On August 24, Bob Herbert of the New York Times addressed the debilitating popular culture embraced by many black Americans, and especially by young blacks. He now returns to the subject, prompted by the appearance of black "felon" magazines that exult in the self-denigration of blacks as niggers, whores, and thugs. He is prompted also by a new book by Juan Williams, Enough , that describes the pervasiveness among blacks of a "no snitching" rule when it comes to drug dealers and other criminals. Herbert writes: "When was it that the proud tradition of Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Dubois, Harriet Tubman and Mary McLeod Bethune, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall, gave way to glossy felon magazines and a shameful silence in the face of nationally organized stop-snitching campaigns?" There is still racism in America, says Herbert, but the greater reality is the "absence of leadership [that has] led to an onslaught of crippling, self-destructive behavior." He is surely right, and urgently right, on every point. And yet one cannot help but note that part of the problem is in his choice of those he cites as representing the "proud tradition" that is being trashed. They are either entertainers ("Those black folk sure got rhythm") or people for whom racism was the central problem and who distinguished themselves in their struggle against that great evil. The "proud tradition" celebrated by most blacks today does not include figures such as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and, more currently, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, and Condoleezza Rice. It is fair to suspect that they are not included because they are "conservative," and therefore they are inauthentic blacks who are "acting white." Which is precisely the mindset Herbert and others are protesting even as they implicitly subscribe to it. If the tradition one celebrates, and by which one is at least in part defined, is limited to entertainers, athletes, and those who distinguished themselves in the fight against a history of racism on which one’s failures are blamed, the fact that young blacks seek debased consolation in glossy felon magazines is not so surprising. Bob Herbert and others who are to be commended for addressing these questions would render a further service by proposing a more inclusive tradition of honor and achievement for young blacks to emulate.


In addition to which :

From the beginning, First Things has been a collaborative enterprise. It is not just a magazine but—as we rather pretentiously put it—a universe of discourse. Which is another way of saying that it is a moveable feast of personal and intellectual friendships. From time to time, we’ll be posting here pictures of some of the people who sustain the First Things conversation.



Fr. Neuhaus’ favorite photo with John Paul the Great. The pope was very tired that day but perked up for a joke that Fr. Neuhaus says is under the seal of pontifical secrecy.

To access the running gallery, click here .

Articles by Richard John Neuhaus

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