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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Defying Stereotypes

I've been highly critical of Palm Beach Post columnists in the past, but occasionally one of them writes a gem. Elisa Cramer has done just that. Her published letter to a young black man is well worth reading. I've posted it in its entirety below. Don't listen to other's expectaions for you, but beat them. That is good advice for anyone.

Open Post- Right Wing Nation, Jo's Cafe, Third World County, Bright & Early, Outside the Beltway

Dear Da’Quan,

You don’t know me, and, though I’ve never met you, I can guess with fair certainty some important stuff about you: You’re young, black and male — “at-risk.”

I didn’t want to use that overused term. But how else to sum up the ton of studies and statistics that claim to describe you? Homicide is the leading cause of death for black males like you between the ages of 15 and 34…Black men in their early 30s are more likely to have been in prison than in college…Although the majority of dropouts are white, too many are black…One in every four black men in the United States was permanently unemployed over the past five years, a rate twice that of white men…

I don’t mean to scare you. I just want to be honest with you.
Those facts are not your greatest risk. No, worse than all the “hard evidence,” all the reports on the shelves of guidance counselor, parole officer and prison warden offices, you’ve been branded.

Drugs, violence, poverty. You’ve been marked.

Some will blame your brothers — literally or figuratively — for choosing that label for you, whether through dramatized or real crime, hyped by TV, video games and rap. Because you didn’t earn it, it’s going to be hard to shake it off. But you must — at every opportunity: at the bus stop when you’re being teased for reading one of those heavy textbooks you lug home daily, at the dinner table when the 6 o’clock news blares sirens and sobs from around the corner, and especially in the classroom when you’re sitting right up front, hand raised often.

So definitive is that brand, so ingrained in strangers that years from now, when you defy the stereotype, you may be called an exception. You may be “complimented” for being unexpectedly articulate. You may be challenged to explain how you — from a poor family, raised by a single parent in a neighborhood with small, old homes and noticeable drug dealers — overcame your circumstances. I hope you’ll return home and travel, speaking honestly and proudly, as African-American pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson will to a West Palm Beach audience of literacy advocates next week.

When you compete and win in swimming or skateboarding or any other recreational venue not traditionally dominated by blacks, you may be taunted. And when you prove intellectual prowess as well, say by becoming No. 1 in the county’s Science, Engineering, Communication and Mathematics Excellence competition, as one Caucasian and two dozen African-American, Haitian, Jamaican and Pacific Island Suncoast High School students did Saturday, you may be dared to explain yourself.

Please, do not be discouraged by the cowards, on vivid display at a neo-Nazi march through an Orlando neighborhood last month and, right here, painting “KKK” on a black family’s home in The Acreage this month. Yours is a history of smart, innovative revolutionaries, even at young ages. Be strengthened by the action of Barbara Johns, who, when she was 16 in 1951, led her Farmville, Va., classmates on a two-week strike to gain an integrated, higher-quality school. And Claudette Colvin, who at 15 was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. — nine months before Rosa Parks.

Some Florida lawmakers are showing commitment to your success, too. If Rep. Frank Peterman’s proposal (House Bill 21) continues to receive favorable votes as it has in legislative committees, this state will create a Council on the Social Status of African-American Men and Boys, targeting physical and mental health, unemployment, incarceration and education. Rep. Peterman rightly realizes that the plight of African-American males affects everybody.

A University of Florida economist studied your name and found that teachers generally have lower expectations for you and students with similar names — prefixes, unique spellings, apostrophes, “black-sounding.” They tend to assume that your parents aren’t well-educated. Employers, researchers from Harvard and the University of Chicago found, show similar disinterest.

But, please, don’t ever question your ability to succeed. You will make some mistakes, but you can recover from failure. The greater task will belong to society: overcoming the expectation that you will fail.

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