Blacks Must Drop Victimhood and Reclaim Dignity

Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint, Christian Science Monitor, November 8, 2007

{snip} But what we see today in poor African American neighborhoods is a nightmare.

We know there are forces that make the ability to escape poverty seem bleak: overburdened single-parent homes, a high dropout rate, joblessness, gangs, drugs, crime, incarceration, deaths at an early age from guns fired by angry black men. We know that systemic racism and governmental neglect still exist.

Yet we in the black community must look at ourselves and understand our own responsibility. We sometimes inflict ourselves with a victim mentality, feel hopeless, and do self-destructive things that make our lives even worse. Many people who are trying to make it find themselves struggling against fellow African Americans so lost in self-destructive behaviors that they bring down other people as well as themselves.

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Time to overcome

We cannot accept this current state of affairs. We must realize—and believe—that, for all the external hassles we face, we are not helpless. We can overcome the odds and succeed in spite of the obstacles. And we must try. Despite the fact that racial discrimination has not been eliminated, black strength lies in the resolve to keep on keeping on, never quit, never give up, never yield to the role of cooperative victim.

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For black people to hold their heads high even today means getting rid of internal feelings of inferiority.

A history of obstacles

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The way race is defined in the United States makes no biological or genetic sense. It’s been used primarily as a tool for political and psychological oppression—providing economic gain for many white people.

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Buying into victimhood

Although few acknowledge it, the doctrine of white supremacy has sunk deeply into the minds of too many Americans, black people included. It has slithered its way into the psyches of poor black youth with low self-esteem, who equate academic success with “acting white.” If success is “white,” then are they saying that to “act black” is to fail?

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Too many people, including some black people, believe many poor black youth—particularly males—cannot be educated. This position harkens back to the notion of poor genes determining poor performance rather than poor environment, poor schools, or a music scene that imparts destructive, degrading values. The good must be separated from the bad while treating black people with respect and not demeaning an entire culture.

Victors through community, family

When restaurants, laundries, hotels, theaters, groceries, and clothing stores were legally segregated, black people opened and ran their own.

Such successes provided jobs and strength to black economic well-being. They also gave black people that gratifying sense of an interdependent community with people working to help each other.

During legal segregation, white racists destroyed some of these economically independent communities. To their credit, our ancestors did not accept victimhood. They fought back as individuals and as a people. Most refused to become passive victims of the system.

Black neighborhoods today must adopt that same can-do attitude and take action. They must be enterprising and work hard to improve their own economic situation—and by so doing, help improve the community.

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We can pass this sense of strength on to our children by strengthening black families, whatever their structure, and nurturing our youth with love and guidance. We must put children first and sharpen our parenting skills in both single-parent and two-parent homes. Fathers must play a bigger role. They cannot be absent. Children do better when fathers are actively involved in their lives.

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The driving force for change has been the activism of African Americans and others who take up our cause. The key word is activism, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We must be actively involved in empowering our schools and participating in the political process by exercising our right to vote. Being passive takes us nowhere. Activism is what gets us where we want to go.

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