Blacks' "Wartime" Mentality Disregarding Opportunity Makes Them Their Own Worst Enemy
by Christopher Arps (bio)
Noted author and intellectual Shelby Steele, a black conservative, once wrote: "It is time for blacks to begin the shift from a wartime to a peacetime identity, from fighting for opportunity to the seizing of it."
It's true. And even though blacks still seem to suffer disproportionately, we now have the opportunity to remedy our problems in ways never before possible. We need to open our minds.
When black people fought deep-seated racism and Jim Crow laws that made it next to impossible for most of us to have any real sort of upward mobility in America, groupthink and group cohesion (Steele's "wartime" identity) was fundamental to breaking an institutionalized system of discrimination.
Bus boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins and other peaceful forms of civil disobedience only worked if everyone adhered to them and kept their eyes on the prize.
Things changed. We won. Yet too many fail to realize it and aren't redeeming the winnings of the struggle.
Fifty years later, it still cannot be said that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream of a society where one is judged by the content of his character instead of the color of his skin is fully realized. But society has undoubtedly changed for the better since the civil rights era. A lot. Those who would say otherwise are not paying attention, or they possibly have another agenda in mind that feeds on of the perpetuation of discontent.
Black Americans have exponentially more opportunities in this great country of ours today than our slave ancestors could ever have dreamed of having. The current generation has more opportunities than the last, and the next will likely have even more. That's why Steele said it is time that black Americans shifted to a "peacetime identity."
It's time to take advantage of hard-fought opportunity and the increasingly level playing field.
This change in identity requires a change in mentality. Groupthink is no longer necessary. In fact, groupthink — despite its value to our community in the past — can now be detrimental.
Black people cannot move forward and seize new opportunities as a group. Blacks can, and must, prosper as individuals.
This individualism, however, does not mean someone has to forsake his community in the process. It's not selling out, and it shouldn't mean moving out.
Success shouldn't stop anyone from coming back to the community to serve as a mentor, coach or a source of inspiration. For others to succeed, it may actually be essential. This is the new way in which black people can move forward in America as a group.
Unfortunately, there are still too many unwilling to realize the opportunity available to them.
Today, there is double-digit unemployment in the black community that is substantially higher than for other races. Our community has an illegitimacy rate of over 70 percent, as well as the most abortions of any race. Black boys only have about a 50 percent chance of graduating high school. There is an epidemic of black-on-black murders, yet we seem more focused on who's black enough, who's dating or marrying the right kind of person and if someone correctly voted his race in the last election.
Other races are not so unwilling to take advantage of the opportunities presented before them. It's obvious that too many in the black community retain a wartime, pre-civil rights identity.
Unfortunately, this detrimental clinging to the past seems to have led to a dismissal of much of the opportunity that so many fought and suffered to obtain for us. It is a genocidal war against and amongst ourselves.
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Christopher Arps is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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