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May 22, 2007

Who says it's "black trash" culture?

Beneath an entry called "My McDonald's Experience" are an awful lot of responses which attempt to take me to task for using that label. I think that everyone - and I mean everyone - who has done so was disingenuous: they know that the term is warranted, just as as the term "white trash" is warranted in other situations. In fact, it's more so, because the culture of the "black trash" variety actually gets supported and defended in universities and courtrooms as a separate and equally valid culture to that of the ordinary American variety.

Until now.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- In a new twist in American race relations, a federal court has ruled that a white teacher in a predominantly African-American school was subjected to a racially hostile workplace.

The case concerned Elizabeth Kandrac, who was routinely verbally abused by black students at Brentwood Middle School in North Charleston....

...despite frequent complaints, school officials did nothing to intervene on Kandrac's behalf, arguing that the racially charged profanity was simply part of the students' culture. If Kandrac couldn't handle cursing, school officials told her, she was in the wrong school.

Kandrac finally filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and subsequently brought a lawsuit against the Charleston County School District, the school's principal and an associate superintendent. Last fall, jurors found that the school was a racially hostile environment to teach in and that the school district retaliated against Kandrac for complaining about it.

The defendants sought a new trial, but U.S. District Judge David C. Norton recently affirmed the verdict....

...[the] compelling issue for students, parents and society is the idea that a particular group of people can be allowed to behave in a grossly uncivil and threatening way by virtue of their racial "culture."

The key legal question was whether a school could be held responsible for students' behavior. In this case, the black children of Brentwood had been given a pass for their behavior because vulgar language was considered normal for their culture.

Defense attorney Alice Paylor told jurors that the kids heard this same language at home and there was "no magic pill" to make them behave. Paylor is probably right about that, though a magic paddle might have worked wonders.


Let's be clear: What these children called this teacher is beyond reprehensible and could be only be construed as hostile and threatening. Here's a sample: white b----, white m----- f-----, white c---, white a------, white ho.

Other white teachers and students corroborated Kandrac's account, including a male war veteran who testified he would rather return to Vietnam than to Brentwood.

Kandrac's attorney, Larry Kobrovsky, argued that the repeated use of "white" made these slurs racists in nature. But school officials insisted that because black students were equally abusive to other blacks, the language wasn't inherently racist.

Here's what we know without question: If majority white students had used similar language toward black students and teachers, the case would have been plastered on the front page of The New York Times until heads rolled.

A black Kandrac would have a million-dollar book deal, a movie contract and hundreds of interviews to juggle. Her oppressors and those who passively facilitated her abuse would have been pilloried by the media -- their faces all over the evening news -- while the reverends Al and Jesse organized protests.

But a white Kandrac -- who faced a daily barrage of insults, who had books and desks thrown at her and her bicycle tires punctured -- was treated like an incompetent wimp....

May the rest of America now be emboldened to act decisively in the interest of students who want to learn.

Anyone now who asks the question, tacitly or explicitly, "Who says it's 'black trash' culture?", now has their response - they do, through their defense attorneys, through their atmosphere of permissibility, through the examples that they show their children in their homes. And who are they? They are the people who both: a) engage in the behavior, and b) consider "it's our culture" to be a legitimate defense of the behavior. If there is a racial component to that class of people, I'll let the readers of this post decide for themselves what that racial component is.

But who says it's "trash"? Answer: I do. And, thankfully, so did that that court.

And no, there is absolutely no racism on my part anywhere in this discussion. In order for racism to exist, a judgment of a racial nature would have to be present. But the idea that any one of us can be judged by our race is absolutely absurd, and it's only the weak mind that engages in such folly. (An excellent article on racism.) Saying that all black-skinned people are part of "black trash" culture would certainly be racist; such a statement would be saying something about the members of a race. However, calling it "black trash" culture because those who participate in that culture are (nearly all) black-skinned is NOT racist. Not in the least. It says nothing about a race, any race; instead, it says something about that particular sub-culture. (Sort of like the difference between the statements, "all animals with fur are dogs" vs "all dogs have fur"; the first says something inaccurate about all animals which have fur, and the second says something accurate about dogs.)

Incidentally, near the end of the article was echoed a sentiment that I relayed within my McDonald's Experience post:

Though Kandrac lost her job, the real losers are the children deprived of an education by the actions of a tyrannical few. And the worst racists are those teachers and administrators who denied these empowered brats the expectation of civilized behavior.


Posted by Jeff at May 22, 2007 05:52 PM


I've read through the related posts with both amusement and depression. Perhaps (though I doubt it) you are being to complicated for a lot of people, so her is my ultra-simple take on it.

One must BELIEVE some things are better than others. Not every single way of life is equal. Nobody tolerates, say, child murderers, whether or not they may say they have a long and rich tradition of murdering children in their culture.

(before i continue, I have met and spoken with a vast variety of different nationalities whose accents were god-awfully thick yet were completely capable of speaking perfect English...does no one understand the difference?)

