It is truly said when a Black man knows the truth and yet still ignores it. Armstrong Williams admits that he is aware of the inequality that white racism creates, he admits to having knowledge as to how it operates today and he speaks about a white person confiding in him as to how white racism is carried out and yet he still refuse to see the link between his percieved view of Black men and women having a victim attitude and the reality that Black men and women are indeed victims and continue to be victims of white supremacy in all its forms.
A Two Way Street by Armstrong Williams
"Oh he speaks so well." White people say it admiringly of black people all the time. Condoleezza Rice whispers into the right ear of the President when he makes decisions that impact the free world. She is a brilliant and accomplished lady. But the first thing white people say when talking about her is, "oh, she is so articulate." White people love it when black people "speak well." It makes them feel comfortable.
It tells me that there still exists in mainstream society some subtle expectation that black people do not speak well, and some unconscious belief that black people are less educated. The anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's birth seems a good time as any to address the issue.
I think we can all agree that for much of this country's history, the relationship between white Americans and their former slaves has been less than equal. A shared history of slavery has created social hierarchies that passively reinforce racial prejudices. Certainly, there has been a progression from the days when those blacks that demanded freedom from oppression were made to fear for their lives. The racism of today isn't so blunt as to be about skin color, as it is about cultural patterns that slavery wrought. It is about cultural division that was sewn so deeply into our social fabric, for so long, that even today white Americans have trouble imagining themselves as the "other" skin color. In short, modern racism is about elitism and a lack of empathy.
This lack of empathy manifests itself in the popular culture. There was a time when the only dark faces you saw on TV were thugs and criminals. Now you see black comedies. Even so, the new "black wave" of TV has produced little more than the kind of shows that assault you with their blackness. The sort of dramas that can't move beyond images of angry black characters. The sort of comedies that substitute "black lingo" for actual jokes. The black characters on these sorts of shows are not so much human beings as they are categories.
In the workplace, the lack of empathy is even more pervasive, if more subtle. Despite the fact that black Americans are presently enjoying record highs in terms of per capita income, they continue to earn just 56% of the median income of white families. That's just a 1% improvement since 1965.
The technological revolution has dramatically expanded the high level job market and therefore holds the promise of finally facilitating equality in the workplace. Sadly, young, qualified black Americans continue to face very real barriers in the workplace that prevent them from taking advantage of these new opportunities. Dr. Margaret Simms, Vice President of Research at the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, has observed that young black Americans suffer in the labor market due to a perceived deficit in "soft skills." Simms defines soft skills as "thinking and problem solving skills, oral communication skills, personal qualities and work ethic, and interpersonal and team work skills."
For example, when hiring, bosses may look for those personal traits they associate with their own success. Consequently, they may end up hiring people who look, think and act in a manner similar to themselves. If confronted with a minority applicant who looks, sounds or communicates differently, they may turn these differences into perceived soft skill deficits.
As a South Carolina-area attorney specializing labor law confided to me, "We constantly see employers who treat minorities more adversely than they would do whites in similar circumstances. . . . We occasionally see hiring from closed sets of talent pools. . . .Very frequently we see employers who operate under unfounded stereotypes and assumptions about the abilities of minorities and women. I think this is probably reflected in the differentials in pay between men and women and between whites and minorities." It is also reflected in the joy white people express when they encounter a black person who "speaks well."
For a long time I wrote about how blacks need to stop embracing victim status. I wrote about how we need to stop feeling sorry or ourselves, how we need to put the onus on ourselves to succeed as individuals, rather than excusing failure in advance due to the group to which we belong. I talked about the dangers of affirmative action lulling us into treating ourselves as somehow incapable of succeeding on equal footing. As Justice Clarence Thomas once observed, "The [civil rights] revolution missed a larger point by merely changing the status [of minorities] from invisible to victimize."
I still believe that liberalism has not solved our most basic problems. Instead, it has put us in the mindset that we have to be fed government programs, instead of being given access to capital and the opportunity to create our own jobs. I take heart in the fact that the younger generation of black Americans is finally saying it is time to move beyond the basic covenants of liberalism and finally face who we are and what we need, not solely as blacks, but as individuals. But you know what? The onus should not just be on us. True equality is a two way street. And every time I hear a white person remark about how Condoleezza Rice "speaks well," I am reminded that the other side isn't doing their job.