Can We Stop a Culture of Failure?

In the last few days, in New York and Chicago there have been killings of young African-American men by the police, inciting the black communities in those cities. Neither victim was a hardcore criminal. It is quite possible both young men were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were confronted by cops who were extremely scared.

It is a lousy time to be a young black man in America.

I write this from the vantage point of a well-off 61 year-old white guy who happens to live right next door to Black America. I get a pretty good view of it right over my fence in the Village of Olympia Fields, Illinois.

Olympia Fields is now a predominantly African American community. The elementary school adjacent to my house is made up of over 85 percent black students. The high school Rich Central, within walking distance of my house, is also over 85 percent black. The villagers’ homes (there are no apartments) range from $200,000 to $500,000, except for a few which have been gerrymandered into another school district that has less black students – those are more valuable on the market.

I see an interesting phenomenon now in Olympia Fields. Black people are moving out because they don’t want to send their children to the predominantly black schools of Olympia Fields.

One African-American friend of mine, who is looking for a new home now, told me he would not buy in my village because he doesn’t want to pay the “tax.” I asked him what the “tax” was, and he said the tax was the cost of sending his children to private school.

My longtime next door neighbor recently moved because she was afraid to send her daughter to Rich Central high school. She thought the crowd would be bad for her daughter’s development.

I look at the South Suburbs of Chicago where I live, and I conclude sadly that while life has gotten much better economically for many African-Americans over 30, it looks grim for the younger generation. The irony is that our next president may be Barock Obama and that the most influential person in the Bush Cabinet is Condoleezza Rice; and the heads of American Express, Time-Warner and Merrill-Lynch are black.  Ken Williams, general manager of the Chicago White Sox, and Tony Dungy, the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, are symbols of the triumph of my generation’s black American peers.

It is encouraging to read Juan Williams and John Ridley laud the black achievers and decry the culture of victimization that has overtaken a new generation of African-Americans, just when the parents of that generation are reaching middle and upper class America.

I do not know how it has happened, but a new generation of kids who do not believe they can compete in the educated world have taken over my local schools. Achievement in school is ostracized. Teachers are giving up. Marriage and two parent homes are fading away. White culture has seen a similar lean towards entropy, but from my vantage point, the swing backward by Black America is so sad and disappointing following the big gains of the baby boomer generation.

My hope is that the new prominence of the Juan Williams and Bill Cosby critique of the “Culture of Failure” in the book Enough will hit home. I’ll be watching over my back fence in black Olympia Fields Illinois.

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2 thoughts on “Can We Stop a Culture of Failure?

  1. Steve Rainwater

    I just moved from living “next door to black America,” to a little further down the street – literally. I think this dilemma, unfortunately, may not get better for a while. The old expression “you are what you eat” has never been truer than it is in the current black culture. The optimism, hope and incremental success enjoyed among blacks in the 60’s and 70’s began to erode in the 80’s. I feel the culprit of this major change in attitude is the promotion of certain aspects of black culture while ignoring other aspects. In the 70’s Diana Ross, The Temptations and other Motowners were singing about love, hope, and all things positive, George Jefferson was “movin’ on up” and in Gary, Indiana (20 miles from where I grew up) you could get a job at US Steel or one of the neighboring plants in Portage, and be set for life. Even though the Black Panthers were wandering around Chicago, and Gary was still the murder capital of the country, the positive was being pushed to the front, and African-Americans were being encouraged to access opportunity.

    Today, the mainstream media shows Cosby as divisive and loves to sensationalize the hopelessness of the black situation. The media wants to promote how America is structured to take away black people’s advantage instead of showing the opportunities available to them.

    But the worst fuel of all for the culture of failure comes from the exponentially growing hip-hop-infused-with-gangster culture. It is the epitome of self-centerdness and indulgence, demonstrating that the only way to enjoy opportunity is to take it from someone else – if you can. The amount of negativity and hopelessness taken in on a daily basis by the average American youth, black or otherwise, as a result of this culture’s artistic, media and social expression is staggering, and a recipe for a complete implosion of a future generation.

    I now live in a mostly white suburban neighborhood in Orlando, FL. However, by spending 7 hours per day in the carefully integrated Orange County public schools, my kids have taken in so much black/gangster media and culture (which, incidentally I do not allow in home), that they completely understand, feel and even identify with the black experience. Although my wife and I are both college graduates and I have my own industrial marketing business operated out of my home, my kids know way more about earning money from “hustling” on the street than they do about systematic hard work and industry. They often feel that authorities such as teachers, government, law enforcement, and parents are cooperatively against them. Considering the home environment they enjoy together with the values and practices of their parents, this is truly amazing.

