It's easy to attack and demagogue those who don't have a voice. It's easy to blame others when you fail to provide true leadership. And it's easy to reinforce stereotypes and misconceptions to win elections, or to win over your party's base. That is precisely what Republican Rep. Paul Ryan did last week when he made despicable comments regarding inner cities, and inner-city men in particular. Discussing a "tailspin of culture" of "men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of work," Ryan insulted generations of men and women who rise early every morning for an honest day's work, or to look for work. Whether or not Ryan believes his own deplorable statements doesn't matter; it's the fact that he feels the need to utter them that should make us all very worried.
2014 is another pivotal year. The midterm elections -- the outcome of which will determine what direction the nation heads -- are around the corner. Do we want to keep progressing forward, or do we want to revert back to a time when culture wars and scapegoating were the norm? Based on his own comments and actions, it would appear that Ryan would like to do the latter. Referencing Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, a book that called blacks inferior and was widely viewed as racist, Ryan knew exactly what he was doing. Using code words like "inner-city" and "culture," he sent subliminal messages to an audience he was clearly trying to cater to. How can the House Budget Committee Chairman not be held accountable for such despicable words? He knew better, or rather, he knew exactly what he was doing.
Blaming the "inner city," blacks, or minorities in general for society's ills is nothing new. Whether it was Reagan's "welfare queen" or more modern covert phrases/actions like Ryan's, it is beyond tired and played-out. Why don't we actually try taking a look at real facts for a change? Approximately 17.7 percent of people living in non-metropolitan areas are in poverty, as compared with 14.5 percent of those in metropolitan areas. According to the USDA, that means about 8.5 million people in non-metro areas live in poverty. That is the unfortunate reality. While I never condone blaming the poor or impoverished, let's not act like it is confined to the inner city. Instead of trying to blame the boogeyman, Ryan should maybe try to create or pass programs that assist those desperately looking for work -- many in his home state of Wisconsin.
When I was growing up in the borough of Brooklyn, every single morning I saw men (and women) scraping ice and snow from their cars to make it to work, or to look for work. I saw people rising before dawn to run to trains and head into their first job -- yes, first job. My entire life, I have seen men and women in the "inner city" work tirelessly to provide for their families and make ends meet. So when Ryan, an elected official, makes these sorts of outrageous comments, he is insulting every hard-working American who sacrifices day in and day out while he goes on a radio show and spews this nonsense. The point is not whether he believes his own misrepresentations and vitriol but where we are in this country. Why do people like Ryan and so many others feel the need to pander to others who hold these type of ignorant and biased views?
I often discuss the tremendous progress we have made in this nation. And make no mistake: We have. But until vicious and divisive comments from our representatives and those in power are eliminated from the conversation, our work isn't done. It's not enough for Ryan to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus; that won't erase his mentality or the mentality he is trying to win over. It is up to us, those that believe in peaceful movements and progressive change, to keep pushing forward. We must ensure that we vote this year, and we must elect individuals who know how to lead and not incite hatred.
That is the America we want.