When Bootstraps Aren't Enough
Why two new black self-help books don't get it right. No, conversate isn't a word. And yes, there are some things that black folks need to stop doing. But there's a difference between enabling and empathy.
Such broad generalizations discount many of our complicated experiences and ignore the fact that a one-size-fit-all solution won't always work. Some of us were battling gangs, crack, the effects of Reaganomics and neglected blocks while wondering why our fathers (who were of age to march with Dr. King) had left.
It's comforting to reminisce about the good old days--when apparently two-parent households were the norm and everyone worked hard. Even if, like in my father's case, his father had a great construction job, never missed a day of work, provided for his family and was also an alcoholic who abused his wife?
I'm not saying that certain aspects of the black community weren't stronger in the past. My mother beams when talking about growing up in her poor neighborhood where, doors went unlocked, neighbors looked out for one another and no one messed with her because her father commanded respect without toting a gun.
Too much romanticizing, however, leads to oversimplification and underdeveloped solutions. Our realities are complex. Once we begin to untangle them, we're better equipped to develop holistic action plans. Telling a cousin to ''just say no, get over it, get off your ass, and be a role model'' may not be adequate. You may have to discuss mental illness, spiritual growth, self-love; support may have to include a therapy group, job skills training, a journal, anti-depressants.
We shouldn't pimp our situations as excuses, but we need to use them as starting points to analyze and understand how we got where we are. That's not to say we can't be productive while healing. Our illustrious history shows how we've kept on keeping on in times of severe pain, but the silent suffering that was passed down through generations, needs to be at the forefront of the growing process.
Hunter and Donaldson want to be clear. They're urging black folk to ''get away from ghetto'' and ''stop being niggardly'' purely out of tough love for our people.
That day I put my father out, I told myself that I was doing it for his own good. Truth: I wasn't. It wasn't an act of love, Rather, I acted out of bitterness, embarrassment and disillusionment. It was much easier for me to dismiss him and his self-induced failures than to have a root-of-the-problem discussion and develop action steps accordingly. Tough love can't be confused with something more cynical.
Perhaps that's what we need more of in all these black-people-need-to-stop-doing-XYZ conversations: thorough assessment, deeper self-excavations and more nuanced solutions. Hunter and Donaldson are right that we, the entire black community, are the ones we've been waiting for, individually and collectively. Embracing responsibility is necessary for us to thrive. I don't believe in excuses either and some explanations are lame. High expectations are crucial. So is support. And empathy.
Today, my father maintains his sobriety after battling a 25-five year addiction. I haven't let him off the hook for taking responsibility for rebuilding his life. But we can empathize without enabling, and often, our messes run deep.