Adapting a platitude from the formative 1960s, I’ll just croon that some of my best friends are people I’ve never met, white, black and other. Though a security camera might reveal me chatting a few times with columnist David Brooks in front of 1601 Eye Street in D.C., when we both worked there. Brooks’ July 11, 2017 Times Op-Ed “How We are Ruining America” and my unmet black friend, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s remembrance of the July 12, 1967 Newark riots (three years before his birth) formulated the question posed in HL 41’s title. Like the “best friends” cliché, I am constrained to add another, I think Baraka and Brooks generally do their jobs very well.
Brooks’ opinion is that “members of the college educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status . . . devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.” His proof includes upper-middle–class moms breast feeding their babies at much higher rates than high school educated moms for much longer periods and upper-middle-class parents spending twice to thrice the time with pre-school children and tripling their spend on education since 1996. And though never explicitly mentioned, these comparisons are primarily between white parents and children and those of certain other colors.
Across the Hudson, Mayor Baraka’s riot remembrance, delivered on NPR, included a recitation of how Newark had improved under the string of African-American mayors that followed the riot. The riot occurred under the corrupt and later imprisoned white mayor, Hugh Addonizio. The first in that string of succeeding black mayors was Ken Gibson who served 16 years. His 1970 election was greeted by Ras’ dad, poet/playwright Amiri Baraka, with the invocation that “[w]e will nationalize the city’s institutions, as if it were liberated territory in Zimbabwe or Angola” but soon labeled “neo-colonialist” by the quickly disillusioned senior Baraka. Mayor Gibson presided over a city whose unemployment rate increased 50 percent, where population continued to decline, that lost its last movie theater and all but one supermarket and where only two-thirds of high school students graduated. Gibson, like Addonizio, was eventually convicted of federal crimes as was Sharpe James, Gibson’s successor as mayor. The pervasive corruption in northern New Jersey politics apparently is color blind.
In his recitation of the 1967 riot’s causes, Mayor Baraka said his dad had told him how black Newark residents had experienced the assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. That combination jangled this actual observer of the events. The King murder actually occurred after the riots while I was an exchange student at Howard University. Brother Malcolm was murdered in 1965 before the riots by three members of the Nation of Islam, in part because of his renunciation of the Nation and its racism after his performance of the Haj in 1964. The Nation’s black superiority and anti-Semitic philosophy mirrored stances notoriously taken by Amiri Baraka, who was lauded by his close friend, Nation leader Louis Farrakhan at Baraka’s 75th Birthday celebration and upon his death.
HL does not have an answer to whether white guilt typified by Brooks or the revisionist history of Mayor Baraka is more counter-productive to shared liberal goals.
However, their examples of how profoundly parents and their conduct affects their children, through breast feeding, bigoted literary works laced with lies and simply by example raises other questions, especially today when another father and son team is top of mind. That question is what is the nutritive value of “nothing burgers” and by steadily consuming them has Donald Trump’s base lost their minds?