Turning The Queen Mary

Friday evening the Public Broadcasting System presented a documentary on James Baldwin.  In one clip, Baldwin spoke on a Dick Cavett show.  Baldwin said, in effect, that he could not be sure of motives, but his observations informed him that schools were either mostly black or nearly all white, that trade unions were mostly white, and that in cities or towns, the residential areas were divided into where only whites lived or only blacks resided.  He left unsaid why or the role discrimination played.  Instead, he left it to the audience to draw their own conclusion.

Yesterday, in Washington DC, there is the first of two celebrations of the “I have a dream” speech” (March on Washington).  Fifty years ago, black leaders put into clear words, a commitment for change that James Baldwin had intimated.  While there has been no doubt much progress since that 1963 march, so much remains the same.  One wonders why and is there still discrimination after all these years?

The answer, of course, is most certainly.  Discrimination is part of the human condition. But that is not the whole answer.

Look around. The Augusta Golf Club has clearly a discriminatory policy (there are only two token women members).  Skill trades unions (whose members earn more than ordinary union workers) are still mostly white.   Residential living patterns reflect economic (and consequently racial) groupings.

All this can be explained by citing the status quo.  It is easy to blame insufficient building growth as grounds for inadequate numbers of jobs for both the exiting union members and a crop of new members.   Citing affordability, one can account for current racial housing patterns.  Hmmm.

On the other hand, our President is half African American.  There are numerous distinguished and respected African Americans is government, industry, education and the arts.  Clearly there has been progress.

Yet it is also true that blacks are proportionally more represented in prison, have a higher unemployment rate, too many do not finish high school (never mind college), and as a group earn the lowest average annual income.  Stop and frisk as well as other more straight forward profiling snags blacks more than any other group.  So, how can we expect the 50 year repeat dream work?

Hmmm.

With the United States growing much slower than it has in the past, the notion of a zero sum game must be recognized.  For someone to win, someone else must lose.

Jobs, especially good paying jobs, are going to go to those most qualified.  If a job candidate has not finished high school, can barely read or write, cannot balance a checkbook, or has great difficulty controlling his/her emotions, undertake problem solving, or set priorities, it is unlikely this person will do well competing for the scare number of job openings, regardless of race.  The outlook for too many African Americans is bleak.  This should be commonsense even though it is deplorable.

So what is the “dream” for those marching this time?

The “I have a dream” crowd might focus on what they can do.  African Americans who have made it (even though they still may not be able to follow Condoleezza Rice as a member of Augusta) might, instead, dream of reaching down and pulling up another African American.  These so called African American winners might look at successful Mexicans (or other Hispanics), or Vietnamese, or Koreans, or Indians, or Pakistanis and see what has worked for them.  Each of these groups still experiences sophisticated discrimination yet each is sending more of their youth to the best of universities.

Blacks are quick to say they experience discrimination because they look different.  So do Mexicans, Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians, and Pakistanis.

It is powerful to have a dream, especially a vision of how the future might be different in a positive manner.  The “I have a dream” successful followers need an expanded dream, one in which they play a different “hands on” role to help pull up their brothers and sisters.

 

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