The Lesson from Florida


Last week, a rednecked peckerwood who regards himself as a protector of the common weal, saw a black kid walking around in a neighborhood where one doesn’t see many black kids.  Self-said protector, who carried a piece, followed the kid.  The kid got nervous, the peckerwood got hot under the collar and, bang, the peckerwood shot the kid.  Dead.

Racism, rank and foul.  And now the peckerwood gets a chance to sit in Old Sparky.  Bad deal all around.

I may be making things worse, but I’m going to play “blame the victim.”  But before I do, I’d like to point out that any male of any race who’s walking all alone in a middle-class neighborhood in the dark of night is going to arouse suspicion.

OK, so here goes.  If someone, anyone, from a peaceful middle-class neighborhood, saw a bearded Afghan trooping down the sidewalk in the wee-small hours wearing full tribal raiment complete with the funny little hat, the alarm bells would be ringing everywhere and Homeland Security would be Johny on the spot.  Same holds true if the individual were white as the driven snow, but sported a shaved head, an iron cross dangling from his neck, wore a t-shirt with “White Power” stenciled on the front and back and, to top it all off, had a swastika tattooed on his cheek.

On the other hand, if General Colin Powell or President  Hamid Karzai were walking down the same street at the same time, people would no doubt give them second looks, but ascertaining they too were middle-class, thanks to their middle-class appearance and comportment, everyone would go back to bed.  The peckerwood?  Well he’d probably squint and grimace, maybe even grind his teeth a bit, then write them off as just not his kind.  The peckerwood would go in his way, looking for more malefactors of society.  Now I don’t know what the dead kid in Florida looked like, but I am going to address the stereotype that made him, as a young black male, a cause for concern.

ONE:  Young black males run around in oh-so baggy  pants with crotches hanging to the knees and the legs cut off at mid-calf.  The hanging pants expose ether the wearer’s underpants, or his ass-crack.  These pants are known to the white middle class as “shit-britches” for they look weighted down by a ten pound load in the seat.  This one fact alone makes a person stand out in a highly negative way.

TWO:  They like to go around in “hoodies”, i.e., pull-over sweatshirts with hoods, and the hood pulled up.  Even on hot days and nights.  Only thugs and the Unibomber do this.

THREE:  If a front tooth becomes carious and needs a filling, these guys choose gold.  It makes one think of pirates.

FOUR:  Their cars are too often pimpmobiles, i.e., an old Caddie or Lincoln, all jacked up with tiny little wheels and painted a shocking pink.

FIVE:  When spoken too, they reply with such words as “axe” instead of “ask”.  They affect a strange and incomprehensible dialect generously referred to as Ebonics.

SIX:  Young black males’ high rate of incarceration for violent crimes and drug dealing.  This is without a doubt, the most pernicious component in the stereotype of young black males, and the most difficult one with which to deal.

SEVENTH:  Their comportment is bad.  When they talk, they screech.  They spit gum all over sidewalks.  They gather in bare-chested groups and belt beer.

EIGHTH: They spend too much time playing basketball.

If young black males will listen to a few simple tips from an old salesman, things will go a lot easier.

FIRST:  Hitch up the baggy pants and tuck in your shirt.  Better yet, go buy some nice middle-class clothing at Nordstrom or The Gap, and toss the shit-britches in the trash.

SECOND:  Go back the the dentist and have the gold filling replaced with a crown matching the rest of your teeth.

THIRD:  Find an English professor and pay the professor to teach you how to speak businessman’s English.  You’ll end up talking like President Obama and Bryant Gumbel, and that’s not a bad thing.

FOURTH:  Let your hair grow out.  Not an Afro, but what’s called a businessman’s cut.  Like what President Obama wears.  Or General Powell.

FIFTH:  Go get a pair of wire framed glasses.  If you don’t need glasses, have the optician fix you up with optically flat lenses.  You won’t believe how a pair of glasses will make you appear older than your years.  And educated.  A mover and shaker.  Someone of importance.  In my sales work, I’ve advised several young men to do just this one thing and their sales careers improved.

SIXTH:  Drive a decent car.  Something conservative and nice.  Think Caddies, Chryslers, BMWs, Lexus and such.  And for heavens’ sake no mudflaps, no dingleberries, no odd-sized wheels — keep it the way the factory built it.

SEVENTH:  Stay away from the people and environments that get young black males arrested and convicted.  Or shot.  Like walking around a sleeping neighborhood all by yourself and in the dark of night.  (Hell, even I wouldn’t do that.)

EIGHTH:  Take courses in marketing and sales, courses from which anyone can profit.  You may have flunked out, or been kicked out, of high school, but you can find someone, somewhere who can teach these things.

If you don’t think what I’ve said makes any difference, I’d like to tell you of my late friend, a fellow we’ll call Bill.  Bill was black.  I met Bill one night when we got in an acceleration contest on Park Avenue in Minneapolis.  It was a dead heat, so we pulled into Porky’s and introduced ourselves.  We became fast friends and Bill became my little girl’s godfather.

Bill was born and raised in rural Oklahoma, moving to the Twin Cities for his senior year of high school.  When I met Bill, he was the lot boy at the Plymouth dealership where he bought his car.  Most of his day was spent washing cars, sometimes running parts for the service department.  Before long, Bill signed up for night classes at a local college and got a BSME.  He then got involved in Junior Achievement where he networked and nailed a plum job at a manufacturer on the North End.  Later, he went back to the same college, again at nights, and received an MBA.  A few years later, he and another fellow started their own business of which Bill was the president.  Under Bill’s management, the business did real, real well (I should have been so fortunate).  There were a few occasions when Bill got a traffic ticket, but because of his demeanor, his appearance and his educated way of speaking, the cop always called him Sir.

I can guarantee – guarantee – if that kid in Florida had practiced the things I’ve described, and lived his life as Bill lived his, the kid would be alive today.

-Merlin-

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