The tense relation between the Black community and the police in the wake of recent police shootings is undoubtedly the new frontline in America’s ongoing struggle for racial justice in the United States. At least, that is how many in the Black community see things. Mainstream America, on the other hand, struggles to identify with the perception that Black America’s woes lay solely at the feet of government-sponsored repression.
The facts are quite obvious, in that Blacks are more than three times more likely than whites to be victims of police shootings. Contrast that statistic with the fact that almost 40 percent of whites age 25-29 hold a college degree compared with 20 percent of Blacks and 58 percent of Asians. Clearly, the disparities in education and hence economic opportunity affect the rates at which Blacks have fatal encounters with police. The telling thing about that statistic is that Blacks can change these statistics with increased focus on education and achievement.
Many who remember the 1960s, with its attendant racial strife, struggle to understand why Blacks are still struggling to achieve basic levels of education and economic advancement. After all, they reason, there are no longer any armed guards blocking Black students from attending colleges, and educational opportunities and scholarships for Blacks have blossomed in the decades since the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, there is more money than ever specifically dedicated to helping Blacks receive a college education.
The real question is, why hasn’t the Black community taken better advantage of some of the fruits of the civil rights struggle? The answer, in my view, is that the fault lies not in our “stars” (some divine fate), but in ourselves. At the basic community level, there is not adequate value placed on educational achievement. There is far more emphasis placed on outward material status and achievement in sports and entertainment than on completing one’s education. If you look around at other communities, particularly in some Asian communities, the basic expectation of parents at whatever socioeconomic level is that their children complete at least a bachelor’s and in many cases a graduate degree before even considering other paths. The past seven National Spelling Bee winners have been Americans of South Asian descent. What competitive sports is to the Black community, competitive academics is to the South Asian community.
Becoming a highly paid professional athlete is great work if you can get it, but it accounts for a minuscule number of total employed persons and less than 1 percent of all elite athletes. By contrast, even an average electrical engineer or accountant stands a great chance of landing lucrative and consistent employment. The odds are just not stacked in your favor if you intend to become a star athlete or highly paid entertainer. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it if that’s your dream. No one is saying that, but get your education, too. In case the dream does not work out, you definitely need something to fall back on. And even if the dream does work out, stories abound of naive and undereducated athletes and performers either wasting their wealth or having it fleeced by unscrupulous advisors, only to end up totally broke and even in debt after their talent dries up.
The fact of the matter is that our fate does not lie in the government’s hands but in our own. Only in America and a few other countries around the world can the average person say that truthfully. America is structured so that if you work hard, play by the rules and get an education, you stand a very high chance of succeeding in life. Even with some of the social problems we suffer—income inequality and the lingering effects of de jure segregation—that still stands true for the majority of Americans, including Blacks.
While it may be a tough thing to accept that we are in large part responsible for the outcomes in our lives, coming to the realization also opens up the door to unlimited opportunity. I was raised to believe that we can and should be able to lift ourselves up by the sweat of our brow. The formula for success that was instilled in my siblings and me growing up in South Carolina was simple—faith and work are the keys to the kingdom.
This unshakeable belief has formed the foundation for any of the success I have today. That doesn’t mean of course that there haven’t been obstacles, that race has not been a factor in how I am perceived by the society at large. But I do believe that your body can only go where your eyes lead. If you are focused on the obstacle, it’s easy to get stuck there. But if you remain focused on your objective, alternate routes begin to appear that you would never even consider.
God will never change the conditions of a people until they first change what is in their hearts. Many of the wisest people in history, including Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, transcendental philosopher David Thoreau, Nazi concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl and many others have discovered and applied this truth. For Blacks in this country to move past the impediments to their advancement, they must also embrace the reality that change starts from within.