Last week I wrote an article about the legacy of slavery, how such an abominable evil cannot be ignored when evaluating the state of blacks in America today. I then spent a week defending my article to my commenters, many of whom disagreed with me. The thanks I got for my effort came in the form of a virtual slap in the face on Sunday as I watched This Week with Christiane Amanpour.
The topic covered by Amanpour was the terrible job market and the challenges being faced by new college graduates as they emerge from the ivy covered buildings and beautifully landscaped quadrangles. In addition to two businessmen, Christiane had four just-graduated college students in her panel discussion. None of the four young adults had a particularly encouraging story to tell, from one with no job offers to another with job offers that didn’t excite him. The exchange that got my blood boiling however occurred between Christiane and Melech Thomas, a young black man just graduated from Howard University.
AMANPOUR: We’ve heard the advice and the analysis from the entrepreneurs and CEOs, but for you, when you were told that if you worked hard and you got into a university and if you got into a great university and you spent the four years, that it would be an inevitable passport to a good job. Do you feel betrayed? Do you feel like the American dream hasn’t quite played its part for you?
THOMAS: Well, to be quite frank, especially people of African descent, the American dream has never really been a reality. And so as much determination as some of my peers even at Howard University have had, because African-Americans usually have to work twice as hard to get a job in a field where the job market is already shrinking, it becomes very, very frightening and very, very paralyzing for some of the students. And so I won’t say betrayed, because the American dream never really promised us much.
I’ve got two responses for Melech. The first, as a potential employer, is forget ever getting a job at my company. Why would I ever hire you when you assume that I will not give you a chance because you are black? Maybe I won’t give you a chance because you’re leading with race instead of with your skills set?
The second response comes from my paternal instinct and that response is to kick Melech’s natural ass. You sit there on national television in a suit and tie, a graduate of a fine middle tier institution with opportunities already behind you that true underprivileged ghetto kids could not hope to have and you have the unmitigated gall to complain about the American dream being beyond your reach. Are you kidding me? How could you spit in the face of your parents who no doubt worked their fingers to the bone so you could attend college? How could you insult the teachers and tutors who supported you along the way and believed in you? You didn’t get where you are today by simply being Super-Negro. You had a support system. You also had the intelligence and discipline to get this far and now suddenly when the road is a bit rough you’re the disadvantaged black man. Did you even listen to the other three non-black folks on your panel who cannot find satisfying jobs? What is their excuse?
I do not retract my article of last week. Being black in this country is not easy. Having virtually no hope in a ghetto where the only way to get ahead seems to be pushing drugs cannot be summarily dismissed as the byproduct of lazy, inherently inferior black folk. But when you get a break, when you get that lucky leg up and you don’t recognize it, you cheat yourself and you insult all those who contributed to your success. When I discuss the nasty stain of America’s original sin I am focused on the most unfortunate of us. I am not giving a get out of jail free card to blacks who have had every advantage and should be serving as proud role models for others instead of pretending they are no better off than their desperate ghetto counterparts.
For blacks to be successful in America we must do what our Jewish brothers have done spectacularly. We must NEVER allow this country to forget the abominable crime they committed against us for centuries. We must never let this country tell us to “just get over it”. We must make sure when we teach the history of this country that every little white and black boy and girl understands man’s potential for evil so that it never happens again. But we must also adopt the strategy that success is the best revenge. When we make it, through a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, we must hold up that success like a beacon to light the way for those less fortunate. Our answer cannot be that we made it but you can’t because the “American dream never really promised us much”. We are Americans and we have as much right to that dream as anyone else. We can’t live the dream if we refuse to acknowledge our own successes. Melech should be using his record of success as evidence that he can continue to succeed. The success he has had so far in life obligates optimism from him. How dare he despair when he has proven that hard work can make the American Dream attainable?
We need empathy and support, for the disadvantaged in this country to gain a foothold. It is short-sighted and unproductive to totally ignore the historical context of poverty and desperation in this country. However it is equally unproductive to discount the gains we have made as some insignificant step forward in an unwinnable game.
Sadly, Melech Thomas may never recognize the American Dream even when he has it in the palm of his hand.