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Jewish World Review Jan. 20, 2000 /13 Shevat, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Desperate for grievances -- LAWRENCE OTIS GRAHAM is the author of a book about the black elite titled, "Our Kind of People." He is also one of them. However, at his formal wedding reception with 260 guests, he and his bride jumped over a broom.

This was an old custom from the days of the slave plantations, when of course there was no legal marriage for blacks. This action signified to all on the plantation that the couple were to be considered married.

Why such a ceremony on Manhattan's posh upper east side today? Because it "paid homage to our slave ancestors," Graham said. If that's what he wanted to do, so be it. But no one in his right mind would think that this was some sort of endorsement of slavery.

We also have to recognize that white people in the South had ancestors as well. Some of them want to pay them homage -- and they do it with the Confederate flag, which is as much a part of the long gone past as jumping over a broom.

Personally, as a black man, I am not thrilled at the sight of a Confederate flag. On the other hand, I am not thrilled at the sight of professional wrestling or Alan Alda, but I don't demand that they be banned.

Any association of human beings -- from a marriage to a nation -- involves putting up with things we would rather not be bothered with. Only children insist that everything must be done their way.

If the current campaign to get the Confederate flag off the state capitol in South Carolina were just an isolated controversy, it might not mean much.

But it is part of a much bigger trend of constantly scavenging for grievances.

There was a time when very real and very big grievances hit black people from all sides. You didn't have to look for them. You didn't have to do historical research or put people's statements under a microscope to see what they "really" meant.

Ask yourself: Who do you know personally who has benefitted from having a chip on his shoulder? Chances are you are more likely to know someone who has messed himself up, in any number of ways, by going around with a chip on his shoulder.

Unfortunately, it has become very fashionable, and even lucrative, to encourage various groups to feel victimized and to go scavenging through history for grievances.
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Nothing is easier to find than sin among human beings, past and present, black and white and all the other colors of the rainbow.

If you want to spend your time and energy on this kind of project, just be aware that there are all sorts of other things on which you could be spending that time and energy. Admittedly, if you are a politician or a leader of some movement, this may be where your biggest payoff will come.

But it is not where the biggest payoff will come for those who listen to you.

In a global economy, where the Internet is truly a worldwide web, you can engage in transactions with people on every continent who neither know nor care what you look like, much less who your ancestors were. In this environment, to burden the younger generation of blacks or other minorities with the grievance mentality is to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage -- or for money and power for race hustlers.

There was a time when the civil rights organizations had a very important role to play and when they had leaders of a much higher caliber than those seen today. Over the past hundred years or so, black leadership in general has gone from the likes of Frederick Douglass to the likes of Al Sharpton -- and that has not been up.

In a sense, this too is a consequence of the rise of blacks and of the country in general. At a time when blacks were being lynched at a rate of two or three per week, there was a literally life and death need for the best people in the black community to do whatever they could to turn the tide.

If blacks were still being lynched today, no doubt many a black Wall Street lawyer or black Silicon Valley entrepreneur would be in the civil rights movement instead, bending his efforts toward saving lives instead of making money. But that has long since ceased to be the situation, so racial "leadership" now falls to the second-raters and the demagogues.

If the current civil rights establishment has any worthwhile role left to play, it will probably be by making more and more Americans sick of hearing about race, and therefore more and more inclined to judge each person as an individual.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate