Thursday, April 3, 2008

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Those of us who speak openly about the problems acutely affecting blacks in the U.S. often find ourselves in a Catch-22: If we speak to a diverse audience, or at least one that can be reported by the media to a white audience, we catch hell because whites will get the idea that the stereotypes are true and thus their prejudice is justified. If we say things privately, albeit secluded in an otherwise public setting, apologies have to be made too:

[Marvin] Arrington, who is African-American, is a judge in Fulton County, Georgia, which includes the city of Atlanta.

He said he got fed up seeing a parade of young black defendants shuffle into his courtroom and decided to address them one day last week -- out of the earshot of white lawyers.

"I came out and saw the defendants, and it was about 99.9 percent Afro-Americans," Arrington told CNN affiliate WSB-TV of Atlanta, "and at some point in time, I excused some lawyers -- most of them white -- and said to the young people in here, 'What in the world are you doing with your lives?'"

The judge thought his message would make a greater impact if he delivered it to a black-only audience, he said.
Comedian Chris Rock, known for his pull-no-punches attitude on the state of the black underclass, has been notably toning it down to his diverse audiences. People question whether Dave Chappelle's show on Comedy Central was brilliant or explicitly racist -- including Chappelle himself. And, as I alluded to above, there was the whole Bill Cosby fiasco.

On the other side, you have famous black people who rarely or never speak on black issues at all -- or at least not in categorical racial terms: Tiger Woods, Condi Rice, Derek Jeter, and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few.

Damned if we do, damned if we don't.

I don't know what to make of what Judge Arrington did. While I am certainly sympathetic to what he tried to do, it isn't really in the prerogative of a jurist to use official time for a wake-up call for black people.

But then again, who else was going to say it?

1 comment:

n.harlem said...

I've written and re-written my response to this post. But because I'm not sure of where I stand; because I go back and forth on how I feel about the Cosby comments; because I don't know if the scoldings (for lack of a better word) lead to constructive solutions; because I don't know if it's pride or simply a demand for dignity that makes me want to save black folks from public criticism - I just don't have an answer.

But I appreciate the question. And I'm happy to know somebody else thinks the answer is a slippery one.