While I have been a longtime admirer of Jonetta Rose Barras’ work, I feel compelled to comment on her essay “Race Trumps All” (5/16).
The essay raises important issues, and yet, by absolving Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry, the D.C. Council,
and other government agencies and bureaucracies for the sorry state of the city, gives the impression that
the real problem in the District is white people. If they’d simply go away and leave us alone, everything would be fine. I beg to differ. Racism is no excuse for the District’s problems. It’s always been with us and will likely continue for some time. The only alternative that I see is for black people, in the memorable words of Mayor-for-Life Barry,
“to get over it.”
White people didn’t put the crack pipe in the mayor’s hands. White people aren’t responsible for the corruption and incompetence epidemic in the city’s bureaucracy. White people aren’t responsible for black teachers who tell students they don’t care what the students learn because they are going to get paid anyway. White people aren’t responsible for a school system and civil service rules that so completely caved in to union demands that it is virtually impossible to fire a teacher or incompetent worker. White people aren’t responsible for the fact that, ’til quite recently, there were only 15 police officers available per district per shift to patrol the streets. White people don’t administer a health and welfare system that gives Mississippi and Alabama a reason to be thankful because it means they are no longer at the bottom of national rankings. And finally, white people (at least not all of them) don’t continue to elect the cowardly, corrupt, senile, and just plain incompetent council, which refuses to take any meaningful action to affect the quality of life in this city, such as banning sales of single cans and bottles of beer and wine, and passing a bottle bill.
Blaming white people won’t change any of the above. Thinking about all this, I wonder what happened to the spirit of the ’60s and ’70s, as epitomized by James Brown’s lyric: “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing/Just open up the door and let me do it myself.” In the ’90s, sometimes it seems that we blacks walked through the door only to celebrate thuggish rap musicians, consume crack and alcohol, re-elect criminals like Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry, and get teenage girls pregnant. It’s time we stopped blaming white people and accepted the responsibility for the sorry state this city is in.