Having frequently driven by the Manzanar Internment Camp in California, I’m reminded of what fear of the “other” can do. Americans allowed the un-American incarceration of loyal Japanese citizens because of their ethnicity. At times, we have treated Jews and the Irish with contempt, distance, and ethnic racism.
Slavery was terrible and a blot on American history. But while slavery is still alive and well in parts of the world even today, America found a way to end slavery and affirm our values of equality for all. Of course, there is no total equality of opportunity or results anywhere. You are born to parents, in a place, at a time that can make the road tougher or easier. But Americans of any race or ethnicity have proved that this is a country where you can succeed anyway.
The Japanese, the Irish and Jews have been so productive in America in spite of the prejudice they’ve faced. All three lived out a mantra probably echoed by their parents countless times—“You are an American now. The best way to beat hate is to succeed anyway!” Instead of demonstrating in the streets and clamoring for government programs to right their wrongs, they worked together to support their own by encouraging and supporting the education and entrepreneurial initiative of their young.
Abraham Lincoln came from humble beginnings. He once said, “I don't know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.” The greatest salt in the wound of blatant racism is not to demonstrate with shouts of your own, but to use such taunts to help fuel your drive to achieve and prove them wrong.
George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all challenged black Americans to use freedom to succeed on the basis of their character and skills. Black Americans can’t change history, but they can change their own future. Let the millions of successful and proud black Americans stand as a reminder that no one is limited by the past. Succeed anyway.
But it was meeting Brother Clarence years ago on a five-hour flight from Atlanta to LA that gave me a better understanding of the plight of today’s black Americans. Clarence was 98 years old and the son of a slave. I asked him what his father said about being born into slavery. Clarence confessed that he refused to talk about it, and always said, “You don’t need to know because you are free now.” He challenged him to leave Texas and make his way to California to make his own American dream.
Clarence did just that, and now he was returning for a family reunion in Fresno. When asked how his offspring respond to his father’s advice, he shook his head and said, “They don’t want to hear about freedom. They’re angry and won’t let it go.”
Being consumed by angry demonstrations and identity politics may have at one time helped the Democratic party stay in power, but it has never helped those who have allowed themselves to be locked into victimhood. Condemn racism wherever and whenever it occurs. Hold those committing violence and destruction of property responsible. Prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Let racist demonstrations of any color receive what they deserve—our disrespect.
When asked by CNN’s Don Lemon whether race is a factor in wealth distribution in the U.S., Morgan Freeman said, “Today? No. …Why would race have anything to do with it? Put your mind to what you want to do and go for that. It’s kind of like religion to me. It’s a good excuse for not getting there. If you talk about it (racism), it exists. It’s not like it exists, and we refuse to talk about it. Making it a bigger issue than it needs to be is the problem here.”
Rosey Grier, preacher and former LA Ram, once wisely observed, “All too often, minority kids never hear about anyone other than athletes. They don't know the living you can make with your mind. When I hear the same thing in black schools as white, kids talking about becoming doctors and lawyers, I know the ghetto will disappear.”
Forget Affirmative action quotas and start broadcasting affirmative examples of black Americans who have made America work for them. Let all Americans learn from their success and keep them involved in mentoring aspiring black youth. And most important—help them succeed anyway!