Confronting the plight of African-American children

Posted Thursday, Feb. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A friend stopped by my office to converse about a recent incident he experienced at a high school.

While doing his enforcement job, he was confronted by an African-American student who asked him, "Why do y'all hate us so much?"

My friend, who is of Hispanic descent, was taken aback by this question because he had on many occasions stood up against abuse, racism and mistreatment.

I assured him that he should not take it personally, that he was experiencing the frustration and impact of institutional racism on the psychological and mental health of our black children.

I like to call it "impotent rage," and it has crippled many of our children from developing the basic reading, writing, character and critical-thinking skills needed to function in a free enterprise society.

The young man asked a profound question, one that sums up for many of us the perplexing question that we have not honestly discussed as a nation or tried to deal with without hostility or hatefulness within the dialogue.

We have to have a courageous conversation and look at the young man's question and try to discover why he feels "y'all hate us so much."

America has systematically failed in its responsibility to produce better outcomes from African-American students, especially boys.

Black males are more likely to have negative and punitive encounters when they have contact with the education, juvenile justice, mental health and health and human services systems.

Two-thirds of all black boys are "ill-prepared" for life after high school. This is criminal, and no one, not even President Barack Obama, has undertaken meaningful measures to address this major violation of civil rights.

African-American children are punished more severely, they are negatively profiled more and they are placed in some of the most unfair, unhealthy and unsafe learning environments.

We can blame the parents and we can blame society, but we must stop blaming children for the sins of their fathers.

We must find a better way.

An associate dean friend of mine at a leading research and teaching university in Texas once told me that we can produce better outcomes from people if we focus on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

In her research, she found that, when you can find something good in even in the most vulnerable students, they begin to rise to the level of the expectations that are set for them.

All children need to feel and know that they are loved and that they will be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I, too, have a dream, that one day, we will live in a world where little black boys and little black girls no longer have to ask the question, "Why y'all hate us so much?"

Kyev Tatum is a Baptist minister and community activist in Fort Worth.

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