For many blacks self-pride led to a desire for self-help. One group active in California during the 1960s was Operation Bootstrap. Speaking before an all-white student body of 2,000 people, a member of this group said that blacks must not expect whites to change the world for them, they must “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” But sometimes isolation, poor schools, low wages, poverty and racial prejudice made, and still make, this difficult.
Blacks have vented their frustration on a world not changing fast enough for them many times. The Watts riots of August 1965 were one result of black anger. This southern California city was one of my social-work areas, and I watched with disappointment the television coverage of people burning and destroying their own neighborhoods as anger erupted in volcanic-like torrents. I thought of some of my clients trying to raise good children in a difficult environment, of teachers trying to empower children in sometimes inferior schools. Since then other riots have occurred. How can we find solutions without using violence as a means of expression?
Years ago, a black physician, Dr. Carl Bell, decried violence of black against black. He cited homicide as the highest cause of death for black men ages 15-44. He said that in 1981, more blacks were killed by blacks than blacks killed in all the years of the Vietnam War. He commented about visiting an elementary school. Of the 595 black children there, 26 had witnessed a shooting and 29 a stabbing. He pleaded for efforts to stop the violence, which begets violence.
I remember Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream...” speech. Many blacks have achieved their dreams; others still live in nightmares, many of which society creates for them, bad behavior incubated by not addressing the situations in which many have to live. Some might say, but they have a choice. But how much do crime, poverty, prejudice and exclusion limit choice. In anger some preach black supremacy. Other groups counter with the hate message of white supremacy. Dr. King’s warning was, “Black supremacy is as evil as white supremacy.”
If we, as Americans, believe what our Constitution expresses, “All men are created equal,” we must work to achieve that end not just mouth those words. Hopefully, we can feel the pain of disadvantaged minorities and address the root causes of discontent and answer the Christian question, “Am I my brother’s keeper,” with a resounding “yes.” Hopefully, caring people everywhere will work for Martin Luther King’s dream of “not a white man’s world, not a black man’s world, but a world of man as man,” a world with which “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness rolls down like a mighty stream.”
(Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part letter.)