The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Plan

In an essay in The New York Times, entitled "I’m Black. Does America Have a Plan for My Life?", Chris LeBron provides a window into the minds of those who use racism as an excuse for the problems that are far more complex and often rooted in the failure of their own communities. He writes:
First, to plan for a life one must be able to see an open path to basic resources necessary to make good on a plan, such as education, housing and health care. Second, one must be able to rely on some degree of balance between the effort expended on realizing that life plan and the rewards received for that work. Finally, one must be able to depend on the absence of arbitrary interference or oppression, by either fellow citizens or the state.

Of course, things happen. We lose loved ones, jobs or faith, or we find them; we explore new skills; health conditions make us re-evaluate our priorities or goals. But these are normal contingencies of life. What I am referring to is something very different and has to do especially with the last condition of noninterference.
The "open path to basic resources" is available to us all, but it is not America's job to provide a plan for your life. A desire to achieve a basic education, hard work, supportive family structure, and attitude have far more to do with achieving an "open path" than government policy or programs. Despite the cries of victimization that abound among those who believe that racism is systemic, that police leave their stations in the morning looking for young black men to shoot, that the deck is stacked against minorities, there are millions of black and brown people who have found the "open path." How have they done this? What secret do they know that seems to elude others?

Ask yourself this: How does one come into contact with the police? One way is to request help. Another is to commit a crime. Still another is to live in neighborhood that experiences significant crime and violence, meaning that police patrol those neighborhoods in much greater numbers in order to stop crime and violence and protect the law-abiding, but besieged residents who live there. The greater the frequency of contact, the greater the frequency of something going wrong, of things getting out of control, of violence perpetrated by either side.

LeBron cites the tiny percentage of cases of unjustified police shootings and extrapolates those to suggest that all African American men are at mortal risk. He writes:
Here is another idea that matters for us: rationality. This is the idea, at least in economic and theoretical circles, that one’s future expectations generally are formulated in line with reasonable observations about the present. If one is black in America, what could rationality possibly look like? One would have to always live with one foot on the terrain of hope, and the other on the ground of fear; one would have to act in such a way that one might flourish if one is allowed, but be prepared that one not be allowed to flourish. The ability, then, for black Americans to be rational citizens is really upside down and inside out, yet we are perpetually counseled to patience and understanding, and in some ways that seems the least rational thing to do.

You might now be thinking that this is really something — for somebody like me to say all this, sitting in the ivory tower in the Ivy League. I seem to have disproved my own point, because as I write this, I have been allowed to pursue, and in large part achieve, my plan of life.

It is absolutely true that I have managed to carve a space for myself, but that space may not be what you think it is. My professional social circle, because of the lack of diversity in the academy, is composed in such a way that the chances of my being harassed outside my home are diminished, not because of who I am, but on account of who I am with. And, yes, money helps — I earn a salary adequate to buy me surface level credibility in the eyes of American society. But these achievements and small securities come with the cost of not knowing how far they will carry me or how long they will protect me. In planning my life, I’ve come to accept this...

So maybe this is how black Americans ought to plan for a life in America — holding out the hope to meet basic goals or striving to achieve larger ambitions knowing all the while that the present-day effects of America’s racial history can fatally disrupt enjoying, celebrating, commemorating the results of achievements small or large. Let me be honest with you — that is neither rational, nor is it fair. And there’s still the small matter of the luck that runs out.

I wish I knew America’s plan for me.
All of us face challenges in "planning" our lives. It is NOT America's job to provide guarantees or for that matter a "plan." It's your job to rationally assess the terrain you must navigate, to react to the realities of our journey, to grasp every opportunity to learn and grow, to avoid situations that might put you at risk, to accept the inherent unfairness that things beyond your control might bring, and to soldier on—day after day, month after month, year after year. Yes, racism still exists—fight it, work to eradicate it, but do not use it as an excuse that you cannot plan, cannot achieve, cannot make your way.

America doesn't have a "plan" for you or for anyone else. You create your own plan as time passes and do the things necessary to achieve it. Sometimes the plan works and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it ends in tragedy, other times is triumph. But to suggest that there is some malevolent, uniquely American force that can disrupt that plan is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.