This New Year, I would like to offer a rather profound insight: Tiger Woods has a bank account that rocks big time.
The CEO of American Express also makes millions. As does BET founder Bob Johnson, and Radio One CEO, Cathy Hughes. These CEO's know the value of money. But, if they wanted to, they could use dollar bills to light their cigars or scoop up their clam dip. Michael Jordan has more money than most countries. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have a higher GNP than Russia does.
They have sick money. They have clout. They are the faces of the new wave of black millionaires.
Kobe Bryant has so much dough that he built a mote for bumper boats in his back yard. In a country with little history other than the shared desire to make money, these black Americans have managed to ascend.
Their example spread through every field. Alfred Liggins shapes the music culture as a joint CEO of Radio One. Justice Clarence Thomas makes decisions that protect those essential rights we associate with happiness. Filmmaker Spike Lee and music executive Russell Simmons exert considerable influence in music, film and fashion. Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Colin Powell make policy decisions that help ensure the security of our republic. In fact, the Bush administration is studded with more black American than any previous administration.
Get it? Black Americans have pushed into the mainstream. They stud the upper echelon of America's economic hierarchy. And this is not just true of entertainment or sports, two areas to which black achievement was traditionally confined. From politics to corporate finance to litigation to fashion, blacks succeed.
Yet, despite these obvious successes, there remains much talk about how blacks remain victims of a cruelly unjust past. Our most visible civil rights leaders, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, make a living telling poor blacks that they are trapped in a repressive white society that neuters their talents. Sharpton and Jackson are the dispensers of a warm drug, a surrender of the will to the feelings of victimization. Their rhetoric gives people the feeling that they are not to blame for the missed opportunities of their lives. (With at least one sad byproduct being that those black Americans who actually have the audacity to succeed in industry are marginalized as "sell outs.")
And while it is true that social hierarchies exist, it is self-limiting to regard race as inextricably bound to victim status. Yet that is precisely what many of our civil rights leaders accomplish when they demand that all blacks are victims of an unjust past.
Victims? I dare you to look deep into Colin Powell's steely gaze and call him a "victim." Call Condoleezza Rice a victim to her face and you might just taste the back of her hand.
Blacks are much more than a label. They are rich and poor. And they rise and fall on their own merits. Perhaps it is time our civil rights leaders took notice of this fact. Instead of harping on the message of retribution, perhaps they ought to focus on what it takes to make it in this world. Perhaps it is time to revel in the greater good of our success stories, rather than discarding most of them as "sell outs." This New Year, it is time to provide our youth with a model of success and the reasonable expectation for future possibilities.
That would be progress.