Rightly or wrongly, the most talked about bit of President Obamaâ€™s speech at the memorial service in Dallas is his observation â€œWe flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than to get his hands on a computer or even a book.â€
Many on the social media have taken to questioning the accuracy of this statement. It feels like a hyperbole. Glocks are expensive, computers and books relatively cheap, not to mention infinitely more numerous and ubiquitous, surely even in the black communities.
While Obamaâ€™s statement might be inaccurate on its face, it is sadly true on another level. In too many, particularly minority, communities, it is an easier choice to buy a guy rather than a computer or a book. As many black academics and commentators have pointed out over the years one of the factors holding a large portion of the black community from social and economic advancement is culture.
Writes John McWhorter, linguistics professor at Columbia, in his â€œLosing the Race: Self-sabotage in Black Americaâ€:
The main reason black students lag behind all other starting in kindergarten and continuing through postgraduate school is that a wariness of books and learning for learningâ€™s sake as â€˜whiteâ€™ had become ingrained in black American cultureâ€¦ To be culturally black, sadly, almost requires that one sees books and schools as a realm to visit rather than live in.
McWhorter calls it â€œthe cult of anti-intellectualismâ€. In his essay, â€œBlack Rednecks and White Liberalsâ€, Thomas Sowell argues that the ghetto culture represents a modern-day survival of the Southern white hillbilly/redneck way of life, which the African-Americans unwittingly absorbed over centuries of life in the South:
The neglect and disdain of education among antebellum white Southerners has been echoed not only in low performance levels among ghetto blacks but perhaps most dramatically in hostility towards those black students who are conscientious about their studies, who are accused of â€˜acting whiteâ€™ â€“ a charge that can bring anything from social ostracism to outright violence.
Books and computers might be there, but Glocks seem like a more viable and accepted life option.
The bad news is that culture is very difficult to change. The good news is that it can change. Itâ€™s a slow and gradual process, which relies more on the change from within than from above. Governments can help, but itâ€™s not a matter simply of spending money, which is what governments do best (or worst). If only we could harness the energy behind Black Lives Matter to focus on these bigger problems.