    I feel they receive relatively small dosages of the culture of hopelessness, yet it has a huge impact on them. I cannot fathom the impact it has on youth and adults who are taking it in large doses, except that I see the results around me and in what you have written. When you are fed messages all day long that there is no hope or opportunity; that it is someone else’s fault and you have no control over it, it becomes difficult to fight your way out.

    Thankfully the likes of Tiger and Shaq still own real estate nearby. If we can combine their hard working images with the anthems of Bill Cosby and the accomplishments of Condoleezza Rice and Juan Williams, perhaps the ship can turn itself around. Honestly – I am skeptical.

  2. Tyler Shinaberry

    C’mon…race does not lead to failure, attitude does. Sure racism creates obstacles, but Oprah is a billionaire (and may be racist herself), Dave Chapelle is funny, Michael Jordan is respected by rednecks, black comedians are on Blue Collar Comedy, and hip hop is a multi million dollar industry.

    If people had any idea how many passing students drop out their senior years (of all races), with less than a month to go, they would flip out of their seat. If people knew how many parents support or pressure the idea, they would hit the roof.

    Black, White, Asian, I don’t care what race you are, you have the freedom of choice from the second you take your first breath. Prominent society has failed poor communities because of generating pity money rather than opportunity money.

    Please don’t get me wrong, welfare programs have an important place in the world. But food stamps were not intended to be traded for crack, people cheat the system, and people who deserve it never see it! For example, this week the trade school I graduated from announced that they would be removing their daycare program; nothing more than an invitation to failure for the student mothers who want to be something in life. Teenage pregnancy is often called a mistake, in a way it is, but in some ways, it changes lives for the better long-term. Once some of these girls become parents, it is amazing to hear what they will do to provide for their young. You hear the same story again and again. Girls swear that their child will have a better life than them, and it never happens. You know why, because no one, not even their school, gives them the chance! How are these girls supposed to rise up from failure when a prostitute can make more in 8 weeks than a GED graduate can make in a year?

    It all goes back to the schools and parents. Poorness is not a physical standpoint, but a mental state of mind. Rather than create an opportunity of change, we have created a world of pity that encourages failure.

    As industrialists, it is up to us to stand up to failure and break the mold. Go to your local trade school; offer students jobs. JOBS WORTH HAVING. Quit with these bullshit $8 an hour no benefit positions!!! Without incentive, students have no reason to try to overcome failure. Hell, at eighteen you at least have a chance of making $10 an hour (and free food) as a manager at McDonalds. I do not mean to shame any of the industrialists out there who are trying to do their part, but as a whole, we are the reason for failure. Race is nothing more than a scapegoat to a much larger problem.

    Currently I am working on making an after and during school work program for local students, creating a scholarship fund, and setting time aside to just hang out with them. I feel that the last is the most important. If kids were given the chance to see that successful people are just like them, then odds are they will jump on a positive bandwagon. I am proud to say that I went through hell my younger teen years because it put me in the successful position I am today. I huffed rubbing alcohol and rubber cement quite a few times, I knew the cops by first name, I was suicidal, I had (and still have) bipolar disorder, I got sent to an alternative school, I was forced to take psychoanalysis for a month,….on and on. Currently I still swear like crazy, I listen to music that is so bad it can’t even be edited, recite Borat by heart, and smile at Girls Gone Wild Commercials…On the other side of the spectrum, I built myself to what I am today: a consultant for multiple industries, distributor of high quality CNC machines, designer, multiple degree full-time student, owner of 3 going on 4 businesses, and proud boyfriend of a beautiful NOT pregnant girlfriend.

    I know that my story gives a lot of kids at least a little hope, because they thank me for setting an example. But I am one, and the 81% of narcissistic youth who think they can become rich as a failure need more attention than I can give and continue to be successful. As the old song says, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” It is up to the WELL OFF individuals of the world to share their stories, share their success, and share opportunities with youth so that we can beat failure. If we don’t, I guarantee you that our businesses will fail in due time. In fact, the whole world will just stand still.

    In response to the individuals who will read this, yet continue to bitch that they can’t find any good young workers, I must recite the great Carlos Mencia…”DEE-DA-DEE!!!!”. That one’s for you Noah.

    —I know that this kind of writing can make me look bad to my industrial peers, but I gladly put my career on the line. I dedicate this response to the child of my friend who dropped out a few months before graduation because his dad would have to pay child support to his mother if he remained in school. When his father dropped out his mother was not pregnant, a few months later she was. I hope that the cycle can be broken, no kid deserves to be born into poverty, but it is up to them to beat it.


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