One Progressive’s View: A Message from and to Black America Part II
George Jefferson, as played by Sherman Hemsley
I need to first make a disclaimer; I do not speak for everyone. These are my opinions, but with my approaching my 7th decade of life in this uniform, I think that I can impart something of value to this discussion.
The Age of Jefferson
Well, from the photo that I have provided you have probably surmised that I am not speaking of Thomas Jefferson, but of George Jefferson. Yes, George, the lovable character from the 1970’s CBS situation comedy, The Jeffersons. The age of Jefferson was the period of the late 1960’s and 1970’s when the Black community finally was beginning the reap the benefits of the Civil Rights Movement and favorable Supreme Court decisions that began to open the floodgates to opportunity that whites had always taken for granted. Much of this was to be enjoyed by my parents, aunts and uncles. George was saying that ‘we have arrived’, conspicuous consumption was the rule. But like a blind person who is suddenly given sight, the same can be said about people deprived for so long now being told to ‘go for it’, it can be overwhelming. As I said in the earlier article, being wealthy takes time while one could become rich overnight. Which would you prefer? There is that adage “that a fool and his money are soon parted’. It is more than just having money, but how you use it that will determine whether you will have the ability to have more and pass the wealth down to your progeny, giving them a head start in life. The accumulation of wealth involves patience and deliberation, contrary to instant gratification. Well, I believe that a shortcoming was that the first black generation relatively free to move within American society with some degree of opportunity and equality was not always prepared to make the best use of the resources suddenly made available to them. There were no mentors or role models to emulate as to how things were to be properly done. The ‘old money’ people that I met through my sister’s marriage, never made a ‘big deal’ out of money, they have always had it and spent generations learning how to stay in control of the wealth creating process.
There are three things that I must focus on as to where we as a group must improve.
Many may deny this, but as I grew up in a black community, I always remember the black males as the constant poor academic performers and disciplinary problems at school. This could not be blamed on the ‘system’ but there was anti-intellectual attitude taken by these boys. It was the source of many fist fights in my life, but that was preferable to coming home with bad grades. I just as well not come home at all. As sure as the sun was to rise in the morning, I was well aware of what to expect. The focus for these miscreants was always on sports, football and basketball. We cannot keep an entire people employed in the fields of entertainment and athletics. The economic picture has exponentially shifted from anything of my world almost 50 years ago. I can get on the telephone now and almost have a running conversation with voice recognition software, robots! The days of making it into the middle class short of having higher education or otherwise being highly skilled is already a distant memory. What are the current parents emphasizing with our young? Getting basketball or football scholarships should be treated with the same level of certainty as winning the state lottery. Our young men may believe that their assimilation into traditional occupations is not welcome and involves a price they are not willing to pay. We all have to compromise part of ourselves to ‘play the game’. The desire to remain in control of our lives to the greatest extent is noteworthy, but not a practical solution for the many. Like a laser light our people need to focus on education and become its master if we are to have any chance of prospering in the future. While many of us have not had higher education, we must take a leap of faith, set the example and lead.
Now that we are approaching the 3rd generation since the Age of Jefferson, the novelty of access to consumer goods and the concept of conspicuous consumption needs to wear off. When I think of the combined wealth of the African American community, how are we using the money? Are we using it to get the latest model car or are we investing in so that our children can attend college when they reach the age? We simply do not have the resources that the Anglo has so we have to be smart and ignore the constant messages to consume and instead, invest and save. Since the meltdown, even many whites acknowledge that this is necessary for their families as well.
Circle the Wagons
As I mentioned earlier, we are at a distinct disadvantage because of our lack of net worth in our families. But the problem is never insurmountable. While it may take an Anglo and Uncle Joe to finance a new business, we are going to need 20 people contributing their resources toward the same goal. Twenty people are just that much more contention, but it will be a challenge for us to trust one another more and work together toward a common goal. I grew up in a community where most of the supermarkets were no longer in business, much of that due to theft, but a lot of it due to the fact that the residents of the community were taking their business to Anglo communities in the other parts of town. We need to patronize each other more. While living in California, a few years after the fall of Saigon, I remember the flood of Vietnamese that were showing up at our shores. They worked together to learn the language, consolidate resources for banks and lending to one another. Families would live on top of one another in one house until one of the group had enough to buy their own house. We have been here longer than anybody; we should have this game down pat. People might say that my ideas of economic empowerment are about isolating ourselves, but let face it, what other group faces almost 17 percent unemployment? Dire circumstances call for dire remedies. We too often work against one another and distrust each other and if we are to move forward all this must change.
Why are black cultural norms so often associated with negative concepts? It is bad enough that the Anglos and the media play it up; do we have to be on the same stage?
The black church was once a vital part of our cultural and a shaper of mores, now it has become more of a social club. The values that are needed and that will allow us to endure are not emphasized here the way they once were. The pressure of the media and negative messages going out to the youth of all colors is not helping much. But blacks are so much more vulnerable because we simply cannot afford to make mistakes. I look to the Asians, particularly the Japanese for an example of what it means to be insular and hold to certain social values and mores within the group. I have never seen Japanese people on skid row. They have become successful in American life, and I am most certain that they too faced substantial discrimination. How did they prevail? Maybe, we can learn a thing or two from them. The need to adhere to certain mores must be more than just a Sunday sermon; it needs to be ingrained almost akin to programming. Out of wedlock births, which was once a mark of shame is now a rite of passage. We have to learn to respect each other, our women, promote self-reliance. When I was young, I was given “Mohammed Speaks” newspapers to read, it spoke of the Black Muslims. They were all about self control and discipline. They did not smoke, drink and were devout about their worship without hypocrisy. The discipline of the organization is the kind of discipline that is needed. The “establishment” had a death warrant on these groups as they organized blacks to address the challenges confronting them in an effective way. Being disciplined does not have to mean being violent or militant. Or adversaries do not want you to be enlightened in this way as it is a threat to their continued control. No one has ever taken Amos and Andy seriously, nor even George Jefferson