Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of things that have left me puzzled, bewildered, confused and perplexed about the way we do things and the things we say about each other in this wonderful country of ours. The media talks all the time about how forgiving a society we are, that we are a land of second chances and that Americans at heart are tolerant, hard-working and productive. Yet I guess that depends on which Americans we’re talking about.
For starters, I received a rejection letter from a weird nonprofit organization called Consource.org (The Constitutional Sources Project). It was a job I probably shouldn’t have applied for in the first place. And after the founder of the organization took a telephone call from her housekeeper ten minutes into the interview and subsequently picked her nails while listening to me answer one of her questions, I knew I wasn’t going to be hired (What a relief!) To compound that bit of unprofessional behavior, the rejection letter I received was signed by the founder in purple magic marker! Unbelievable.
I also received a rejection for Boy At The Window from uber-agent Deborah Grosvenor yesterday. I’m at the point that I’m fine with rejections in general, because I do want an agent, regardless of experience or notoriety, who believes in the book and in me as its author. But this one struck me as strange as well. Apparently the agency must be unanimous in agreement about a project and author before taking the project on. I only sent a query letter three days before. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to believe that a committee of folks read, met and discussed my query letter in two working days and gave it serious consideration before rejecting it. Again, rejections are fine—it’s all a part of the publishing business—but at least be truthful in your rejection correspondence.
There’s been some good news too. I did a taping for a Fairfax Public Access show called “Conversations With Crecilla” on Saturday. Two other Black males, the host and I sat down to discuss the “Crisis Among Black Men,” and it turned into a good discussion of the critical issues that hinder the ability of Black males to make good decisions about their lives as they drop out from high school or end up in prison. A good discussion, but one that we needed more than 30 minutes for.
What was even more interesting was the discussion that occurred off-camera about single mothers and the need for more fathers in the home or about the responsibilities that Black boys and men need to take up in order to rectify this crisis. The problem with most remedies at this stage is that they come with a twentieth-century mentality around race and how African Americans should deal with issues of race. Why? Because what affects Black males disproportionately affects American society as a whole. Because not every White teacher is out to expel Black males from schools, nor is every White attempting to have Black boys arrested. Because it’s not just about BET, MTV, Lil Wayne and Trina, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, Adam “Pacman” Jones and Michael “Dummass” Vick.
They’re all symptoms of the problems among Blacks males and in American society, the problem not just of race, but of class and gender combined with cynical public policies, societal and familial neglect, even domestic violence, and deficit thinking, as if those Black males who’ve “made it” are outliers who have nothing to say or add to this conversation of solutions and remedies. Not to mention Latinos and other males of color who grew up poor and in unstable situations.
Which brings me to my biggest ax to grind. The near universal response to our credit, housing and financial crises. Pundits, policy makers and politicians haven’t agreed on much in the past two weeks. But they do agree that if “minorities” or “poor people” or “people who had no business getting a loan” hadn’t taken these ridiculous sub-prime loans, then none of this would’ve happened. So many of these pundits and stockholders look angry when they say what they say about this as well, as if some Black males just mugged them and left them for dead. Another cock and bull story here. Between Gramm-Leahy-Bliley and other acts to deregulate and allow for the cobbling of investments and mortgages and commercial lending, combined with financial globalization and the ability to instantly borrow money from other sources, this was inevitable. Period. It was a joint effort of Wall Street, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, and Capitol Hill. Sure, poor minorities deserve some blame, I guess. Except that the banks and the mortgage agencies could’ve said “No!” Just like they had to not-so-poor and middle class Blacks and other folks of color for years (at least since the late 1940s), as they redlined groups of color all over the country.
No, this isn’t just about folks making $42,000 a year taking out sub-prime loans valued at $500,000. This is about a system of trickle down economics and deregulation gone awry over the past ten years, a system that allowed this debt to be sold overseas so that the housing market would take homes valued at $100,000 and make them worth $250,000 or even $400,000. Or $800,000 homes in ’00 that were $1.9 million in value by ’06. All with no or little or relatively little money down. But it’s about the poor and minorities! Why is it that whenever the economy goes into a freefall, that the working poor and people of color get undue amounts of blame? This is as much a sign as there is about the limits of American tolerance around race, and even more importantly, around class.
I haven’t given up on my country just yet. The past couple of weeks, though, does give me pause about our nature, societal and human.