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Some Role Model


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Taking in your lead piece on gangs and politics (January 27, 1995) I observed the pleasantries.

"Mr. Hoover. A pleasure"--pauses for a photograph with group. "Kids, this is Mr. Hoover," a man says to his grandchildren no less. A woman shakes his hand and wishes him "Happy New Year." I paused and said who am I reading about here--then it dawned upon me that I was reading about a convicted, cold-blooded, gangbanging murderer who elected to be a functional illiterate until the age of 22 and cofounded a political organization with another man who has been charged in the rape and murder of a woman in 1993, and a teacher of young children in this political organization was convicted of murder in 1976 and served 16 years in prison while his common-law wife heads another organization called "Save the Children" while he has done all that he could in destroying them. Then I began to understand what a Kafkaesque, topsy-turvy, through the looking glass, Orwellian, antithetical situation that we black people have gotten ourselves into.

And for an ex-black Mayor of Chicago to condescend to writing a pleading recommendation to prison authorities to release Hoover so that he could be the leader of black youth betrays a moral, intellectual and cultural bankruptcy of the black community. The Republicans are talking about putting wayward black youth in places modeled on Boys Town, and one wonders that if we can't do any better than this maybe we need a "Boys Town" for the whole race. What this defective thinking unwittingly admits to is that while we have a good number of preachers, teachers, politicians, and businessmen in our community, they only represent a mild example of moral persuasion without any teeth in it, but this guy Hoover, he represents pure unadulterated muscle including the ability and willingness to kill. So what we need is an "enforcer."

I wish that we could understand how this affects our image in a larger society. I am a black male given to mildly "New Age" dress, complete with an occasional headpiece and earring, and when I go into a department store clerks will leave other customers and race straight to me with a very solicitous "may I help you" knowing full well that they suspect that I'm in there to shoplift or hold up the place. Even when I visit museums the security guards track me so closely that they almost step on my heels and I can never get a taxi, day or night, and I don't file complaints with various civil rights organizations because I half agree with the driver.

Throughout our history there has been a widely held theory by tribal chiefs, colonists, slaveholders, feudal sharecroppers and various police authorities that black people could be governed only by administering the threat of corporeal punishment because we were not susceptible to abstract reasoning or a moral conscience, and the vacuum created by black leadership loans validity to this brutal theory, with the mother frequently the only one in the household who metes out discipline by spanking the children for misbehaving. I now understand the aphorism often seen on ghetto walls, "You'll never be the man your mama was."

John Mayhew

W. North

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