An Open Letter to Jaron Mays
Dear Mr. Mays,
I have read more of your Medium essays than I can count. My voice recognition app even correctly spelled your name when I was dictating this. I disagree with most of what you say, but I also admire the fierce music of your writing style, your willingness to say what you think, and your ability to think for yourself.
I have no direct experience interacting with the Black people you frequently describe with the noun “hood rats” and the adjective “comfortable-ass”. I don’t doubt your word, but all the Black people I actually know are intelligent skillful, hard working, and compassionate. That’s probably because in the highly privileged circles I live and work, most of the Black people I meet have either worked their way up from poverty or are recently descended from those who have. Consequently, they won’t be a random sample, they’ll largely be the best and the brightest.
I think the best way to explain the difference between the people I know and the ones you describe is to take some advice from Comrade Morlock. What we have here is a class issue, not a race issue. The reason that these behaviors are so prevalent in the black community is that racism has kept Black people poor, and poverty naturally impels people to either crime or apathy. When there are fewer opportunities to climb the ladder of success, people will be more tempted by criminal activities, because there is often a chance of a higher return for the risk. There’s also a greater temptation to just give up when the obstacles are so great. Thomas Sowell points out that poor whites are just as prone to these behaviors as poor Blacks, and then blames Blacks for being too influenced by poor white culture. However I think he’s got his causality scrambled. I think both white and Black people are equally likely to get ensnared by crime or apathy if they are poor. I can understand why you feel a stronger need to express your concern about your own people. But your concern is going to sound like internalized racism if we don’t remember that these problems are equally present in poor white communities.
I’ve got about as much privilege as anyone can possibly have. My ancestors came over here in 1630, and my family history (which is easy to trace because I am white) shows fluctuations from poverty to wealth every generation. With a history like that, it would be too easy to believe that wealth is decided by hard work and intelligence. But…