A More Uplifting Narrative about Race

Booker T. Washington

No sooner had I posted the previous op-ed about the battleground of race and memory, I came across this story in Charlottesville Tomorrow about Freedom and Liberation Day in Charlottesville.

Historians gave a series of presentations at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center earlier this month highlighting how freed slaves in the Charlottesville area took action after the Civil War to improve their condition in life.

Ex-slaves participated in politics and fought for public education. They agitated for the redistribution of land (which they never got, although many freed slaves managed to purchase land themselves). Perhaps most notably after the end of Reconstruction and the onset of Jim Crow segregation, they picked up and moved north to cities offering greater economic opportunity.

There is a great tradition of self-improvement among African-Americans, epitomized by the great Booker T. Washington who called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship. Washington was eclipsed by W.E.B. Du Bois, who called for political change to end segregation and discrimination. Sadly, the crusade for equal civil rights has morphed into a crusade for equal economic outcomes, and Washington’s philosophy of self-improvement seems a quaint anachronism.

Perhaps it’s time for a Booker T. Washington revival. Given all the discussion about the history of race and racism these days, it would be more helpful and inspiring to celebrate the positive accomplishments of black Americans in the face of adversity than nourishing the narrative of victimhood in the face of abundance.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

9 responses to “A More Uplifting Narrative about Race

  1. It appears no one wants to attach a lightning rod to their head on this post . . .

  2. I tried the last time. Lost cause. At least Jim didn’t used the phrase “a credit to his race.”

  3. I’m agog. I can’t figure out if Jim really feels this way or he is parroting other birds of a feather.

    Very , very few of us – no matter our race achieve the levels that some truly incredible individuals achieve – no matter THEIR race.

    Yet we continue this narrative of talking down to one race of people because they did not achieve what great achievers have accomplished – of any race.

    We don’t talk down to white folks because they did not become Bill Gates or Warren Buffet so why do we do that with black folks?

    • I have no idea what you’re talking about. Who’s “talking down” to anyone?

      “We don’t talk down to white folks because they did not become Bill Gates or Warren Buffet so why do we do that with black folks?” What does that even mean in the context of what I wrote?

      Changing the narrative to empower black people (and poor people of other races, it’s not all about black people) to take charge of their lives is “talking down” to them? While portraying them as helpless victims and perpetuating policies that keep them as wards of the state, thus robbing them of their agency, is somehow NOT talking down to them?

  4. ” Perhaps it’s time for a Booker T. Washington revival. Given all the discussion about the history of race and racism these days, it would be more helpful and inspiring to celebrate the positive accomplishments of black Americans in the face of adversity than nourishing the narrative of victimhood in the face of abundance.”

    This was about White folks in American claiming “victimhood”?

    my mistake! apologies!

  5. “There is a great tradition of self-improvement among African-Americans, epitomized by the great Booker T. Washington who called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship.”

    I will try one more time, Jim, and my point is slightly different than Larry’s. There is a great tradition of self-improvement through education and entrepreneurship among all Americans, repeat all Americans. It is the great promise of this nation, if not always achieved. For you to assume that black people don’t get it, or need to be reminded, indicates that you pre-judge them on the basis of their skin color. For you to assume that is the only reason for economic disparity between the races, and is the only remedy required, in the parlance of our lost youth, is a cop-out. For you to be giving that advice is patronizing, by definition.

    I agree with you that a reliance on government assistance can breed dependence and produce adverse outcomes, unintended consequences which create a negative cycle, but your assumption it is somehow worse with or for people of a certain color is also a sign that you pre-judge them based on their skin color or national origin. I agree with you that the advice given by people like Booker T. Washington is of value, but the same economic evangelism is preached and practiced everyday by Americans in any category your brain can conceive. A few posts back you reported on the economic animal spirits alive and well among the Pamunkey’s, another group that has had to deal with discrimination.

    Yeah, we are and will be immersed in MLK’s history and rhetoric over the next few weeks and, yeah, his vision of a color-blind society remains illusive – with blame for that all around. But it is still as powerful a vision of what America should be as anything penned or spoken by Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams or Lincoln. And not all of their promises are fully realized.

    • Steve, I’m disappointed in your reaction, which appears to be based upon a careless reading of what I have written.

      “There is a great tradition of self-improvement through education and entrepreneurship among all Americans, repeat all Americans.

      Of course there is, and I have never implied otherwise. I mention Booker T. Washington because, as one of the greatest black leaders of the 19th century, he can serve as a role model.

      “For you to assume that black people don’t get it, or need to be reminded, indicates that you pre-judge them on the basis of their skin color. “

      Am I pre-judging black people when I observe that roughly 95% of them vote for Democratic Party candidates who, for the most part, foster the narrative black victimization and peddle the nostrum that political action and government intervention is their best hope for advancing in the world?

      “For you to assume that is the only reason for economic disparity between the races, and is the only remedy required, in the parlance of our lost youth, is a cop-out.”

      I have never said that the “only reason” for economic disparity comes from African-Americans’ embrace of the victimization narrative. You’re just making that up. Of course there are reasons based the history of slavery and discrimination that partially explain why blacks are at the bottom of the socioeconomic latter today. But we live in 2018, not 1965, and the reasons explaining the slow progress of blacks to economic and educational parity are very different than they were in 1965.

      It is true that I emphasize the role of personal responsibility, initiative and achievement over other causes because the dominant narrative almost never talks about those traits. The dominant narrative is doubling down on the racism narrative, thus distracting from much bigger problems and causing massive social harm in the process. If my writing seems one-sided on the point, I feel that I have to shout the point to be heard.

      Finally, I have repeated over and over in my posts that many of the problems holding back African-Americans in our society are not unique to African-Americans. They are trapping millions of Hispanics, whites, and American Indians in a culture of poverty and social breakdown as well.

      • “Am I pre-judging black people when I observe that roughly 95% of them vote for Democratic Party candidates who, for the most part, foster the narrative black victimization and peddle the nostrum that political action and government intervention is their best hope for advancing in the world?”

        Yes. Blatantly.

        • https://www.dailyrepublic.com/opinion/local-opinion-columnists/lets-debunk-gop-myth-of-why-blacks-vote-democratic/

          Turned up by a random search….

          Keep in mind, the big issue before the VA GOP State Central Committee yesterday was whether to eject a committee member who had a history of racist and anti-Semitic posts – the most recent saying a Jewish person should not be elected to a party office on the basis of his religion. Apparently he was ejected, but in a closed meeting with a secret ballot because it was hardly a easy decision based on where the party is today, and people fear the backlash. Sickening that it wasn’t just automatic.

          Hell, Trump’s whole message was about victimization. Not exactly a new political tactic, that.

Leave a Reply