Every once in a while, when I am spending way too long at my desk or watching the NBA playoffs, my precious dog will come up next to me, look me right in the eye, and growl. It’s not a vicious growl. It’s just her way of saying "Hey, look, buddy, you brought me into this household. I didn’t ask to be here. I really had no choice in the matter. But since you did bring me here, the very least you could do is pay a little attention to me every once in a while."
And it’s true. As much as I love my dog, I will get involved for long stretches of time in some project and the result is I wind up taking her loving, faithful companionship for granted. She’s not demanding constant attention, but she doesn’t want to be ignored either.
Today we are hearing the growls coming out of this country’s African-American neighborhoods, neighborhoods that have been shamefully, disgracefully ignored and forgotten for decades. If anyone thinks the death of one black man in the back of one police vehicle is the reason for the demonstrations we’ve witnessed these past few days in Baltimore, they are overlooking the real problem. It may be the excuse for the demonstrations, but the reason for them is the same as the reason we have seen similar types of demonstrations in black communities for the last 50 years. It’s because we have systematically ignored and forgotten and pushed aside a significant portion of the American people and after decades of neglect they are saying at "the very least you could do is pay attention to me every once in a while."
How many times have you heard the cry, whether the demonstration is in Maryland or Missouri, in New York or South Carolina, "All we want is to be heard."
But we don’t hear them. We don’t pay attention to their needs and their wants and when they finally raise their voices in despair, we too often condemn them for it.
To me, the great shame of the Obama Administration is the continued neglect of the large, poor, under-employed African-American sections of America’s larger cities. I thought for sure that our first black President would try to find some resources to help black communities. But instead his focus has been solely, it seems to me, on the middle class.
Because the spotlight now is shining down on Baltimore, let’s look at the numbers there. The white unemployment rate in Baltimore is 7.4 percent. The black unemployment rate is 18.9 percent. More than 40 percent of the families living in the neighborhoods of the city where the demonstrations took place live below the poverty level.
We have yet to see the upheavals in Texas that other states have witnessed, but, by no means, does that make us immune. The unemployment rate for whites in Austin is 5.2 percent, for blacks it’s 10 percent and that unemployment rate for African-Americans nears 14 percent in Houston and San Antonio.
Income inequality resulted in the citizen uprisings in Egypt that topped the government of Hosni Mubarak and resulted in recent violent uprisings that bordered on a revolution in Spain. As former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "You don’t want those kind of riots here."
But, if recent events are any indication, I fear that kind of uprising may be exactly what we are going to witness unless we quit catering exclusively to the rich and pandering to the middle class. That’s one of the reasons I applaud Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings’ Grow South initiative and his focus on public education in the city. He sees the proverbial handwriting on the wall and took steps to do something – anything – about it. But initiating a program and seeing it through successfully are two completely different things.
Personally, I am ashamed at the way we have disregarded such a large segment of our population. Perhaps the thinking is "Not only do they not contribute to our political coffers, they probably don’t even go out and vote so why should we pay any attention to them." Sure. Fine. Whatever.
Forty-one years ago — nearly a half century — Randy Newman recorded the song Rednecks and one of the verses of that song went:
"Now your northern nigger's a Negro
You see he's got his dignity
Down here we're too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the nigger free
Yes he's free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he's free to be put in a cage in the South-Side of Chicago
And the West-Side
And he's free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he's free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he's free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he's free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They're gatherin' 'em up from miles around
Keepin' the niggers down"
It’s a shame, it’s an absolute disgrace that 50 years later we’re doing exactly the same thing. Listen up, America, our neighbors are growling. They’re growling in Baltimore. They’re growling in New York City. They’re growling in Cleveland. They’re growling in Ferguson, Mo. It’s time to let their voices be heard, to pay attention, to work at finding solutions to the problem that could literally tear this country apart.