As a note before I get into this subject, I realize just how quickly some readers will think I am comparing the plight of aspects of White America with aspects of Black America. The two have much different stories, but there is an identity among certain groups in both that are extremely similar. This post touches on that identity and the problems it causes personal and cultural advancement.
Recently, I got to sit down with a man who had just turned 100 years old. Born and raised in the same small, south Louisiana town he resides in now, he is a man filled with enough stories to fill days. I would have loved to hear more, but the work day is short and I had to get going.
In particular, I asked him if he saw what many other black Americans saw during the era of Civil Rights. He said that while some of the major things you saw in the news didn't really happen to him, he said one thing stood out. It was unofficially named the "Know Your Place" rule. "What that meant, though," he said, "was anyone's guess. What was fine one day was suddenly bad the next."
Knowing one's place still exists today in our society, unfortunately. But, it does take on many forms. One such form is the familiar racism that we unfortunately haven't stomped out. Another, though, exists within cultural groups, too.
To know your place is to do what your family has always done. You don't change things. You don't veer off the path. Sometimes, this is a good thing. Other times, it's not.
Take a black, inner city child or a white, rural child. Both grow up poor, both come from families with low education. Take them and send them to the best school to get the best education possible. Give them a big career that makes a lot of money.
Now, send them back.
Man's fear of change is immediately noticeable. Both families will, in the majority of cases, reject the change in the child (who has since grown). They will feel judged by him or her because they are not as educated or as rich. They will shun him. They will say he's forgotten where they came from.
It is this particular identity, a self-defeating cultural identity, that we still have no way of piercing because these groups shut themselves off from outside influences. While there is nothing wrong at all with being a poor black or white family, there is something deeply wrong with the fear of cultural advancement. And, it is a fear like that, a fear of going out and doing for one's self, that further sustains and even increases the need (or perhaps want) of an entitlement state.
Conservatives fight to shrink the entitlement programs, but often we don't realize the cultural identity that makes it so difficult for people to understand that it does have negative consequences.
And, there is no way for us to do it on our own. The change has to come from within these groups, the families themselves, that will lead us to fixing the problem. The advocates of change will always be met with resistance.