Los Angeles Laker star Metta World Peace (the athlete formerly known as Ron Artest) was once criticized (a very dangerous thing to do) by a teammate for his tendency to brawl with players and fans. “I’m still ghetto,” said Artest. “That’s not going to change. I’m never going to change my culture.… I don’t think [Yao Ming’s] ever played with a black player that really represents his culture as much as I represent my culture…. If you go back to the brawl, that’s a culture issue right there. Somebody was disrespecting me…”
Artest’s “ghetto culture” was very much in evidence last Friday in my neighborhood. According to the local paper, two groups of teens were engaged in an argument. No one is quite sure what about. Likely someone was “dating” someone else’s “baby momma.” Or else someone called someone else a “punk” behind his back. This insult was reported to the offended party. A call to arms was issued. Weapons were secured. A drive-by was initiated.
In the subsequent melee, which occurred at nearby Gravois Park before dozens of witnesses, two teenage girls were murdered. Three teenage boys were wounded with gunshots to the leg. It is unclear if any of these kids were gang members, though here in St. Louis, one in 35 residents is in a gang. In the neighborhood where I live I suspect the percentage is more like one in 17.
Newspaper accounts portrayed the girls as innocent bystanders: “Family members said [Ronisha] Jackson was the mother of a 1-year-old girl and was interested in modeling. She loved Facebook and texting friends. Jackson graduated from Sumner High School.… She was supposed to get her first apartment Friday.” The article didn’t say where Jackson’s one-year-old was while her mother was being gunned down. Nor did it say whether the mother was part of a gang. Crime reporters mustn’t speak ill of the dead.
Outraged St. Louisans responded to the shooting by feverishly commenting in the comment section of an online newspaper. Commentators debated whether the incident was “racial.” Not racially motivated, mind you, since all the teens were African-Americans, but racial, as in whether black teens are more likely to be involved in violence than other racial groups. Unsurprisingly, the discussion went nowhere, and quickly devolved into senseless name-calling.
SADLY, NO ONE RAISED the issue of culture. Specifically whether inner-city violence is a consequence of our ubiquitous culture of poverty. Perhaps this is because too many of us see such problems as — literally — black and white. Few ask why there is so little gang violence in St. Louis’ middle-class black suburbs. Could it be that the black middle class is largely made up of two-parent families? Might it be that black suburbanites are more likely to hold down jobs, attend church, graduate from high school, and shun illegal drugs?
One commentator predicted that she would be called a racist for speaking her mind, then suggested the murderers lacked parenting, were likely high school dropouts, and almost certainly bore children while still in their teens. Indeed, several commentators did call her racist. But if the commentator was guilty of anything, she was guilty of the sin of cultural absolutism: one who believes that one way of living is better than other ways.
I, for one, am a proud, unabashed cultural absolutist. I believe — no, make that, I know — that some ways of living are superior to others. I know it is better not to use drugs, not to drop out of high school, and not to have children before one is married. And I know the ghetto culture is the worst of all possible cultures.
Educated middle class liberals do not celebrate ghetto culture. They prefer to say they “understand it.” They feel sorry for those who grow up in the ghetto and (supposedly) have to defend their turf and are obligated to show zero tolerance for another’s “disrespect.” We mustn’t judge, they say. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the ghetto way of life.
For this reason liberals will never condemn ghetto culture. And as long as we refuse to condemn it, such massacres will continue.
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