America is a sentimental country always ready to embrace its past. As a nation, we have memorials to just about everything and everyone under the sun. Our public memorials run the gamut ranging from the simple white cross seen on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere as one drives down the highway, no doubt a makeshift memorial to someone who must died in a local traffic accident, to the elaborate marble cathedrals dedicated to fallen presidents in the nation’s capital. And there is plenty that fall in between these two extremes. Not too long ago I heard someone promoting the dedication of a memorial to the spouses of veterans. Our memorials run the spectrum indeed.
America is a nation that embraces its history. Every year cities within the nation compete to host the largest and most festive Independence Day celebration. The rhetoric is that an American just isn’t an American if he or she doesn’t don their red white and blue uniform and fervently wave the stars and stripes on this illustrious holiday. We are proud of the fact that our forefathers had the gumption to stand up to the British monarchy. We love our Memorial Day and our Labor Day. We celebrate holidays based on religious history. The so called birth and death of Jesus are two of the most popular holidays known to traditional America. The idea of having Jesus’ birthday competing with other religions trying to get a little recognition for what they feel is important is a bit too sacrilegious for many vocal Americans. We love to celebrate our history.
We love our past and we love our monuments to days gone by. The Golden Gate and the Brooklyn bridges are held in high regard despite the fact that their engineering achievements have been eclipsed decades ago. Buildings from a long bygone era are protected as museums of architecture and enjoy must be preserved at all cost status. We collectively mourn the death of actors and celebrities that have not made a public appearance in decades. Antiques from the past in pristine condition enjoy value that dwarfs the national treasure of some countries. Some antique cars can be sold for tens of millions of dollars. It would not be surprising to see an antique tin can with its label intact fetching a sum north of a million dollars. And it would not be surprising to learn that the product originally sold by the case for just a penny. Our history, and the symbols of our history, are precious to us.
But, one area of America’s past that is avoided like the plague is America’s relationship with its black community. Any time any body brings up a reference to slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, or affirmative action, the wayward armchair historian is attacked as if he or she is a history terrorist. Some people will go so far as to say that these eras of institutionalized racial discrimination are simply too painful and too divisive a time in our history to bear scrutiny. Any one who insists on trying to learn something from these periods of history are simply trying to exert some kind of leverage against the dominant community for the sins of their ancestors and elders. Arguably, any weight the study of the history of racial disparity may have on the collective white community is trivial at best, but more than likely it is nonexistent.
Interestingly, a number of Americans from the racially generic dominant class that just so happens to be predominantly white, refer to any attention devoted to the study of America’s sordid past of institutionalized slavery or any instance where the norm consisted of the black community being abused and/or neglected, as a desperate effort to cling to a victim mentality and blame everyone for the black community’s failures but the black community. The idea that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it is thrown out the window like the proverbial baby and bathwater. And, low and behold, America is repeating its past as if by script.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, while the dominant community was doing its thing to deny black people the right to be human, the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to own property, the right to dignity, and the right to just about everything else, some black people were painting the majority of the black community as waiting for handouts and for outside assistance, the type of assistance that was considered an entitlement by members of the dominant community. Black people needed to stop playing the victim and get an education. But for some reason, it was okay that black people were not entitled to the same tools to obtain an education that was regularly offered to the dominant community. Black people wanted jobs. But somehow, black people were not entitled to the same jobs offered to non blacks but to the more menial jobs that paid poorly and few people wanted.
Booker T. Washington was most apologetic to the dominant community. At the beginning of the twentieth century Mr. Washington was quick to suggest that the black community could best defend itself from the racism of white America when we quit expecting anything from the white community. The white community is more than welcome to black labor but didn’t have to fully compensate our ancestor’s for it. And interestingly enough, Mr. Washington was heralded as the respectable leader of the black community by the dominant community. The black community must adapt itself in order to become a respectable component of the dominant community. The black community must contort itself into a social reform that more closely emulates behavior that the dominant society will find respectable and tolerant worthy.
The same holds true today. The vast numbers of respectable black people regularly promoted on television are the type of people who will be quick to tell people in the black community to exercise some kind of personal responsibility. We are regularly told to quit being lazy and give up the victim mentality. If somebody doesn’t want to hire us then we need to find someone else who will. If somebody doesn’t want to educate us we simply need to find somebody else who will. And while we play a game akin to looking for an opportunity in a haystack most white Americans will find their opportunities without the impediments that hinder black people. But ask the people in the dominant community and the problem isn’t the insidious social racism that limits opportunities for black people. The problem is that black people don’t do what is necessary to step up to the plate and find their opportunities despite the fact that white people are afraid or simply refuse to engage us.
Yes, it is very true that black people need to step up to the plate. We cannot wait for a handout from the dominant controllers or from our black brothers and sisters who have done well. Black people have no choice but to look high and low, far and wide, in and out, up and down for our opportunities. The hurdles against us require us to jump through hoops of fire in order to find what others simply walk up to or just wake up and find in their lap. Unfortunately, when blacks do find the opportunities that allows them to succeed and prosper, instead of doing everything we can to help make things a little easier for the next black person, we are more likely to hold back with the standard rhetoric of work hard and you too can make it.
Some black conservatives who have achieved their success with the help of programs along the lines of affirmative action want to turn around and dismantle these programs to prevent other blacks from taking advantage of them. Some say that affirmative action prevents black people from achieving their best and gives black people the impression that they cannot compete with other races. Again, the problem isn’t the racial discrimination that excludes black people from taking advantage of certain opportunities. The problem is the black people who expect an equal and fair shot at opportunities. These people actually promote the idea that the institution that doesn’t freely give opportunities to the black community isn’t the problem, the institution that assures a racially diverse population of people taking advantage of their opportunities they offer is the problem facing society. The last thing we need is someone trying to do something for the black community. Discrimination isn’t the problem. Reverse discrimination is the real problem.
Black people need to learn to expect nothing from the dominant community. Nobody owes us a handout. And to that tidbit of information we can add the fact that nobody owes us a fair shot at anything. And if that isn’t enough, it appears that some successful black people are intent on making it their responsibility to make sure that the black community doesn’t forget that the black culture that is our birthright is best left behind and forgotten in order to help the dominant community to perpetuate the coincidence of racial disparity that always find the black community at the shitty end of the measuring stick. If our so called black role models have their way black history will be forgotten and we will repeat the past as if by script.