Letters to the Editor

Walsh doesn't understand blacks' progress, or their frustration; how do we fight antibiotics' failure?

Published June 18, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Crying wolf



Joan Walsh attacks Ellis Cose for disparaging the progress of black Americans
even as he celebrates it. Yet I was struck by Walsh's own curious skewing
of social and political realities.

Isn't it striking that this dramatic improvement in black American life has
come during a period of our nation's history when affirmative action
programs are being rolled back; when entitlement programs are being
abolished or curtailed; when no major new social initiatives aimed at black
people are even on the drawing boards?

Yes, I know we have a Democrat in the White House, but what has he actually
done on the domestic front? Very little indeed -- which in my opinion has
been all to the good. Restrained by a Republican Congress for four of his six and a half
years in office, Clinton has governed for the most part as a moderate
Republican, and when he's gone beyond that -- welfare reform, for instance -- it's
usually been a move to the right.

So why, in the midst of this reactionary era, are black folk doing so well?
It seems to me that we're simply seeing trends that were bound to happen as
our people became more thoroughly integrated -- economically if not
socially -- into the texture of the society. I believe we're seeing in practical terms the playing out
of William Julius Wilson's hypothesis about the declining significance of
race. Racism hasn't gone away; what's happening is far more interesting and
far more valuable.

Racism exists; it simply doesn't matter as much as it once did. In my
parents' time, white people really could and did prevent people like my parents from making
the most of their abilities and talents. Today, there may still be white
people who might want to do the same to me, and some might even be in a
position to do me harm. But in the America of 1999, the amount of damage
such people can do to me is extremely limited. Think of it this way: How
many well-educated, hard-working black people do you know who are poor?
Scarcely a one, I'd wager. In today's America, any black person with
education and ambition can and will make it. It's that simple.

We are still so far behind as a people that it'll take us decades to catch
up. But we are catching up, and will continue to do so even in a
conservative age.

-- Hiawatha Bray


I am sick of people like Walsh who perpetuate the idea that blacks enjoy
playing "victim." Black middle-class anger is so great because we are the
ones pushing the envelope. Even today, in 1999, I have to let my "white-sounding" husband
talk to real estate agents, because I have been "dissed" repeatedly. I
don't get any joy out of being a "victim," but am simply trying to find a
place to live. According to Walsh, I should just be happy I got out of the

-- Natalie Reaves

Clayton, N.J.

When Walsh argues that perhaps pundits should do less "guilt mongering" and more "progress hollering," I'm reminded of the following comment, taken from her Ford Foundation report on building communities: "The more I do this work, the more I recognize certain 'white' traits: We talk too much, we don't listen enough, we act like we're in charge all the time."

Walsh may want to think about following her own implicit recommendations here.

-- Lester Kenyatta Spence

Scary as hell



The serious crisis we face as a society with super-bacteria and the failure
of antibiotics is entirely predictable, understandable and remediable, if
we change our thinking about the nature of health and disease.

While antibiotics have been and remain a lifesaving strategy for
life-threatening infectious illnesses, there is no doubt that they have
been overused in a large number of less acute and more chronic conditions,
including colds, influenza and gastrointestinal disorders. There are many
resources in traditional systems such as Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic and
homeopathic medicine that can be used safely and effectively, relying on
herbal medicinal resources that work and have been proven over millennia for
such conditions. Rather than killing bacteria or viruses, these traditional, nature-based medicines harmonize body, mind and spirit with the environment, strengthening the host so that infectious
disease cannot gain a foothold. The increasing use of such herbs and
echinacea and goldenseal, although not a well-educated use, is a sign that
the public is ready for other intelligent approaches to the treatment of
these disorders.

Your article correctly alludes that bacteria seem to be able to decipher
the code of even the most powerful antibiotics. This is understood in
traditional medical systems to reflect that we live in a conscious,
intelligent universe, that can only be mastered by living in harmony with
all life forms, not by killing every threat on sight.

-- Z'ev Rosenberg

Down and out in India


Hmmm. Cerebral White Guy goes to India. White Guy encounters human feces,
poverty, "jarring geekiness." (Poor thing, having to look at those
ubiquitous "polyester suits"!) Nubile Nordic girl, aglow with Western
affluence and "pale-skinned" propriety, makes it all better.

Am I the only person who finds this piece written with the maturity of an
oversexed Orange County teenager, with the racial understanding of a
Buchananite Republican? Braun may be studying Buddhism, but his narrative shows how far he has to go. Think of Siddhartha Gautama's tenet No. 1: "Life is suffering, and the
cause of suffering is desire."

-- Monica Bhargava

Capitol Hill's odd couple


I would like to think that the coalition politics of black liberal
Democrats and white conservative Republicans will become something of a standard in years to come, and not a newsworthy aberration. Lord knows black Americans need
the G.O.P. to become more inclusive, if only to keep the Democrats honest.

Unfortunately, there's a long-standing philosophy among Republican
conservatives that black voters are by default Democrats and out of their reach. That's an
assumption that grows less true with every generation of African-American voters, but the way the Republican right bashes George W. Bush's talk of "compassionate
conservatism," it's clear Bush has to sell his own people on the idea before he can reach mine.

-- Jeff Winbush

Columbus, Ohio

Last exit for education


I got my first degree at Brown and completely took the whole four-year college experience for granted, until I met folks struggling to start their first degrees starting at a community college. The amount of tenacity and energy that it took to combine work and school for years
(usually year-round) was daunting and awe-inspiring.

When I decided to change careers and return to school, I choose to
attend classes at a community college, and found the experience much
more rewarding than attending the local state college. I was taking
pre-med classes, and spent my evenings surrounded by professionals
(editors, accountants, military) who were also trying chart a new
direction in life. The only folks who didn't seem to take us seriously --
and were by far the biggest disappointment -- were the teachers. One
biology teacher even referred to the day students as "non-carbon-based
life forms." Nice, huh? What my community college needs is more
teachers like the author, because (clearly) it has sarcasm, apathy and negativity covered.

-- Deeanna Franklin

Silver Spring, Md.

By Letters to the Editor

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Joan Walsh