Five things I thought about, thanks to Don Lemon, CNN.

Don did a piece concerning Five Things for the Black Community to Think About, things which can help that community improve itself.  As a black journalist, he has some credibility with that community.  As a teacher, I’ve seen that group of students struggle to be successful and his list of ideas is both specific and helpful.    The ideas in bold are his.  The responses are mine.

1.  Stop sagging.

Most people are embarrassed to have anyone but their intimate friends and loved ones see their undergarments.  This is a protection of privacy, a demonstration of modesty and a setting of boundaries.  “My body belongs to me and you can’t see it, or even what closely covers it.  Only I decide that.”  This is the message of modesty.  It speaks to owning personal power and taking responsibility.  Sagging says, “I am too tired or lazy to even dress myself properly.  I don’t care who sees me.  It’s fine if you want to see my private spaces and even invade my space or my thoughts.”

Sagging does not send a message of power or a strong sense of self – quite the opposite, in fact.  By letting anybody nearby see your behind, and your underwear, in public, like when you were a powerless baby, it invites others to get into your business.  In my opinion, when you sag, you actually look like a baby with full diapers.  This is about respect.  By refusing to set boundaries about your physical self, you are not showing respect for yourself.  Is this the message you want to send?

2.  Using the N-word.

I’ll be honest.  I have never understood why blacks would deliberately use such an insulting and pejorative term to each other, even as a joke.  It’s not that it’s taboo, exactly.  It’s not a curse word.  It’s just extremely insulting.  For a group that seems to be all about “respect”, why would you allow others to insult you by letting them, even inviting them to call you a nigger?  And pronouncing it “niggah” does NOT change my point.  It does not change the meaning of the term.

Dictionary.com tell us, “The term nigger is now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years, although it has been used in a derogatory manner since at least the Revolutionary War. The senses labeled Extremely Disparaging and Offensive  represent meanings that are deeply insulting and are used when the speaker deliberately wishes to cause great offense”.

Listen, I taught at an inner city urban high school for seven years.  This word was used by my students.  A lot.  I never have gotten used to it.  Each time, I am offended on behalf of the person who is being called nigger, even if it’s by one of his friends.  Or her friends.   It’s a term of contempt.  It is hostile.  It does not connote friendship or intimacy.  It says, “I think you are contemptible, inferior and ignorant”.  (The same is true, to a lesser extent, for the term “bitch”.)

I have a question.  If this person wants to cause you great offense, on purpose, why are they your friend?  Why are you giving them power over you?  If you want to be treated with respect, start by acting that way.  Have the dignity to pull up your pants so you are decently covered in public.  Then stop allowing and stop using insulting language for yourself and those you care about.

3.  Respect where you live.

Don made these points:  Clean up your own area; start small.  Don’t litter your home and neighborhood.  He spoke about the rare occasions of littering he noticed in white neighborhoods where he’s lived , and by contrast, the daily actions of dropping trash where you stand, by both adults and children, in his current historically black neighborhood of Harlem.

In the spirit of honesty, I will admit that both my parents are quite prejudiced against black people.  My Dad told stories about growing up in St. Louis, and his despair about the neighborhoods where the blacks had moved in.  He described them as eventually being completely trashed.  I used to think he was exaggerating, but maybe that’s not the case, after all.

I can understand clutter, but not throwing away trash when there’s a garbage can a few feet away?  Or spitting on the floor of your high school?  Being poor or being a minority is not an excuse for being dirty.   Take pride in your appearance and pride in your home and neighborhood.  Bottom line:  If you don’t respect your own home, can you rightfully expect anyone else to?

4.  Stay in school.

This is a discussion I tried to have with any of my students who were considering dropping out.  The lifetime earnings gap between a high school dropout and a college graduate is about a million dollars.  The gap between a dropout and a high school graduate, over 40 years, is close to half a million dollars.  As I tell my students, you ARE getting paid to stay in school, you just get paid later.  I understand there is pressure to work now and help out your family.  Honestly, schools can do a better job of being flexible on hours, so that students who want to, or need to, can successfully work and finish high school.  However, that’s not an excuse for giving up entirely.  It breaks my heart when students drop out, especially in their senior year.

Being a high school graduate is not just about the learning.  It also is a challenge to be met, an obstacle to be overcome.  Accomplishing this goal lets you know you have the strength to meet the tough times and to persevere.  Importantly, it tells employer the same thing.  Respect yourself and your future.  Go to school and fight to stay there, until you get that diploma.

5.  Family First!

Don quoted this seemingly impossible, but all too true statistic:  72% of black babies are born to unwed mothers.

His message:  Don’t have a baby until you are married, the child is planned for and you are ready.  Just because you can have a baby doesn’t mean you should.  

Ladies, choosing who will be the father of your children is the most important decision you will ever make.  You have the power in this.  Every child deserves to be born into a stable family that wants him and can care for him.  Logically, it takes two people to make a baby, because it takes two people to raise one.  Both parents are very important to the child’s well-being; each brings their own strengths and perspectives which will help the child grow and become who they were meant to be.   The majority of the statistical 72% are born to couples who are living together, but who eventually break up.  Living together is simply not enough of a commitment to make a baby together.  According to a New York Times article, “Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems”.   In other words, having a child outside of marriage sets your child up for failure, before he is even born.  (Here is a link to the full article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/us/for-women-under-30-most-births-occur-outside-marriage.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

Being a parent means always considering your child’s needs first, before your own.  It means having  empathy and being able to view all events from your child’s perspective.  Every day, for years and years, it is about what you can do for your child, not what your child can do for you.  A baby’s purpose is not to give you status, to provide you someone who loves you, to make you an “instant adult”, to entertain you, to help you pick up chicks or to help you keep your boyfriend.   A baby is completely dependent on you, her parents, to provide everything she needs, for her very life.

If you are not prepared to nurture a child for the rest of her life and to help her to grow physically, emotionally and in both her mind and her spirit, please do not become a parent.  If you are not prepared to put your own needs second to your child’s, do not become a parent.  The fool-proof way to avoid parenthood?  Do not have sex.  That is pretty unrealistic for most of us.  But it is fair to say that unless you are married and you and your husband both agree that now is the time to have a child, please use reliable birth control every time you and a boy take off your pants.  If you don’t know what that is, find out before you have sex.  If he won’t allow it, kick him to the curb.  Now.  If he won’t respect you in this, can you count on him in anything else?  If you do become pregnant, and you are not ready for this life-long commitment, please consider giving the baby up for adoption.  Willingly or not, you have created another life.  It’s not just about you anymore.

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