Jewish World Review Nov. 24,1999 /15 Kislev, 5760
Race and the new century
W.E.B. DUBOIS once said that the problem of the 20th century world was
going to be the problem of the color line. Like many ringing predictions, it
missed the mark by a wide margin. The biggest atrocity of this century
against any people -- the Holocaust -- involved people of the same color as
those who killed them. So do the current atrocities in the Balkans and in
In one sense, however, DuBois was right. The biggest political problem of
this century for black Americans has been the fight to abolish the color
line, epitomized by Jim Crow laws in the South.
With a new century approaching, it is by no means clear that the biggest
problem facing black Americans is still the problem of the color line.
Indeed, that problem has already been superseded by another:
self-destruction, both cultural and physical.
In the high-tech world that is already upon us and shows every sign of
expanding dramatically in the next century, know-how is king. People who
started businesses in garages have gone on to earn fortunes because they had
the know-how. You don't even have to find someone to hire you. You can start
up your own business.
People from India are not only hired in Silicon Valley, they own their own
companies in Silicon Valley. So much for the color line. But you have to
have the know-how. And even college-educated blacks are seldom going into
the fields where you can get high-tech know-how. Ghetto schools seldom
provide the skills on which science and engineering are based.
The public schools are where the battle needs to be fought, but too many
black political "leaders" are too dependent on labor unions in general and
the teachers union in particular to fight that battle. And they are too
dependent on a vision of victimhood to risk telling young blacks that they
have to get their own act together too.
On the contrary, Jesse Jackson is currently defending hoodlums who have
been expelled from school. This is a classic example of black "leaders" who
are leading their people to cultural suicide, just as surely as cult leader
Jim Jones led his followers to physical suicide in Guiana. There are few
things more dishonorable than misleading the young.
It is an old cliche that generals try to fight the last war over again.
That is what a whole generation of black "leaders" are doing -- fighting the
old war against the color line. Jesse Jackson's claim that blacks are shut
out of Silicon Valley jobs is that old war -- as well as a lie. Blacks with
the technical know-how already own their own businesses in Silicon Valley.
Fortunately, Silicon Valley CEO T. J. Rodgers challenged Jackson to a
public debate on the issue -- and Jesse backed out. Too many other CEOs in
too many other corporations find it easier to pay off Jesse Jackson and
other hustlers. That may be the path of least resistance for these
corporations, but it is a disservice to America, including black America.
It has been said that the truth will set you free. In the present
situation, the truth is the only thing that will set young blacks free. So
long as a whole generation of young blacks continues to be told, day in and
day out, that their problems are caused by whites, they are never going to
be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities in Silicon Valley or
Many of those who still push the old party line on race also try to get
young blacks to study hard in school and prepare themselves for the
opportunities available. But mixed messages don't hack it.
All across the country, there are heartbreaking stories about young blacks
in schools who condemn those among them who try to be good students as
"acting white." Sometimes the condemnation extends to ostracism and
beyond -- to outright violence.
Many blacks who are sending mixed messages to the young are horrified at
such attitudes. But there is no point creating the cause and then being
appalled at the effect.
Perhaps the biggest problem of the 21st century will be moving on beyond
the problems of the 20th century to confront the new realities -- and the
new opportunities. But that may require a whole new generation of black
leaders to arise, no longer looking back at the struggles of the 1960s but
ahead to the demands of a very different world.
That takes time. But it ought to start
JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.
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©1999, Creators Syndicate