01 Dec 1997 Succeeding American-Style, by James Coleman
When I was a child, my mother told me black people had to be twice as good as people of European ancestry if they wanted to succeed. I never took her advice as a deterrent, just a statement of fact. I chalked it up to understanding the rules of the game.
As in any game, there are obstacles and restrictions. Winners master the rules and excel, while losers complain about them and fail. For example, outfielders in baseball don’t complain that they have to run around while the pitcher, catcher and other infielders stay in roughly the same place. They simply learn to move quicker. Basketball great Michael Jordan doesn’t complain that his opponents do everything they can to stop his scoring, he just does everything he can to out-smart them.
Likewise, we need to realize that racial obstacles will probably always be around. We must simply learn to overcome them.
People will never change their actions unless they are given a good reason. Laws and regulations won’t always do it, but a fierce determination by those seeking change – coupled with the competitive realities of the marketplace – will.
This is a competitive world, and those who discriminate limit the quality of their employees and clientele. While economic reality may not actually change people’s hearts, it will inevitably change their behavior.
A majority of California voters sought to level the playing field by ending the idiocy of government-sponsored race and gender preferences with the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996. The election victory was challenged in court, but the results were upheld on appeal. Now, rather than keeping track of 18 or more different “races,” the state will see people as individuals.
So-called African-American “leaders” claim our nation will go backward if the government gets out of the racial preference business. To the contrary, we should seek to take the government out of it. They seem to forget that the civil rights movement was never meant to end racism. This goal is far too idealistic and probably impossible. The civil rights movement was simply designed to stop government complicity in racial discrimination. For example, when Jim Crow and similar laws were created to halt the progress of black people, it was the civil rights movement that set out to guarantee equal protection under the law.
California is on the leading edge of a new era in American history. African-Americans, like all other Americans, will now rise and fall on the strength of their individuality and their ability to meet and overcome adversity. Those of us who are thrilled by the recent turn of events in California, however, cannot forget that freedom is inescapably intertwined with responsibility.
As a society, we must now focus our efforts on making sure that everyone has the best possible ability to succeed, American-style. Not only through job training, but by learning the realities of American life. This includes a positive, spiritual attitude, and learning of how to take advantage of all legal and financial remedies – not just jobs.
We must train our children to understand the power of ideas and how to develop them. With this, they can succeed in the face of adversity. It is liberating to know the true role of business, and how to interact with it as employees, employers, investors and consumers. Such knowledge goes a long way toward an individual’s path to the American dream.
In America, when you focus on what you can do as a free individual, and learn how to do it – you have every reason to smile. After all, this is a free country.
(James Coleman, a former Black Panther who is now a member of the National Advisory Committee of the African-American leadership group Project 21, participated in the 1964 March on Washington at the age of 10. )