Monday, November 17, 2008

High Expectations

There is a major cultural shift taking place in America. I know because I heard it myself on the "tell me something I don't know" segment on Sunday morning's The Chris Matthews Show on NBC. This from Michele Norris of PBS' All Things Considered:

Ms. NORRIS: I've been struck as we talk about change on a big level, what I've been hearing closer to the street, in Chicago, in Pennsylvania, here in Washington, DC, how many young black men are talking about change in their lives. In barbershops, someone told me that 12 people have come in and cut off their dreadlocks. Talking about joining the Army. Talking about, you know, forget about the saggy pants. Pulling their pants up.

MATTHEWS: Oh.

Ms. NORRIS: Leading their life in a different way, and I just think it's really interesting because we talk about change, you know, in buildings and it sounds like this election has really inspired change on a very personal level.

MATTHEWS: They're investing in America.


Someone told Michele Norris that 12 unidentified people in some barber shop somewhere in the black community have cut off their dreadlocks and someone (or is it those 12?) has said something or other about joining the army. And don't forget, young black males now are "pulling their pants up."

Now, as far as I know, Michele Norris never has claimed to be the second coming of Edward R. Murrow. Still, this is really lame, even if she were a rookie reporter for a television station in a small market.

Fortunately, Orin Starn, a cultural anthropology professor at Duke University, did not hear Norris. In a column published in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Starn reminded us that Barack Obama is similar to Tiger Woods, who "presents himself as something of a 'post-racial' figure, crossing old color lines by virtue of his mixed ancestry." And that "many observers predicted that Woods' example would revolutionize the sociology of golf." But, he notes

Actually, though, golf has gone into racial reverse by many measures. Back in the 1970s, 10 African Americans played on the PGA Tour. A poor Chicano kid from Dallas, Lee Trevino, became one of the era's top golfers.

Today, Woods is the lone black golfer among the 125 card-holding pros, and there are no black rising stars. Two U.S.-born Latinos now play on the PGA Tour, as do an increased international contingent and some exciting new Asian American stars. But the circuit remains overwhelmingly composed of whites from country-club backgrounds.

You don't even see black or Latino caddies anymore, now that carrying the golf bags of someone like Woods or Phil Mickelson has become a lucrative enterprise.

The reasons for the whitening of professional golf are complex. For example, in the age of the golf cart, golfers no longer use caddies, except for the touring pros. This has shut a traditional back door into the game for poor and minority kids. And to train a golf champion takes big money that many black and Latino families do not have.


Bonus analogy: Perhaps you remember one of the feel-good, self-congratulatory stories emerging from the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that Americans all across the land were turning to God and the house of worship of their choice. Just not true, as reported by religioustolerance.org:

It appears that, with the exception of the New York City area, the increase lasted only about two months. By 2001-NOV-26, attendance had returned to normal. The New York Times cites data from the Gallup Organization, which shows that religious attendance rose from 41% in 2001-MAY to 47% by 2001-SEP-21. By early November, attendance had sunk back to 42%.

According to beliefnet.com, the Barna Group, an evangelical research group, found that the percentage of Americans who believe "moral truth is absolute" dropped from 38% in January 2000 to 21% in fall 2001.

We shouldn't expect too much too soon. As Starn accurately (though unfortunately with a sports analogy) remarks about our incoming President: "his election was a good opening drive. But we still have a long iron over water ahead."

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