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The Soft bigotry of Low Expectation: Part 1 Violence



In May 2008, I was in the North Lawndale community on my way home from work when I was attacked. I was attacked by 8-12 black children ranging from ages 10 – 12.  They were throwing rocks, bricks and etc , because I had refused to give the youngest one money. I didn’t fight back.  I just got out of there and went to the police station to file a compliant. I learned that there was a neighborhood search for the leader (aka superman) of this group that had been attacking the elderly and other folks.   This was my second time being attacked on the west-side of Chicago. I remember sharing my story with a friend of mine. I was furious every time I thought of the little marauding group of delinquents. I told her how I wanted them to be put in a juvenile detention center.  She was appalled. She told me that I was exercising my privilege and not being compassionate to young black children and their struggle.  She talked about trying to understand how their community created them to be violent. I asked her if that applied to older “rogues and marauders”  and she said “yes.”  At this point, we had a conversation about self-determination and human agency vs. environment and other external forces that lead to poor decision-making, piss-poor morals, and a lack of humanity.

In 2004, Bush touted the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”   (Just for the record) I will not be speaking to the successes and failures of his No Child Left Behind Act, and nor will I address directly the topic of underperforming school districts and regions.  There is, however, some truth and relevance to his idea about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for disadvantage (read: Black & Latino) youth in the United States. I think the “soft bigotry of low expectations” is harmful to black youth being able to fully participate as law-abiding citizens in our great Democracy (smile).   One  soft bigotry of low expectation is highlighted in the uncountable ‘explanations’ that some develop to insulate some black youth from their horrific or problematic actions. The consequence of the soft bigotry of low expectation is that everything (bad, distasteful or horrific) becomes explainable in a way that the individual, who committed whatever offense against their community, families and a random person, is not responsible (or less responsible) than someone from a different racial group.  



In terms of violence, Chicago has been off the chain for the last three years.  Just this Monday, the 20th of July 2009, 7 were shot in Austin Area, a Chicago west side community. Moreover in April 2008, Chicago’s blocks where red with blood in one weekend alone 36 to 37 shootings occurred.  Finally in May 2007, the killing of Blair Holt (read: the honor student) on CTA bus by Michael Pace (read: the gang-banger). The reason I mentioned all of these incidences is because the victims and perpetrators (in most of these events) shared one thing in common (i.e., being black youths).  Although these numbers of shootings and deaths are horrible, it is the consequences of living in such violence that is truly disastrous in terms of forming a healthy and safe community for folks who live in these areas. 




Watching this clip you see the frequency of violence here in Chicago, but more importantly you hear the voices of five black youths from Chicago Public Schools reflecting on their experiences with violence.  What is very troubling about this clip is when Nick Turner talks about his experiences.  He said “I’ve seen my friends get attacked. I’ve been attacked and it is getting worse and worse, everyday.” I found this statement to weigh on me. I can not imagined everyday suffering through violent interactions with a group of rogues, thieves and gang-bangers.  Even more disturbing is when in a black backdrop (a few scenes later), the white words of 3523 students were expelled for bringing a firearm to school (I am assuming that was 2007-2008 school year), because it becomes clear the magnitude of the piss-poor decision making by some black youth. I think the consequence has to fit the crime, but in a space where everyday someone is attacked or shot maybe a person would need a gun with them?

Inevitably, we are forced to create a new kind of logic (read: standard) other than the soft bigotry of low expectations.  The need for a new logic (read:standard) becomes crystal-clear when we consider that Blair Holt’s last act was protecting a female companion on the bus next to him, whereas Michael Pace (read: the gang-banger) last act as a non-incarcerated hoodlum was poppin’ caps on a CTA bus killing an unintended person.  If we settle for the low expectation that human agency and self determination is trumped by environment and external forces than we can’t ever hope to explain how the same community produces a Blair Holt, or a Michael Pace.  

To further my point in 2008, Shatu Love, another young man from the clip, said “in my seventh and eighth grade back when my social life was real bad, I gave it some consideration to join gangs.” In the end he decided not too go through with it, because of all the different potential harms.   Young black people are everyday, actively, deciding to resist being apart of the problem (e.g., partaking in organized violence), which is and should be the expectation.  When all is said and done,  the individual is responsible for the reason he or she joined a gang (or committed an act of violence).  To be fair, there are ways in which some young black males/women/transgender folks’ ability to resist are compromised, narrowed or almost made non-existent (i.e., the extreme choice between to live in a gang or die uninitiated). Unfortunately even when presented with the extreme choice, one is still an active participant and decides to enter into membership on one’s own self-determination. (What would your choice be if confronted with the extreme choice?)