Sunday, July 27, 2008

Black in America and The Goal

(I couldn't find a related video, but I always have issues with my hair.)

These are two things that would appear to have little in common. However, as I have been consuming both media over the past few days, I have noticed some similarities between Eliyahu M. Goldratt's The Goal (the book; not Goal, the soccer movie whose sequel I surprisingly enjoyed) and Black in America. They both contain stories about the lives of Americans. Also, they both continue to irritate me.

One of the many problems with Black in America was illustrated for me in The Goal. The Goal is supposed to be a education novel about how to become a successful operations manager. In reality, it is a step-by-step manual on how to destroy a family. The main character, presumably-white guy Alex Rogo, devotes every waking moment toward saving his failing mechanical plant. I say presumably white, because there is no mention of anyone's color or race in the book until page 191, when foreman Mike Haley enters the story for three pages. "He's a big black man whose arms always look as though they're going to burst the sleeves on his shirts." Oy vey, Mr. Goldratt. Alex also calls a child "Fat Herbie", names his plant malfunctions after him, then tells his children about it. Nice.

During the few hours that Alex is actually at home, he ignores his wife Julie and their two young children, because he brings his work with him. So Julie leaves Alex and moves back in with her parents. Instead of listening to Julie's pleas for him to stop working so hard, Alex enlists his own mother to take care of him and the children until Julie comes to her senses. Then the children end up moving in with Julie and her parents for the summer. I have 57 more pages before I finish The Goal, but eventually Julie and the children return home, in my opinion because Julie's parents want them out of their house. Throughout the course of the novel, Alex takes Julie on a few dates so he can "relax with her." He never changes, though, nor does he ever consider what Julie needs. In fact, after Julie returns, Alex gets a promotion which carries the new responsibility of running three plants. When the two of them celebrate the position over dinner, Alex feels guilty. For a moment.

. . . why do I feel it's inappropriate to toast my promotion?

"The family paid too big a price for this promotion," I finally say.

"Alex you're being too hard on yourself. This crisis was about to explode one way or the other."

[Julie] continues, "I gave it a lot of thought and let's face it, if you had given up, the feeling of failure would have spoiled every good part of our marriage. I think you should be proud of this promotion. You didn't step on anybody to get it; you won it fair and square."

That passage comes a few pages after this one:

" . . . I'll really try to understand your work," [Julie says] . . . "Look, Al. I know that leaving you must have seemed selfish on my part. I just went crazy for a little while. I'm sorry--"

"No, you don't have to be sorry," I tell her. "I should have been paying attention."

"But I'll try to make it up to you," she says.

What does all of this have to do with Black in America? In both parts of the CNN special, there was a noticeable focus on single mothers and absent fathers. And when I say focus, I mean much of the special blamed every ill in the black community on children raised by mothers who weren't married to their baby daddies. Yes, at one point Soledad did actually say baby daddies. This blame game was particularly questionable during the first half of Wednesday's "The Black Woman and Family," when Soledad followed the story of a single black father struggling to raise his two elementary-school children. The story that followed was about a woman who was raised by a single father, but started having her five children at the age of 17 by a 30-year-old man. Now 29, the woman had to work two jobs and received no support from her children's father. "If I don't make it, we don't have it," she said regarding the family income.

Soledad kept contrasting these stories of woe with a married couple who had five children that were enrolled in, or heading off to, universities. However, Soledad didn't take into account the class of the various families that she interviewed. The married couple had taken over a successful family construction business, and they clearly have some money in the bank. But all of the single parent families featured in part one of the special were poor. Soledad conveniently did not feature any single parent families who weren't poor, even though it was clear that the poverty of the families was the problem. The poverty determined the families' ability to acquire proper nutrition, health care, education and housing. This became blatantly obvious when Soledad interviewed Kriss Turner, the successful, single writer of Something New. If Ms. Turner decided to become a single mother, I doubt her child would turn to a life of crime, drugs, teen pregnancy, or whatever other things can be blamed on single parent households. Her child would probably matriculate in a good school in a good neighborhood, because Ms. Turner could afford it.

Back to The Goal. The two children in the novel were technically born into wedlock. However, their father Alex was absent. So absent that their mother Julie had to take a mental-health vacation from their dysfunctional home. And in the end, their father didn't change at all, but their mother still goes back to him.

Now, what would have happened if this woman had some self-respect? What if Julie had stood up to her husband and said, "I'm not going to let you treat our family like this ever again. I'm taking our children and making a home of our own. I'm not living this 'Cat's in the Cradle' nightmare."? Or, what if Alex dropped dead of the stroke that would most certainly develop after working nonstop at a failing plant for over three months? Those children would have probably been better off. Alex truly did not care about how his lifestyle was damaging his wife, or how it was affecting his children, the people who would later decide whether to put him in Shady Pines. He proves this by not finding a job with shorter hours, but instead taking a new job with three times the responsibilities.

Yet the CNN special "report" would have you believe that the best thing for the children would be living at home with their father. A father who couldn't properly feed himself or his children without an intervention by his elderly mother.

Maybe this is why some black women, and some non-black women, are raising children on their own. Maybe they don't want to raise their children with someone who is a liability, rather an asset, to their family. Or maybe they're lesbians. I wouldn't know, because from what I gathered from Black in America, there are no gay black people in America. More precisely, there no gay black people in American worthy of a Soledad O'Brien interview.

I have many other grievances about Black in America. Here's a gentleman whom I don't know airing some of them:



Irwin Handleman said...

I'm honestly confused by this. Maybe I read it wrong, but did you complain that all the single mothers in the CNN thing are poor, and then get mad that the woman in the book stayed with the guy who got the big promotion? Is that right?

And maybe the other woman you mentioned shouldn't have 5 kids starting at age 17 with an idiot.

Bianca Reagan said...

I did indeed "complain that all the single mothers in the CNN thing are poor". I also complained about the single father chosen for the "CNN thing" being poor. The problem is that not all single parents are poor. Yet only poor single parents were featured in Black in America.

I also did "get mad that the woman in the book stayed with the guy who got the big promotion". The guy in the book was destroying his family and himself with his masochistic work habits. The woman chose to keep her children and herself in that dangerous situation. It was a Law & Order episode waiting to happen. Or maybe an episode of Snapped.

I agree. That woman shouldn't have had all those kids with a loser. However, my point was that her choice to have those kids had nothing to do with not having a father. She had a father. What she didn't have was money, support, an education, or proper knowledge of and access to birth control.

molecularshyness said...

I think the fellow on the vid hit the nail on the head. The Black in America piece was kind of a news version of Tyler Perry's stuff - if black people aren't living in the ghetto on drugs, pimping and hoing, they're rich and disconnected from their people - and may be hiding some awful dysfunction [spousal/child abuse, etc.]

Not to mention the consistent suggestion to the successful [educated] black woman: get off your high horse and get with that car repairman. [not to say there's anything wrong with car repairmen, but I understand if a woman's looking for someone with a background more similar to her own.]

I'm not sure where CNN/Soledad's focus was for the piece, but it wasn't something I could relate to, and I think that's where they missed the mark. They billed it as being a window into the lives of blacks in America, but only opened the shades on the poor people.

Bianca Reagan said...

Welcome, molecularshyness! CNN and Soledad need to open the shades on me.