Hawkeye, I saw "Fences" during it's original Broadway run with James Earl Jones in 1987. It is a very good play. I've seen at least two of August Wilson's other plays--"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "The Piano Lesson" and they were also very, very good.
Actually, when I think of "black culture" I think of writers like Wilson, and all of the other talented black writers, musicians, artists, choreographers etc, whose work is shaped by the black experience and heritage, and then ultimately influences our entire culture. I personally have problems with using the term "black culture" to refer to the sorts of socio-economic factors and social-racial problems and group norms that have been discussed in this thread. I really don't equate those things with "culture", perhaps because, in 2010, the black population in America is too diverse to be accurately described by any of the common group characteristics that define a cohesive entity like a "culture".
"Fences" , being set in the late 1950's and ending in the mid-1960's, does take place when profound social change and social activism was starting to erupt in the larger society, and those changes often brought ugly and violent confrontations. An awful lot of anger, on all sides, was unleashed, and some of that anger continues to simmer today. Legally it was a time when the civil rights movement started to open more opportunities for blacks, but an awful lot of other things were also going on that may also have intensified resentments toward blacks, and even fears of blacks, at the very time that blacks were becoming empowered and able to speak and act with more force and anger and determination than had been the case before. Schisms of all kinds were occurring, in the larger society, and within the black community, and "Fences" does foreshadow that with the generational conflicts shown in play.
Hawkeye, I don't know why you conclude that this was "the beginning of the end for black culture", or that laziness then infected and damaged the black community by diminishing ambition. What happened was quite the opposite. Once opportunities opened up, blacks began taking taking advantage of them, and they began gradually moving, as a group, out of poverty and into the middle class and beyond. They also gradually gained more political power, with black mayors, black governors, black congressmen and congresswomen, black judges. But, just because institutionalized racial barriers fell, racism and discrimination didn't disappear from the larger society, and long festering social problems within the black community didn't disappear, particularly for those who encountered problems climbing the economic ladder, and the continuation of those social problems has kept a disproportionate number of working class poor black people angry, alienated, and economically disadvantaged.
Blighted poorer black neighborhoods spawn crime, drugs, and violence.The working class poor who live in these enclaves of violence, drugs, and crime watch their young men die at 18 or 19, or go to jail, and see their daughters become pregnant at 14 or 15 or 16, and after a while that becomes your way of life. I really think that people try to become numb to it because it is really overwhelming. It's not that people don't want better lives, and more for their children, they do. But it's hard to actualize it, and move toward it, while you are still living in these places. These aren't just poor neighborhoods, these are very dangerous places to live, let alone raise children. And they are no longer in just the inner cities, they are in the suburbs as well.
One doesn't have to be a bleeding heart liberal to have some simple basic human compassion for people--perfectly decent hardworking people--who are still economically trapped in blighted residential communities that make it difficult for their children, growing up in such places, to emerge unscathed and equipped to move on to better lives. I really don't hear black people in these neighborhoods complaining about being victims, at least not about being victims of racism or discrimination, although racism and discrimination do certainly exist and do affect them. They mainly complain about crime, violence, drugs, the high cost of food, a lack of job training opportunities, a lack of affordable housing, things which they, as individuals, really have little power to change. And it is hard to see how anything can change without better intervention and resources in these communities, not handouts, but meaningful resources. And the problems in these communities don't stay confined there, they spill over and affect the larger society, they wind up affecting all of us. It is in everyone's best interest to address these problems.
In one predominantly black suburban community, that I personally know about, the crime rate, which was fairly high before, has jumped over 40% in the past year alone, and, during that period the local police force was undermanned. Undermanned! 20% of the children under aged 18 in this community live below the poverty line. They aren't just poor, they are below the poverty line, which pretty much means you cannot survive without external assistance.
In the last month, the high school in this community was closed down twice due to large brawls breaking out inside the school, possibly due to long standing conflicts between black and Latino students. The same thing happened two years ago, and, at about that same time, a student was killed across the street from the school as he walked home after classes. Gang violence, and problem students create a constant level of tension and fear in this school of about 1700 students. To say it is hard to learn in this atmosphere is an understatement. But many do, and they move on to attend colleges, and hopefully to promising lives. But under 50% of the students even manage to graduate. Not just because of the problems within the school itself, but because what's going on within the school reflects the violence and chaos and divisiveness that infects the whole community in which they are being raised.
After the most recent school closings due to violence, the school board called a community meeting and hundreds of very concerned parents and students attended. These people were far from being apathetic, and they were quite angry about being victimized by a fairly small but very disruptive group within the school. They were rightly demanding action. They want their children educated, they want their children safe.
The forum began quietly with presentations and comments from school officials. Later, emotions ran high as students burst into tears describing their experiences and parents loudly demanded answers.
During the meeting, Shanita Ray, 17, the school's senior class vice president, wept as she described life as a student to the crowd. "None of you walk the hallways at Hempstead High School," she said. "None of you sit in the classrooms - you have no idea how scary it is."
Roxanne Jones, a parent whose 16-year-old daughter is a junior at the school, said she hopes her daughter will be safe. "I sit at work by my phone waiting to hear what's going on," Jones said. "I just sit and think, 'Oh, God. I want to hear that she got home safe.' "
Moments before the meeting began, Olive Warner and Alpha Callender said they were seeking assurance their freshman daughter would be safe in classes following two days in which police were called and Hempstead High School students were dismissed early last week.
"If I don't hear what I want to hear, I'm pulling my child out," Warner said before the meeting.
Two hours later, the couple said they were dissatisfied and would look to enroll their 14-year-old at a private school.
"Why are we here?" said Callender as the meeting, attended by Superintendent Patricia Watkins and school board members, ended. "They didn't say anything. They are missing everything," he said, visibly upset at school officials' reactions.
Many parents said they were frustrated and uneasy about sending their kids to school this week.
School officials pledged to root out problem students and send them to an alternative school they have said they will rush to open as a result of the disturbances.
Now, obviously, all parents can't afford to take their children out of that school and send them to a private school. The many, many others, who want their children to be safe, and get good SAT scores, and go on to college and good careers, are going to have to keep doing battle with some pretty formidable forces.
Is it any wonder that less than 50% of the students graduate from a school like this? Should the children in this school have to fear walking the halls or sitting in the classrooms?
Saying that people are lazy, or fail to teach their children the value of an education, as an explanation for continued cycles of poverty in poorer black neighborhoods, is so off base and simplistic that it's almost laughable. People in these communities are struggling with very complex, very deeply rooted, social problems. And the odds of winning aren't good.