There is a bumper sticker I have often seen displaying these four simple words: “A Black Man Can.” The words could be taken in either of two ways. One interpretation is liberal - calling for whites to stop discriminating and give black men a chance. Another interpretation is conservative - suggesting black men can achieve without the help of government programs.
I suspect the “Black Man Can” sticker is most often displayed in conjunction with the former message. Either way, it hopelessly misses the mark in addressing the solution to the chronic underachievement of black males in a land that holds promise for all regardless of race.
Perceptions of discrimination vary. But nowhere in America are the perceptions stronger than among black males. In the eyes of too many black males, racial discrimination is to be found everywhere. Paradoxically, black male beliefs concerning the prevalence of discrimination render the concept of discrimination virtually irrelevant. Consider the following:
*A black man sitting at a counter in a café overheard a conversation I was having with a friend. We were talking about the then-upcoming Mississippi State/Ole Miss football game. The black man, a total stranger, interrupts and says that “as a black man” he would never live in Mississippi or anywhere in the Deep South. When asked whether he had ever been to the Deep South, he responded in the negative. When asked whether he actually knew any black men who had moved to the Deep South and experienced heightened discrimination, he responded in the negative. The eavesdropping black man said he was from New York, by the way. He simply assumed that discrimination was exponentially higher in the Deep South than it is in the North. When asked whether he was racially prejudiced against white Southerners, he abruptly bowed out of the conversation.
*A black male friend of mine wanted to know what I thought of Herman Cain. He asked me specifically whether I thought Cain had any chance of getting the GOP nomination. I told him I thought he did (this was several months ago). He responded by saying “No way. But if he were not a black man, he would be the front-runner.” The statement was problematic for a pretty obvious reason. At the time of the statement, Herman Cain was, in fact, the frontrunner. My friend was so assured that white racism would prevent Cain’s success in the GOP that he did not even bother to monitor the polls.