Brave new census

Armstrong Williams

3/21/2001 12:00:00 AM - Armstrong Williams
The 2000 census caused a few brows to wrinkle recently when it reported that the Hispanic population has surpassed the African-American population as this country's largest minority group. While a growing base of Hispanic citizens could foretell more joint activism efforts with African-Americans on common interest issues such as fair housing, racial profiling and unbiased judicial sentencing, the news put some black leaders on the defensive. Fearful perhaps that a growing base of Hispanic voters could diminish their own political sway, they issued urgent pleas for their followers to circle the wagons. "Now more than ever, we must be prepared to ... have the technological skills and the educational background to remain competitive...." pleaded National Urban League president, Hugh B Price in a recent press release. Price is speaking to an issue that has long stymied the progress of young African Americans in the labor market: a perceived deficit in computer skills (in the specific) and problem-solving skills (in general). Dr. Margaret Simms, vice president for research programs at the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, has observed "black workers suffer either because they don't have those skills or because employers think they don't have them." Why, one wonders, weren't our racial prophets pumping their fists in the air over these issues prior to the census? Certainly technology has held the key of empowerment for quite some time. Plainly, nothing debunks racial stereotypes quite like the ability to meet new demands in the marketplace. If it took the 2000 census to shake certain black leaders into stressing problem-solving and computer skills, then perhaps that is an indicator that they've spent too much of the past three decades positioning their followers as victims rather than talking about what it takes to move forward. Maybe now our racial prophets will realize that toting the tune of victim status is worst than radical or destabilizing, it is inherently self-limiting. Plainly, to regard all members of a group as victims neatly removes such terms as "character" and "personal responsibility" from the cultural dialogue. After all, what need is their for individual striving when it is plainly understood that all the difficulties that African Americans suffer are the direct indisputable result of their shared past? In any regard, our tribal structures do seem to be cracking up. As an increasingly diverse society continues to challenge our perceptions of minority and entitlement, we move that much closer to become not just a collection of blacks and whites, but a union of human beings. In the meantime, Price has astutely noted that "The key to success ... is to move from a deficit mindset to an asset mindset." One only wonders why it took a census to arrive at this rousing conclusion.