This dreary movie scene comes from a film about inner-city black teens called "Menace II Society." A black high school teacher speaks to two former students: "Being a black man in America isn't easy. The hunt is on, and you're the prey! All I'm saying is ... all I'm saying is -- survive! Alright?" In case the identity of the alleged "hunter" is unclear, we hear a police siren in the background. Cops are out to get young black men.
Ridiculous.But that gloomy narrative tracks closely with Attorney General Eric Holder's assertion that America suffers from "pernicious racism." And a few weeks after the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin shooting happened, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, "Blacks are under attack."
In 1997, CNN and Time conducted a poll that asked white and black teens about "racism." Question: Is racism a major problem in America? Both black and white teens said, "yes." But when black teens were asked if racism is a "big problem," a "small problem" or "no a problem at all" -- in their own lives -- 89 percent called racism a "small problem" or "not a problem at all" for themselves.
In fact, 17 years ago, not only did black teens see racism as an insignificant problem in their own lives, but nearly twice as many black teens than white teens called "failure to take advantage of available opportunities" a bigger problem than racism.
What damage do "activists" inflict by convincing young black men that cops -- or, for that matter, Republicans, tea party members and black conservatives -- are out to get them? This emotion-based paranoia has real-world consequences. Fear and paranoia hurt potential and careers.
In the '60s, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman developed the theory of "learned helplessness" -- when a person learns to believe and act helpless when, in fact, they do have control over their own negative circumstances but fail to exercise it. He then devoted most of his studies to "positive psychology" and the effect of happiness and optimism in people's lives. He produced an equation, H=S+C+V, where a person's genetic capacity for happiness (S), plus their circumstances (C) and factors under their voluntary control (V) equal their happiness (H).
His extensive research discovered that a low "C" -- adverse circumstances like poor health or poverty -- matters very little if a person has a high "V," a positive, optimistic outlook and a belief in himself. For example, he found that an upbeat wheelchair-bound factory worker often leads a happier life than a robust, wealthy CEO.
Psychologists called this the "emotional quotient" factor, or EQ: a measurement of a person's ability to monitor his or her emotions, cope with pressures and demands, control his or her thoughts and actions, and one's ability to assess and affect situations and relationships with other people. Salesmen, for example, with "high EQ" for a strong positive outlook outsold those with higher traditional aptitude, but with lower EQ. High EQ people engage in positive behavior, which leads to positive results.
George Foreman, the former heavyweight boxing champion, is one of the most successful pitchmen of our generation. A spokesperson for products ranging from Meineke mufflers and Doritos to his own low-fat indoor grill, which earned him $138 million when he sold the grill's naming rights in 1999, Foreman has an estimated net worth of $250 million. A high school dropout, Foreman recently wrote this about the value of optimism:
"My first two jobs were about selling: Four hours of putting out sale papers, on doors, cars and handed out. Then at a fruit stand. Texas watermelon season was the best. Competition was great -- we had to (as boys) have a variety of melons and a lot of charm.
"The ability to sell is about the best asset one can pass on to a generation to come. And the most critical and influential product anyone can deal or trade is 'Hope.'
"No matter who we lose, every young doctor is optimistic we will win this one. And many a time we do. Not a whole lot is new, just the same old Hope. ... When things go wrong in this life our sole obligation to our children is to sell them on Hope. Sure, beating our head against the wall is an option. But time and life must proceed. Anger and disappointment bring more dark clouds. Oh, but HOPE is the sunshine that every child needs for play. ... Teach them Hope. And BELIEVE there is Hope.
"It's our duty."