I grew up with considered bookish people as snobs, however, they did not tolerate aberrant behavior that they would consider would bring down the "race" and that our society in general allows today, such as teen pregnancy, family members in jail, and referring to women as "bitches." Today's African Americans forgot to pass on any sense of values to the next generation.
Gwendolyn Carmen, San Francisco

It's about environment
Both my black and Jewish children could be classified as "Rich." Their mother holds over 130 graduate units on top of a master's degree and has taught K-university their whole lives. It has been a nightmare trying to get these kids through school. Yes, they bought into the bullshit rap culture that is dragging down not only every black child in this country but the Latinos, whites, Filipinos, and everyone else is falling in the abyss right along with them ... baggy jeans, boxer shorts, tattoos, drugs, alcohol, and all. ... Black kids are NOT the only disenfranchised group of students getting the bad rap in the United States, and as the mother of two black kids who barely got through, I am here to share that our problem is MUCH bigger than Shaker Heights and failing rich black kids. Yes, plenty of my bourgeois black friends in San Diego also struggled with their sons and daughters, but so did the Filipinos down the street whose kids were stealing cars in the Asian gangs, not to mention the Chicano students who were so busy learning English both their languages suffered and they never graduated high school.
WendyEllen Cochran, Oakland

It's about society
I read the article with interest. While I haven't seen any of the data and have gained only a superficial understanding of the problem from the article, several questions strike me that neither the so-called liberals or conservatives bothered to ask.

To me, it looks like his study has revealed ambivalence within a middle-class African-American community about success as defined by European-American standards. Is this so shocking? What is it about "white culture" that these children and their parents are resisting? Could it be that working your ass off for your whole life to make someone else fabulously wealthy is somewhat unappealing to some people?

This article and everyone involved looks from the mainstream view shared by conservatives and liberals alike: that our system works and if we just tinker in one way or another things will work out okay: Liberals blame racism, conservatives carp about "personal responsibility." People from all walks of life in American society have been blamed over the years for institutional failure due to laziness and irresponsibility, from auto workers to dot-commers to black folks during slavery. Perhaps these acts of refusal say something much deeper about our society.
Tom Messmer, Oakland

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