In 1865 most Americans were farmer
s. Forty acres amounted to enough land for a man to work and support his family
. The mule amounted to the animal he needed to work the land
, and his biggest single expense. In essence, forty acres and a mule amounted to a fair start, a chance to make your way in the world.
The modern equivalent of forty acres and a mule is an education. That wasn't always offered to black Americans. Remember segregation? The United Negro College Fund grew up as a a way of getting kids an education at a time when blacks weren't allowed to attend most colleges. Pat Conroy's book The Water is Wide documents his experience teaching in a school system that had a deliberate policy not to educate black people beyond what they needed to serve as day labor. That practice that persisted into the late 1980s, when a couple of bible belt states were embarassed to learn that their SAT scores were the worst in the nation.
America does have a racist history. But today an education is available to most black students. The public education system isn't ideal, but a motivated kid can get an education, and admission to college. We offers student loans, grants and scholarships to kids who want to take advantage of them. A way is there for those with the desire and talent.
Unfortunately, the social problems that permeated the ghetto has hurt education. Black Americans used to be the biggest supporters of education in America, because they rightly saw it as their way out of poverty. When an education was denied them, they struggled to obtain one. A lot of black Americans used this opportunity to escape the ghetto forever.
But some did not, perhaps because of broken homes, drugs or just plain laziness. The gang culture that permeated the ghetto promoted new values. A few today promote the idea that to study hard and speak good english is 'acting white' and black kids who do so are abused by other blacks.
It is a shame to me, that when so many have made it, so many young people seem determined to kill their mule, and their brother's as well.