I just couldn’t figure out why my dishes have been coming out so dirty lately. My answer came in an article in the Star Tribune (”Dishwashers Have a Dirty Little Secret,” Feb. 4). It turns out that the government has banned the use of phosphates, an additive in dishwasher soap that was chiefly responsible for clean dishes.
Since then, we have all been having dirtier dishes, no matter how advanced the dishwasher. It’s remarkable how the removal of an undervalued but key component can dramatically change outcomes.
During slavery, 70 percent of slave children were being raised by two parents. In the 1950s African Americans had the highest marriage rates in the country. While environmental realities were harsh, communities had a strong sense of mutuality, hopefulness and a sustainable socioeconomic diversity. The most successful and the least successful lived in close proximity to each other. There was enough energy to start and lead the Civil Rights Movement against daunting odds.
Today, 70 percent of all Black children are being raised in single-parent families and the poverty rate for those families is 39 percent vs. nine percent for families with two parents. This condition persists in spite of the plethora of social service and charitable dollars flowing into the community, although we have supported decades of Democratic leadership and in spite of the fact that African Americans are the most religious of all Americans.
The question is: What are the “phosphates” that have been removed from our system to create this decline and render our community ineffective in renewing itself? And what must we do to replace it?
I contend that the answer is leadership. Once fair housing laws were passed, our intellectual and economic leaders began to leave the community. They moved on to become leaders in well-heeled communities and corporate environments.
But even as many of us developed the ability to lead in the larger society, we began to lose connection with and urgency for the well-being of the geographic Black community. Poverty and hopelessness have become concentrated, and those most equipped with the antidote continue to leave.
It is time for the Black middle and upper classes to understand this dynamic. We have everything and everyone we need to make the African American community whole again. And values cannot be attached to stones and thrown across the railroad tracks. Bill Cosby taught us that.
We need to return to live in North Minneapolis, to demonstrate that two parents are better than one, that most of our people are gainfully employed, that a wholesome life is more profitable than a crafty one, that violence is unacceptable, that homework should be done every night, that parents should read to their children, that we should never call our children “dumb” or “stupid” or worse, that prison is an aberration, not the norm, and that our love for each other is greater than our fear.
There are, of course, strong families that never left the community and continue to contribute. There are also many poor families, who already hold strong values, but we are not enough to turn the social tide. Besides, those families will not be poor for long. And as they succeed, they will also leave.
So, come back and be our eloquent and powerful partners. We need you to push past the shallow intimidation of intra-racial politics, join hands with those who are on the ground and help us renew ourselves.
I’ve been washing my dishes by hand again lately. They sparkle!
Don Samuels is the Minneapolis Fifth Ward city council member. He welcomes reader responses to Don.Samuels@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.