Thursday, October 9, 2014

Please Stop Helping Us

by Jason L. Riley
Encounter Books     2014
205 pages            Nonfiction
The Shortlist

My children attended a virtually all white suburban school district with very high educational standards. Among my daughter's group of friends was a brilliant African American girl, whose father was a scientist and mother was a high school counselor. Her mother and I became friends, and one day I dared to ask her what I had been wondering. Why had they chosen to move to an all-white suburb when there were good schools in the much more diverse community where she worked? What she said revealed so much. She said that she could teach her children to live with racial prejudice, but she wasn't sure that she could teach her children to live with Black apathy, and Black disdain for education. 

Riley writes a meditation (or some might say diatribe) on the African Americans' current status in American society. Because he is extremely conservative (we must remember he is an editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal and a Fox News commentator), he believes that the lack of African American status is the fault of the liberals. Why am I not surprised! Surprisingly, however,  he also blames African American apathy for letting an entire generation of Black children become the uneducated, disinterested, apathetic adults that are filling our jails. However, he feels the reason the generations have been lost is because of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and the "bleeding heart liberals" (my husband's words, actually) who have corrupted Black culture by overcompensating for the crimes of the past. As a white woman, I am fascinated by this idea, even though I have no basis in experience. But as a teacher, I took offense to the idea that the reasons that Black children are failing in school is because of teachers' unions. There is a lot more at play than teachers' unions. 

Riley's book is compellingly readable. The point of view he expresses is what many people think, but he is saying it out loud. I wish he had offered more constructive alternatives. Does he want liberal America to just stop everything? I agree with him that the minimum wage inequality has to change. I wished for more constructive answers for the future.  I want to ask him this question, "What are you personally doing to increase the social status of the African Americans who live and work in your community?" Our community's favorite son, Derek Jeter, has just written a new children's book about his experiences growing up in Kalamazoo and how his parents guided him toward success. He is making a positive impact on African American children in our community with his Turn 2 Foundation which teaches leadership skills to students. This kind of leadership is what will make the difference.

I think that it is good to occasionally read something that you either know nothing about or something about which you are politically opposed. This book fit on both counts for me. You might pair it with Charles Blow's new memoir, Fire Shut Up In My Bones. Riley is critical of Blow's politics, but Blow's memoir tells a completely different story of an African American childhood. The pairing may give a more complete picture.

The Washington Times Review is a positive response to the book. It should be read.  

No comments: