Project 21 New Visions

B.B. Robinson

Those Who Make Nothing


by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. (bio)


As a society, we highly value those who "make."

Whether it's a dollhouse, tree house or a real house, we admire the makers.

If it is a Soap Box Derby car, a Ferrari supercar, a jet or a space shuttle, we marvel at the engineers and extend high accolades to them for their efforts.

We are wowed by well-designed, functional and elegant cyber systems that attract customers and can efficiently manage a company's finances.

On a less glamorous but delicious level, we value the farmer who grows an exquisitely ripe tomato or an acquaculturalist who coaxes succulent flesh from the sea.

Visually, we stand open-mouthed when we observe a fascinating work of art with unique colors, textures and dimensionality.

When a novelist takes us through a labyrinth of emotions and keeps us on the edge of our seat the entire time, we can't put the book down. When we've finished it, we can't stop mentioning it to others.

Our affinity for popular music, a poem or a rap song, in my mind, just can't compare with the exhilaration of a great symphony, play, novel, meal, web site, vehicle or structure.

We admire something that tests the limits yet stands the test of time.

At the risk of sounding too materialistic, we really get excited by these creations.

It seems simple. If you want to be respected and bring worth to yourself, make something significant.

On the flip side, produce nothing and you are guaranteed to be devalued.

With an official unemployment rate in the upper teens, and a considerably higher unofficial one that includes those who have given up, black Americans are unfortunately engaged in a lot of non-making right now.

Sadly, most blacks who remain employed are occupied in areas that most people would consider to be "non-making" industries.

According to the results of recent U.S. Census Bureau surveys, black Americans are not well-represented in "making" fields. For example, the government data found black Americans are concentrated in fields such as accommodations and food service, health care and social assistance and public administration.

Whatever happened to people such as Berry Gordy of Motown Records, John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing or cardiac surgery pioneer Vivien Thomas? There are new names of note, such as movie special effects and digital music pioneer Marc Hannah and car designer Dennis Moses, but not legends like their predecessors.

To secure our worth, we — as a race — must return to making.

One need not be an inventor. One need not be an owner of a business. All one needs to be is someone who ensures that the quality of their work stands out and makes a product that is desired — and possibly even treasured — by others.

If you fear a dearth of demand for what you produce, then be reminded that there are always takers for high-quality production and room for self-improvement.

A failure to return to making means a loss of the knowledge of production, guarantees our devaluation and ensures a zero-entry by those keeping score.

What is your plan for returning to making?

While pride may be a factor, there is a more chilling ultimate penalty for not joining the ranks of the makers.

Death is the certain and quick end of those who make nothing.

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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D., is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at www.blackeconomics.org. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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