Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Letter to Mary Mitchell

A while back, a well-known columnist for the Chicago Tribune responded to Barack Obama's call for more "dialogue" about race by setting up her own online forum specifically for that purpose.

I'm so glad that someone actually believes that we should have dialogue about this subject, as opposed to the monologue we've mostly been hearing from the black community for years. And I'm happy to oblige by adding my two cents to the discussion. (Notice that I said "my two cents," not "my two cent".)

For example, here's a letter I recently sent to Mary Mitchell in response to the commentary she wrote and published in yesterday's issue (9/5/2008) of the Chicago Sun-Times:


Dear Mary,

Your column in the Sun-Times yesterday says less about Sarah Palin than it says about the massive chip on your shoulder. She praises small-town Americans (without even mentioning race), and you take that as an example of racism, saying that it "reinforces divisions among black and white voters". Talk about paranoid. You and Jeremiah Wright must have a close bond with one another.

Hey, Mary, you know what reinforces divisions among black and white voters? Black folks who cannot speak three sentences without using the word "motherfucker" at least two or three times. Believe it or not, most folks don't talk that way in predominantly white small towns, and such profane talk is extremely offensive to people who live in such areas or who grew up in such areas.

(Admittedly, there are exceptions to the idea that white folks from small towns don't talk that way, just as there are exceptions to the idea that all black folks constantly use profanity. But the generalization is nevertheless valid, if my personal experiences during the sixteen years I've lived in Chicago are any indication.)

The inability of many black folks to speak without mangling the English language tends to reinforce racial divisions, too. I wish I had a dollar for every time an African-American in Chicago had used a singular noun (e.g., "75 cent") where a plural noun was appropriate, or vice versa. And that's hardly the only example I could cite. I once compiled a list of all of the grammatically stupid things I'd heard from black folks since moving to Chicago from Springfield, MO in 1992. It was a very long list.

The problem is not lack of funding for education, notwithstanding Rev. James Meeks' claims to the contrary. The problem is that there are many African-American neighborhoods in which education and educated people are held in derision. Why would people want to add more funding to schools in such neighborhoods, when there's good reason to believe that the problem has nothing to do with lack of money? The phrase "throwing good money after bad" (defined on one website as "to spend more money on something that has already failed") comes to mind.

Now, you might say that it's racist of me to suggest that black folks ought to learn to talk like other Americans talk and to use proper English grammar, not "Ebonics". Personally, I think that double standards based on race are inherently racist, inasmuch as they're discriminatory. Holding black folks to the same standards which apply to everyone else is not racist. It's the antidote to racism. As long as black folks insist on talking in ways which emphasize their "blackness" (i.e., their differences from other Americans), they shouldn't be surprised when their differences are noticed, and occasionally commented on, by people who don't act or talk that way. They may not have a choice about their skin color, but they do have a choice about how they talk and act. Therefore, when they are ostracized from the larger community because they insist on acting and talking in ways which are inherently divisive, they have no one to blame but themselves when their behavior leads to disenfranchisement from mainstream society.

Barack Obama's grammar isn't perfect, but it's far better than what I've heard from the majority of blacks in Chicago. I guarantee you that he wouldn't be where he is today if he had insisted on using "Ebonics" constantly, or if he used profanity in public the way that a lot of black folks do. Nor, for that matter, would you be a Sun-Times columnist if you wrote articles using such language.

Racial double standards abound in the black community. Imagine the outcry if a white man had said, as Jesse Jackson said, that he wanted to cut Barack Obama's nuts off! He'd be accused of being a closet member of the KKK. But no one leveled similar accusations at Jesse Jackson, because he's ostensibly a highly admired leader in the black community --- in spite of his other hypocritical acts, such as committing adultery even though he's allegedly a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you think that it's "downright mean" to speak the plain unvarnished truth, then I guess that you're right when you say that Sarah Palin is mean, and you undoubtedly think that I'm "mean" as well. Tough. The truth sometimes hurts, but that's no reason to refrain from speaking truthfully.

Take the chip off your shoulder, Mary. Chicago and America will benefit greatly when you do.

Mark W. Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue, Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60654

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