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by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

While I understand your readers' arguments that socioeconomic factors are the major contributors to a seemingly perpetual black underclass, I am not persuaded. I have to agree the problem is cultural. My parents grew up in a time when racial discrimination was rampant and opportunities for poor blacks were scarce. They were both born in the rural South. My grandparents were farmers and had not graduated high school. Not only were there no examples of highly-educated or affluent blacks in their communities, there were no examples on television, and certainly not in the oval office. There was no family expectation that they go to college, only that they work hard, not lie, cheat or steal, and grow up to become decent human beings.

Both took the initiative to go to black universities to better themselves. There were no available scholarships. They worked their way through school and my maternal grandmother got a job outside the home for the first time in her life, standing on her feet all day peeling shrimp so she could send my mother her earnings for living expenses. My parents tell me that when they were in college, black men outnumbered black women. They tell me that it was considered shameful to be unkempt, that they all worked together to keep their grades up and keep their eyes on the prize - graduation and professional success. Both my parents went on to get graduate degrees.

Given the pervasive, accepted, and even legal discrimination faced by previous generations of black Americans, there is no excuse for our current failure to succeed.

Another crucial point: if the black community's success or failure is out of our own hands, how depressing and discouraging is that? If that's what our young people believe, it's no wonder they don't have a vision for their own futures or a belief in the opportunities this country provides. On the other hand, if our success is simply a matter of changing our own internal cultural norms and mindset, the profound disparities between white and black America can be ameliorated in a generation.

At some point in the last twenty years, black America took a wrong turn and it's up to us to save ourselves. And now after Obama's election there truly is no excuse. He should serve as a constant, highly visible example to black kids of what is possible in America.

(Photo from a Reader's Digest profile: "Craig, Fraser, Marian, and Michelle Robinson around 1965. "Craig and I had excellent role models, " says Michelle [Obama]. "My parents didn't go to college, but they were smart, commonsense people who believed in hard work.")

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