Self Sabotage Preventing More Black Entrepreneurs

Posted: Dec 19, 2005 12:05 AM
During a recent speaking engagement at a DC high school, I talked about the importance of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit. I shared with the kids my own experiences working on my family farm. I told them that each morning my father would come into my bedroom around 4:30 a.m. and tell me to get up and work the fields. I would spend the next two hours before school slopping pigs and cropping tobacco. Was it fun? Not even close. But these early lessons in physical striving taught me discipline, work ethic, routine, and responsibility and instilled an attitude of achievement that was the better part of my later successes. The point I was trying to convey to these kids was that it is not enough to merely wish for the good things in life. You must develop that kind of 4:30 a.m. discipline that distinguishes you from others; you must think of yourself as an entrepreneur.

Nearly every student in the audience was black. Their response was heartbreaking. One student after another told me that the white people would prevent them from becoming successful entrepreneurs. These kids were only teenagers, and they had already given up.

I guess it is not surprising that minorities, who were traditionally shut out of mainstream society and treated as second caste citizens, would be susceptible to thinking of themselves as victims. Up until just one generation ago, black Americans were relegated to the fringes of American society. The white, patriarchal society was not about to give up its sense of superiority. So it leaned on minorities with its full weight.

Black children were segregated in under funded schools. Black adults, regarded chiefly as a source of cheap labor, were denied opportunities for economic advancement. The results were straightforward: many young minorities received a poor education, lacked role models to cultivate their talents, plainly saw that society expected them not to succeed, and consequently stifled their own sense of future possibilities. In countless specific ways, minorities were made to hate themselves. This kind of conditioning was necessary for the maintenance of the white, patriarchal ruling structure.

If black America tended to respond with a certain distrust and hostility toward mainstream business and politics, it was plainly a matter of self defense. The rise of Black Nationalism and other separatist movements did not happen in a vacuum. They happened because even up to a generation ago, white America did everything it could to discourage black people from even making the attempt to be successful.

The civil rights movement was born out of an intense struggle to enjoy those basic human rights we associate with happiness. Early leaders of the movement settled on the theory that American society was primarily characterized by racism and that American institutions were grounded in the maintenance of racial privilege. Many of the black politicians who swept into office on the heels of the movement consciously embodied this organizing principle. Their legislative remedies were predicated on the belief that the problems of black people, whether its high crime rates, drug use, poor educational performance, were, primarily, if not entirely, the result of white racism. Their obligation was to promote and protect their constituents by offering remedies to specific aspects of racial discrimination (i.e., segregated schools, disparity in pay, public accommodations, etc.) In other words, they wed their legitimacy to the belief that all the problems confronting blacks were rooted in racism.

To this day, many black officeholders depend on the perception of on-going, widespread racism in order to remain competitive in the electoral process. They underplay the dramatic improvements in economic and social status experienced by blacks over the last 40 years. Large numbers of their constituents, particularly those who came to age during the overt racism of the past half century, continue to believe that the problems confronting the black lower class stem primarily from racism.

Herein lies the greatest missed opportunity of the civil rights movement. They never prepared for the day when whites would start treating minorities as equals. Their entire public image, their very legitimacy as political and cultural spokespersons--was predicated on the rhetoric of a black versus white war. As Justice Clarence Thomas once observed, the [civil rights] revolution missed a larger point by merely changing the status [of minorities] from invisible to victimized.

Tragically, this point was also missed by the pop culture, which glorifies images of black misogyny, violence and victimization. We hold up gansta rappers as models of achievement. Hey, they’re just keeping it real we say. Meanwhile our children stare at these sociopaths with adoring eyes. They emulate their mean sense of entitlement, their broken English, and their violence, because this is what the popular culture tells us it means to be black.

This came clear as one black high school student after another told me that they had no hope of achieving economic success in this world. So what does this tell us? For starters, liberalism has not solved our most basic problems. Instead, it has put us in the mindset that we have to be fed government programs, instead of being given access to capital and the opportunity to create our own jobs. Second of all, we need to stop glorifying thugs and start praising those black CEOs and there are plenty of them now--who have seared through the competition to take possession of wealth and prominence. In short, we need to glorify Entrepreneurialism, not victimhood! Entrepreneurialism is the engine that will close the racial economic gap. But we’ll never get there unless the younger generation of American Blacks decides it is time to move beyond the basic covenants of liberalism. That is to say, unless they decide they can succeed as individuals, rather than remain forever victims because of their skin color.

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