Growing up in the inner city, the culture that surrounded me in my adolescent years despised intelligence. Ignorance was celebrated as a virtue; it was something to be commended, something to aspire to. I remember back in school dumbing myself down in order to fit in with my peers by pretending to be stupid and not knowing the answers to the questions my teachers asked, when in fact I really did. Thinking back on this reminds me of the conservatives who say that the problems of the inner city, and the black community in particular, are due to culture and not racism. For a while I dismissed that argument, but I've changed my mind. I think conservatives do have a point on this.
Now let me first set the record straight. I am technically a liberal, although I'm beginning to hate labels more and more, especially when it comes to politics. I am a liberal—but—I definitely don't think liberals have all the right answers. They are not 100 percent right on 100 percent of the issues. That's far from the case. We must divorce ourselves from the increasingly tribal mentalities on the political spectrum. We must be willing to listen to the other side, and seek out the best criticism of our own political identifications. And we must put reason and evidence first and foremost over and above everything else, especially when it disagrees with our politics.
On the ongoing problems in America's inner cities with rising crime and stagnant poverty I think that it is undeniably true that culture is at least a part of the problem. You see, what conservatives typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on culture, and what liberals typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on racism. But as I see it, both of them are partially right. Yes — racism, the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the predatory lending practices of banks, and many other discriminatory policies have left a negative imprint on African Americans. And yes it is also true that many racist policies have hurt Latino Americans and to a lesser degree some Asian Americans. But that isn't the full answer of why these groups still struggle with poverty, violent crime, and high unemployment and incarceration rates. Culture matters. When you have a culture that nurtures and embraces ignorance as if it was a virtue, treats women like pieces of shit, and thinks that resorting to violence in order to solve your problems is acceptable, what the fuck do you think is going to happen? Do you think a culture like that is going to create brilliant thinkers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs peacefully coexisting in safe, clean neighborhoods? No! You're going to create a culture full of high school dropouts, thugs, criminals, single mothers and absentee fathers, and low skilled wage earners who stay in poverty generation after generation via perpetual bad decision making.
Now you might argue that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and other racist policies helped create this culture that celebrates apathy and ignorance as virtues. Fine. I'd agree with you. But that's not in any way a refutation that culture is an important reason why so many minorities in the inner cities across America are committing crimes at much higher rates than the rest of the country and continue to be in poverty generation after generation.
We must cultivate a culture that celebrates and nurtures science and philosophy and reason and facts and the thirst for knowledge and truth. We must also cultivate a culture where we seek to minimize unnecessary suffering, and where we care about the well being of others. It is imperative that we do this in order to resolve the negative issues plaguing inner city minority communities for generations. I want being smart to be cool again. Make that something kids want to aspire to. I want this stupid culture of ignorance to go away once and for all and to be mocked and humiliated into extinction, in much the same way I think should happen to religion. That won't be easy, but it can happen. Here's how:
First, the next generation in the inner city has to be raised differently than their parents. They need to be taught these values above. It has to be drilled into their brains. One way this could be done is by teaching kids logic and critical thinking starting from an early age and continuing on through high school and into college. We need to teach kids the importance of good decision making and being able to rationally evaluate evidence and competing factors from an early age, especially when it comes to financial decisions. I propose we make this mandatory in all public schools and I may write about how exactly this can be done in a future post.
Second, we must install the values of good, responsible parenting in the culture. African Americans have the highest rate of out of wedlock child births at 73%, followed by Native Americans at 66%, Hispanics at 53%, Non-Hispanic whites at 29%, and finally by Asian Americans at 17%, as reported by Politifact. Is it any surprise that many African American communities are plagued with violence and poverty, and many Asian American communities aren't? Stable families result in stable communities with children much more likely on average to stay in school, get good grades, stay out of trouble, go to college, and eventually earn more income as adults. Now again, I'm not a focus-on-the-family conservative. I don't even believe in marriage personally. But when kids are involved, a two parent house is generally better than a single parent house, and the correlations between the out of wedlock birth rate and the average income rate and crime rate bear that out.
Third, entertainers should be pressured to emphasize the importance of knowledge, education, and being smart and making responsible decisions with long term thinking in mind. We could ridicule them for glorifying ignorant ways of thinking and praise them for glorifying positive ways of thinking, within reason (obviously there's nothing wrong with glorifying partying and vacationing). I'd like to see a rapper with a PhD lay it down. I'd like to see a scientist, philosopher, economist, or inventor be praised with as much respect as any high school dropout hood rat who can rhyme or play basketball. We need to create an inner city culture where the smartest among us are the most highly praised and respected.
Now there's much more, and I don't have all the answers here. My basic point is that blaming racism and past injustices through perpetual finger pointing is not going to solve the problems among poor inner city minorities. In addition to addressing issues of racism, mass incarceration, and the like, we need to recognize that a culture that embraces ignorance as something positive is a major factor in the problems effecting these communities. This culture is so deeply ingrained that even fixing institutional racism wouldn't alone resolve these problems of crime and poverty. A completely new way of thinking is required, and it will require all of us to make that happen.
Welcome to Atheism and the City. This blog is about exploring atheism through contemporary urban living. I live in New York City, the secular metropolis, and I have an avid interest in all things religion, science, philosophy, politics, and economics. I am an atheist, a humanist, a philosopher and a thinker, and the purpose of Atheism and the City is to write about my thoughts and experiences on the subjects and topics that I have a passion for. Feel free to respond to any post whether or not you agree.