You can't buy that. A leading historian of education has said that the New York City public schools were the best in the country during the 1940s. That was when I went to school there. That was enough piece of sheer good luck that came my way. Today the classes are smaller, the buildings more modern-- but the education itself is a disaster. I got the kind of education that people have to go to expensive private schools to get today.
Perhaps more important, nobody told me that I couldn't make it because I was poor and black, or that I ought to hate white people today because of what some other white people did to my ancestors in some other time.
Nobody sugar-coated the facts of racial discrimination. But Professor Sterling Brown of Howard University, who wrote with eloquent bitterness about racism, nevertheless said to me when I prepared to transfer to Harvard: "Don't come back here and tell me you didn't make it 'cause white folks were mean."
He burned my bridges behind me, the way they used to do with armies going into battle, so that they had no place to retreat to, and so had to fight to win.
One of the problems with trying to help underdogs, especially with government programs, is that they and everyone else start to think of them as underdogs, focusing on their problems rather than their opportunities. Thinking of themselves as underdogs can also dissipate their energies in resentments of others, rather than spending that energy making the most of their own possibilities.
It must have been discouraging for Ernie Lombardi, especially in his early years, to be repeatedly thrown out at first base on balls that would have been base hits for anybody else. But he couldn't let himself dwell on that-- not and win two batting titles.
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