Why America Cannot have an Honest Dialogue on Poverty and Race


When it comes to race in America, there is a lot of yelling, name calling, and finger pointing, but little in the way of honest dialogue. This is too bad because if there was ever an issue in need of honest dialogue, that issue is race. As a college professor, I witness this need on a daily basis at the retail level in face-to-face interactions with students. My classes are comprised of people of all races, many of whom come from poor and lower-middleclass backgrounds. Most of my students need to get a good education as an essential step toward building a better life. What I see in my classes are plenty of students who work hard and smart toward that end. Unfortunately, I also see students who are just passing through on their way to nowhere. The latter group is composed of students who work neither hard nor smart. In fact they hardly work at all. They appear to believe that an education is something that can be given to them and should be because they are entitled to it. Their attitude can be summarized in these words: “I paid the tuition—give me the degree.” I should add that entitled college students come in all races and both genders and rarely pay their own tuition.

I am privileged to teach students of all races who are serious about education and about bettering their lives, but I am also burdened to teach students of all races who could not care less about learning or self-improvement. Don’t get me wrong, students in the latter group want to enjoy a high quality of life, they just don’t want to have to work for it. Of those who fit into this category, I am especially concerned about the black students I encounter because a higher percentage of them come from impoverished backgrounds. The black students who concern me most are those who because of the victimhood mentality that has been pushed on them since first grade in America’s public schools have developed a negative attitude toward education specifically and life in general. For example, I am encountering an increasing number of black students who view learning to speak proper English as “talking white”; something they disdain and even mock in other black students. As a college professor I can attest to the fact that speaking proper English hardly qualifies as “talking white,” since few of my white students speak proper English.

College professors are in the business of human development and improvement. Consequently, on one hand if students want to learn and improve themselves we can help them, but on the other hand, it takes two to tango. Professors can help students grow, develop, and improve, but only if students are willing to do their part. Doing their part means taking education seriously, attending classes regularly, paying attention, doing a good job on assignments, and studying hard for tests. It does not mean refusing to learn proper English because it might be considered “talking white” by some of your peers. Nor does it mean sitting back and expecting to be given what can only be earned.
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