NEW YORK -- I have been writing for some time about the problems of public education. I also have been highly critical of the elements in popular culture that encourage young people toward illiteracy, brutishness, hatred of women, whorishness and mindless materialism. Now we find that these troubles are combining in yet another way: as obstacles that prevent black kids from doing well in society.
It is often difficult to talk about these things, because those who function on the racist circuits of our nation describe poor academic performance by black kids as proof of inherent inferiority, the intellectual quicksand of bad genes.
Racists are always ready to say, "Here we go again. No matter how much money you spend on them, no matter what the excuses are, they just can't do it."
Such people will be thrilled to learn that, according to a newly published study, the gains in reading scores that black kids had made in recent years to narrow the gap with white kids have begun to fall away.
Whether in the low or middle or upper middle class, black kids are not performing as well as their white counterparts. Even white kids who are less than well-to-do are performing better academically than the black children of well-to-do parents -- parents who have graduated from college and always believed in hard work. The black kids are not suffering from any fundamental learning difficulties, and their intellectual capabilities are the same as those of the white kids.
So what is happening? Here it is: They have a perverted sense of "authenticity," and they fear being seen as rejecting their roots in favor of "trying to be white." Any black person who raises these issues is accused of "self-hatred" or "hating young black people."
Criticism of such terrible trends within the black community is naively perceived as adding ammunition to the stockpile of the enemy. That presupposes no one else is noticing or can learn the truth in a society with so much information.
Well, I think the enemy is different. I think the real traitors are those who, whether aware of it or not, are embracing so-called street knowledge and all the anti-intellectual attitudes that come out of the worst extremes of so-called hip hop culture.
For almost 40 years, black people were told that they are more akin to formerly colonized peoples, like West Indians and Africans, than they are to the rest of America. But by blood, experience and accomplishment, black Americans are far more related to this land and its people than to any land or people outside it.
Now a confused idea about white middle-class standards has polluted even the black middle class, which results in too many black kids who should know better trying their best to be "ghetto."
Being "ghetto," of course, means rejecting the white middle-class standard of academic achievement. This is the worst thing that has happened to black people in the years since the end of the Civil War. Back then, some ex-slaves surely felt inferior. Still, no matter how hard times were, black people at large knew that cultivating their minds prepared them best to take on their troubles. No amount of racism convinced them that civilized behavior or high aspirations or sophistication had been forever franchised to white people.
It took hip hop to do that. Now, black kids get in lifeboats and proudly use drills instead of oars, complimenting one another on the sinkings -- on "keeping it real." Or, as Chris Rock says, "Real dumb."
In the recent past, many bellowed that the biggest hindrance to progress was that black people hated themselves too deeply to take charge of their fates. From what we now see, the tragedy is that too many young black people so deeply love the wrong things.
Stanley Crouch is a columnist for the New York Daily News.