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Time to Dispel Myths : Don't blame African-Americans for their tragedies and ignore their successes. Those triumphs are the building blocks for a city on the mend.

July 18, 1993|EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON | Earl Ofari Hutchinson of View Park is the author of "Black Fatherhood: The Guide to Male Parenting."

Why do so many blacks commit crime?

Why are so many blacks on welfare?

Why aren't there more black men in the home?

Why can't blacks be successful in business and the professions like the Korean-Americans and other ethnics?

Why aren't black leaders doing something about these problems?

I've been hearing many people in Los Angeles asking these questions, which were borne out of frustration and fear after last year's riots. They were desperately trying to understand why and how such rage could explode in their own back yard. Had the system really failed, or had African-Americans failed within the system?

I could tell many people preferred to think the latter. But then again, why wouldn't they?

They are fed a constant diet of crime-gangs-drugs-family breakdown stories about African-Americans by much of the media. It's easy for many to believe that African-American communities are hopelessly mired in economic and social decay, and that there is no one to lead them out of it.

The truth is far different: Let's dispel some myths.

* Most black youths are high school drop-outs.

They aren't. The National Urban League's 1992 State of Black America report found that more than 75% of African-Americans graduated from high school, and nearly 35% went on to college. A study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported a dramatic rise in the SAT scores for black students in California schools in 1990. Watts residents, each year, take great pride in the award-winning academic decathlon teams at predominantly black and Latino Markham Junior High School.

* Most young blacks belong to gangs or deal drugs.

They don't. Nationwide, 75% of young black men have not been arrested, have not served time in prison and are not on parole or probation, according to the 1992 Sentencing Project.

* Most black children live in single-parent households.

They don't. The 1990 census shows that 43% of black children were in single-parent households. But even this high figure is skewed because many sociologists erroneously compare poor black families with white middle-class families. Virtually no statistical difference between divorce rates, or father absenteeism was found when black middle-class families were compared with middle-class white families.

* Most blacks are unemployed.

They aren't. According to the 1990 census, more than 70% of black workers were employed. Nearly 15% were in professional or managerial positions, nearly double the total in 1980.

* There are no real black male role models.

There are. Any weekend go to a park, sporting or cultural event, or church activity in South-Central. You will see many black men and their wives--or significant others--and children together at play, work or relaxing. Who are these men? They are barbers, plumbers, teachers, electricians, doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, police officers and so on. They are no different from white fathers. They spend time with their children and want the best for them.

* There are no black leaders.

The trouble is that too many people focus on the traditional organizations in Los Angeles like the NAACP, the Urban League and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They blame them for not solving the problems in the black community and stop there. But like other organizations, they have specific programs and constituencies. They don't claim to have a magic solution to the problems that plague African-American communities, nor should they be expected to.

Black leaders, like role models, can be found in block clubs, fraternities, sororities, trade and business associations, church councils, PTAs and many other organizations.

I am not trying to minimize the problems that face African-Americans in America's inner cities. Crime, gangs, drugs, housing, unemployment, educational neglect and discrimination are issues that demand the full attention of business, government leaders and African-American organizations.

I am saying don't blame African-Americans for their tragedies and ignore their triumphs. Those triumphs are the building blocks for a community and a city on the mend.

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