Jewish World Review July 28, 2005/ 21 Tammuz,
Reviving middle-class values
If she were still alive today she would be turning over in her
grave, as Yogi Berra would put it, at the sight of the newspaper photographs
of the Northwestern University women's lacrosse players showing up in
flip-flops to meet the president at the White House, even if the flip-flops
were decorated with sequins or rhinestones, as the expensive ones are.
But she would have been pleased a few days later when Mr. and
Mrs. John Roberts were introduced at the White House with their children
dressed "prim and proper." Their son, Jack, looked like a little man in a
summer seersucker suit with saddle shoes. His older sister, Josie, was
decked out in a pretty yellow dress with lace-trimmed ankle socks and black
patent-leather Mary Janes. The Washington Post fashion writer mocked the
children as "costumed," but Mom and a lot of other grown-up women
would have questioned the upbringing of a critic who never learned that
clothes can sometimes speak louder than words.
Rapheal Adams, an outspoken black radio talk-show host in
Cincinnati, notes how such attitudes encourage dysfunctional behavior.
"Anything of value, that's 'white,'" he tells City Journal magazine,
published by the Manhattan Institute, in an issue focused on black culture.
"Standing with your pregnant girlfriend, that's 'white.' Staying away from
gangs, 'white.' Wearing pants where they're supposed to be on your
waist 'white.' 'We wear our pants below our butt line.' It is so sick."
He recalls that Medgar Evers, martyred in the cause of civil
rights in 1963, always wore a suit, a white shirt and a tie, but that
positive image was wiped out in the public imagination by the
"Blaxploitation" movies of the 1970s and the gangsta culture that followed.
Like most things in life, the dressing down, dumbing down, degrading down
culture falls hardest on poor blacks. Many "leaders" who know better,
Rapheal Adams argues, make matters worse. "The battle that should really be
going on is against the enemy that looks like you the father who abandons
his children, or rapes women, or sells drugs."
It's difficult to say such things without being accused of
making common cause with racists. But 40 years and billions of dollars of
government money have rarely put poor black kids on an equal footing with
poor white kids because the problem begins at home. "They are not simply
middle-class parents manque," writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal magazine.
"They have their own culture of child rearing, and not to mince words
that culture is a recipe for more poverty."
Low-income black parents in this scenario read less to their children, discipline more forcefully by spanking and hitting, and engage in more limited conversations with them. Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, along with a team of researchers, observed parents and children of three different economic classes in various activities, including eating dinner, watching television and merely hanging out, and found radical differences in vocabularies in the first years of the children's lives. Children of professors typically heard 2,150 different words in these years; working-class children heard 1,250 words, and children of welfare families only 620. In their book "Meaningful Differences," they write that welfare mothers are usually more distracted and "meaner" to their children.
Bill Cosby caught a lot of grief for getting it right: "The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal." They need a belief in the middle-class motto on his sweatshirt: "Parent Power!" Mom would agree.
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