My 16-year-old daughter tossed aside the paper with barely a perceptible shudder the other day after reading the story with the blaring headline: "Blacks Score Below Whites in Pentagon Test."
After reading it, my shudder was more pronounced. The story was a signal that once again, it was time to discuss the subject that generations of black parents must talk over repeatedly with children--how negative black images and positive white images are projected over and over.
This story reported that black men and women between the ages of 18 and 23 did only half as well as whites, and lower, too, than Hispanics on standardized military qualifications tests.
The article contained all of the caveats--that the test results do not measure natural intelligence or learning potential; that the results do not prove that blacks are genetically inferior. But few people will remember these facts; few will retain much beyond the results; few will analyze the "why." No, caveats aside, the subliminal message that will likely circle the Western world will be false but all too familiar: Black people are somehow inferior.
The shudder of the family 16-year-old was not prompted by a belief that she is inferior. We have so analyzed the "why" of such occurrences that she would have been surprised if the test results had been different. She knows that the system of inferior schools and housing and jobs that blacks have been forced into was built to produce just those results. We didn't need tests to prove it. She has been told how the American system is based upon power, not morality.
But she shuddered from the staggering weight of the system that continues to brand her group. I shuddered because I think it is time to stop explaining the system that she is inheriting and must fight against the same old way, but I know the new way is easier said than done, for I don't want her to accept the system as it is.
By explaining her powerlessness, do I reinforce it and keep her from building deep within her bones the self-respect she will need to resist? By explaining that the Reagan administration's response to the plight of these victimized young people will be severe cutbacks, will I help her to develop her own maximum potential? By telling her the system isn't that sustaining for whites of any age either, do I inspire her to develop humanistic values that will aid this country in which human relationships are strained taut?
What I want to tell her is that all of these problems underscore the urgency of her personal search for the meaning of her own life and history, that only this search will determine her view of herself and of her group. What I want her to realize is that she must, as did those before her, struggle to deepen the meaning of freedom in America.
But we adults have failed to fashion a fresh new philosophy for her generation; we haven't grabbed the offensive and come up with an analytical frame of reference for her generation to stand on.
On Thursday, a group of Washington youths, determined to have another image, celebrated the renaming of their school, the Paul Robeson School for Growth and Development. These young people have emotional and behavior problems and are part of the North Mental Health Center. The school had been named for Walter Gist, a mentally retarded black youth who had burned up in a fire, but they wanted named for a person who was a model of outstanding achievement with whom they could identify.
Robeson was the son of a slave who turned out to be one of America's major examples of a Renaissance Man--Phi Beta Kappa, twice All-America football star, lawyer, film star, internationally acclaimed concert singer, outspoken humanist. He was an example of a magnificent level of achievement despite negation that was greater when he came along than it is today.
And it was in this event that I found the key to the new philosophy. She must fight by standing on the shoulders of those such as Robeson who fought before. They are the concrete evidence of the race to be run. They are the reminders that she fails only by failing to fight back.