Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race and Gender

BOND: I saw a frightening statistic in the New York Times the other day. I can't remember if it was Paul Krugman or who, but he talked about class integration in public schools -- not racial integration but class integration in public schools -- and the frightening statistic for me was when you take girls from the lower class and put them in a middle class school, they thrive. When you take boys, they do worse. They fail. And you just wonder what's going on here and how can you grab it and correct it? Why are these girls doing so well -- from poor circumstances, once put in a challenging environment -- and why these boys do so poorly once put in that environment?

NORTON: And somebody needs to study that and you can, in fact, we can learn what the difference is if you're willing to probe deeply enough. I trace the beginning of the problems in the black family not to any cultural or other attitudes. I trace it very specifically to the flight of decent paying manufacturing jobs from the cities and other places. And you see a steep decline in the black family with people getting married and having children at the very same time that you see black males falling out of the labor force because the jobs that --

BOND: The strong-backed jobs are gone.

NORTON: -- the strong-backed jobs are gone. So then you have to have men ready to do something that black men have never been ready to do before because it hasn't paid. You get a college education and you can get a job, so black women tended to get jobs -- [they] need a college education because they were teachers or nurses. Black men made more than their college-educated wives as laborers. Now, you've got to retrain these men, meanwhile -- or reorient, not retrain -- reorient these men so that education is seen and, of course, many are being reoriented.

The problem is that for a boy living in the inner city -- and brought up now, I would say, for the last thirty years in the inner city -- he is brought up no differently from the way men have been brought up in America forever, and that is to equate manhood with money. Therefore, if you do not have money, then you do not do what men do, and one of the things men do with money or with resources, is to marry and have children. They have children, and what's frightening is they often have many children without acknowledging those children.

I think if you care anything about black children, if you think that they ought to have the same fair chance at life that you and I had, you have to do more than say, "Well, let's deal with this when they get in school," or "Let's make sure that we get plenty of programs from the Congress." You've got to also deal with the fact that people are not forming families, and you've got to deal with your own heritage -- that these families are what brought you through. Not the government, the government didn't care beans about black people. It used all of its power against black people. The reason black people became Democrats is that for the first time at least the government said that the hand-out was available to blacks as well. Yes, you could get Social Security if you were black or if you were white. Yes, if there was a death of the male partner or he left, you would not be left to charity and you would not starve. My own sense of what you have to do evolves as I see even those institutions need changing because, for example, those institutions were created for people who once were married, and our community got to the point where it was dependent on those -- on something like welfare.

That's why I think you have to keep rethinking. If you think of yourself as I think people in my generation thought of themselves as change-makers, then you can't just stop making change because you made some change when you were twenty-two. If you're a change-maker, you've got to be self-critical of the change you made.