“You know what the problem is in the black community? They need to stop having babies out of wedlock and the fathers need to be around to support their family.” Supposedly, this piece of advice is the cure-all for the black community. At least that is what some of my white friends tell me. I sit and listen intently and nod my head as though I am in agreement. Sure, having a strong family structure would certainly help the black community. But would it have prevented the recent riot in Milwaukee?
After all, my dad was a central figure in my life! He was a bi-vocational pastor, and he brought a strong Christian influence into our home. However, I still managed to embrace a life of crime growing up in Milwaukee. Ironic as it may sound, living in the home with my dad is what perpetuated my life of crime. It was his experiences that influenced my behavior!
My dad was born and raised in Oxford, MS during the days of Jim Crow. My dad was not afforded the opportunity at a good quality education. Instead of attending school, he grew up in the fields picking cotton. Unfortunately, he never went past the third grade.
His experience with white America was far from positive. He was not allowed to vote nor could he drink out of the same water fountain as a white man. My dad could not eat at the same establishments as whites nor was he allowed to ride in the front of the bus when whites were present. My dad was called a nigger so much it became a second language in my home. However, people in my community took the sting out of the word by changing it to “Nigga” as a form of endearment between two or more black people. Today, I hear young white kids calling each other our version of the name. I guess it caught on!
But before I get too far away from my original thought, I said all of that to say: I wish having a dad in the home was the cure all for Milwaukee’s problem. Those who believe so certainly haven’t considered someone like me — someone who grew up with a dad experiencing the racism, hatred, and discrimination as mine did.
My dad instilled in me that society would not allow me to be anything I dreamed to be because he himself had not been allowed to become anything he wanted to be. He taught me that I would need to find a way to make an honest living in spite of the racism and discrimination that I would most certainly face. My dad was not out of line in warning me about the society we lived in because this was his reality.
I grew up believing I was hated by white America and would never be afforded a fair opportunity to succeed. Though my dad did fairly well for himself as a blue collar worker, he still experienced racism in the workplace. I heard his stories daily as he returned home from work. After hearing his stories, visions of my dad slaving for a racist white man was not the life I desired. This is why I became a drug dealer.
Talk about debunking the idea that having a dad in the house will end the problems in the inner city. I have five siblings, and none of us were born out of wedlock, but I still chose a life of crime because of my dad’s experience with white America.
It appears to me that everyone living in the surrounding areas outside of Milwaukee have the answer for black people. We now have suburbanites who are experts on the contributing factors of inner city plight. However, our ugly past of America’s treatment of blacks is never mentioned as a contributing factor to black plight!
In fact, nothing has ever been done to repair the centuries of harm inflicted on the black community. The natives were given land and black people as slaves for the harm that was done to them at the hands of America. The Japanese received reparations for the harm done to them at the hands of America. The black community has received advice encouraging more father participation in our homes. If there are those who truly believe the riot was the aftermath of absent fathers in the black community, then we have a much larger problem.
I do not condone violence and I utterly speak against the actions of those rioting. Let me also be clear by saying that I love and respect the white community just as much as I do the black community. However, I understand the problem is much deeper than the surface that many are looking at. I understand the problem from the inside and to say that I am a bit troubled is an understatement!
I could be off base! Maybe those 300 years of being three-fifths of a person had zero impact on the black community. Maybe some of my white friends are right! If we could just produce better fathers in our community, all would be well.
Nevertheless, I am encouraged! In all my years of living in Milwaukee, this was the first time I have seen such a unified community and faith-based response. I saw white and black people of faith being the body of Christ in response to the rioting. I pray this is the beginning. Soon all the cameras will disappear! I pray I live to see black and white people of faith being the body of Christ in response to America’s 300 hundred years of sin committed against the black community. Maybe what I witnessed is the manifestation of a Gospel that includes both a proclamation and a healing touch.