So what I believe Jeff has been saying in all this is that communicating effectively in common English is GOOD (as I just stated, this is possible for anyone from anywhere who is not disabled in some way) Not being able to communicate effecitvely in common (lets just get that over with and give you an example: language used by United Nations translators to convey a message from non-english speaking official to english speaking official, also, language used by any given CNN reporter for instance, free from culturally specific lingo) English: bad. Being held to the same expectations as everyone else: good. Having institutions responsible for giving you tools to be successful decide that you don't need them, bad. Heck, I could go on but its so simple. The specific culture of poverty and lack of education that is associated with ankle pants and rap is BAD. NO, wearing pants around ankles is not bad, just like having culture is not bad, but neither is a swastika inherently BAD--but what it represents is. This culture should not be celebrated and preserved, because it is a self-denying culture. Yes, I can understand that it came about because people were denied opportunities and largely doomed to be poor and unfufilled (or at least certainly believed they were) and as a survival measure, they took pride in what they had anyway. That is good, survival. However, giving that specific (i should be saying SUB-)culture an inherent value that supercedes the welfare of human beings is BAD. Particularly the idea that the sub-culture in question is definitive of and of value to a race of people, when for its existance to continue those who participate in it must in large part continue to be poor and uneducated or they have betrayed that culture...which gives rize to the oft-maligned arguement of the self-fulfilling prophecy and the observance in outsiders of participants in this culture seemingly refusing opportunities to escape the things that define it. You knew I was kidding when I said it would be simple. This is how you have to write to avoid red-flag words that people will use, upon seeing, to completely devalue your point. The simple way of saying is that the black hip-hop ghetto culture is detrimental to black people, encourages blacks and others to be bitter and resentful of those who lucked out in life or earned success, and needs not be perpetuated or sustained or encouraged in any way. What I believe Jeff feels, as do I, when he/I run into someone/something celebrating or prideful of this negative identity is not "oh there's another black, they are just awful, stupid, dangerous people" but an actual affront to our humanity, an inner irritation at being reminded that this way of life is somehow 'cool' and that there are people who believe that it is O.K. and needs to be tolerated. Basically, I feel sometimes that if we theoretically rounded up all the poor inner city kids and sent them to private schools and paid their tuition to an ivy league college it would be considered the same as what happened to many native americans, that we took them from their homelands (inner city) forced them to abandon their language in favor of ours (English?) and destroyed their rich cultural tradition (poverty and crime). Tolerance and acceptance, and of course, absorbing the traits of another culture is GREAT and HEALTHY when the other culture is healthy. The culture we speak of is not, it is in fact self destructive so we definitely do not need to be tolerating it, accepting it, and absorbing its traits. We need to get our fellow human beings OUT of it, whatever color they are. I don't care what you name your children or what clothes you wear, but if you walk around in a nazi uniform speaking german and spouting Mein Kampf, you're telling people Nazis are okay with you and your going to be viewed as a nazi and guess what? You will live life for all intents and purposes AS a nazi. Oh yeah, we are assuming here that Nazis are BAD, in case that wasn't clear enough. Probably wasn't. If you walk around dressing like a gangster (and yes, people do put value and assign traits to appearances, it is just a fact, unless you happen to be the exception to the rule that would say, upon seeing a black haired, tattooed and pierced, eyeliner wearing young man with a nine inch nails t shirt on, "that young man, he could be a liberal or a conservative, there is just no way to tell" type) talking like a gangster, and espousing the virtue of hos and bling, people will tend to react to you as if you were, in fact, a gangster, no matter how beautiful your heart is, and all that beauty will be unfufilled and you will be less likely to achieve in life more than a gangster might. This is, of course, assuming that Gangsters are BAD. Or should I said GanstAH. Point in case. And yes, as someone said in this long discussion, this does in fact apply to say, hippies as well, or any other sort of thing, but in this instance the culture these things are attributed to supposedly BELONGS to black people, whereas nobody ever said the hippy culture BELONGED to white people and was indicitive of being WHITE. This is where all the racisms and fury and spit starts flying from. Stop looking at it that way, this isn't something that belongs to a race, why in the hell would they want it?

Posted by: Vyrquenox at June 7, 2007 04:45 AM

Good points. I am black. I am HipHop. I live in the inner-city and I can tell you with all sincerity that the behavior described in the posts above is NOT black culture, HipHop culture or inner-city culture. I am not saying that that culture does not exist...but WE do not claim it...not as black people, not as HipHoppers and not as inner-city residents. There are people who are black who enjoy rap music and live in the ghetto that will tell you that that is their culture...they are not proud to be black they are proud to be "niggaz".

The problem is that "niggaz" are more interesting than ordinary black folk (just as a burning house is more interesting than one that is not). So everybody pays more attention to them but believe me they are not as prevalent in the black community as many whites (and others) believe. I mean there are a lot of them but no where near the majority not even in the ghettos or the projects.

However, it is an attractive culture...even whites, asians and other non-blacks participate in this "black trash" culture...which begs the question, what is so compelling about black culture, whether it's the positive, negative or benign aspects of it? I mean I am interested in Japanese culture but you don't see me dressing up like a ninja and crawling around on rooftops. Anyway, that's another topic.

Posted by: jelo at July 22, 2007 02:02 AM

I agree with everything you said in this post. I'm black, by the way.

Posted by: Alicia at March 10, 2009 09:40 AM

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