a photo of a poor man on the street
Flickr/javi.velazquez

I believe one of the great detriments to African Americans is the unwillingness to hear a raw and honest assessment of black life; but if, as a group, we want to achieve greater economic success, we can’t shut down the conversation because people say things we don’t want to hear.

I believe the cause of black poverty is blacks’ unwillingness to learn the fundamentals of the economics that keep our group perpetually down.

For a period, I lived in North Philly, an area that is almost 90 percent black and where there was violence and high unemployment.  Many residents were on public assistance. I learned that their problems were not caused by blatant discrimination, but by attitudes: although jobs were available, many said they would not work at McDonald’s because they would be laughed at by their friends. Many complained about what the government wasn’t doing, and I always wondered what program could be created to take out your trash or cut your grass or make you learn to speak the language that would get you employed.

Many claimed their economic problems resulted from slavery and Jim Crow, but I couldn’t buy that excuse. I thought about my parents, who instilled in me that we should not use racism as a crutch. I remembered that my grandfather drove from Georgia to Ohio to work in the steel factories. He commuted from Columbus to Cleveland, a three hour drive, to feed his eight kids. Ditto for my father and mother, who used to commute from Toms River, NJ, to New York city, a two-hour drive, to feed me and my brother.

So I have a hard time believing a child from Southeast cannot get to downtown Washington to find work. It’s also wrong to say poor funding and racism are major reasons blacks have low test scores. My parents grew up in the Jim Crow era, when the Klan waited outside with shotguns and pitchforks to greet black kids that wanted to learn. Who can forget the Little Rock Nine and the National Guard in the hallways? The argument that black children can’t learn because of poor funding and racism is utter foolishness.

I asked a man from Ethiopia, who has a successful business in the District, how he got started. He said the difference between immigrants and blacks in this country is that immigrants help each other. He said “ We have no stars; our focus is how to make the group better, not ourselves better.

He said immigrants fare better than native born blacks because immigrants are humble. They will take low wage jobs and make sacrifices, such as sharing rooms, so that eventually they’ll become owners of the property. They will do without the bling; you don’t see many Koreans buying $300 dollar Air Jordans and $600 I-pads.

I have never been a big fan of equality. What I want is the freedom to chose my own course. One can never be free by hoping someone else is going to do for them.