How Black History Lessons Cripple Our Children

Some people insist the answer is better education, better jobs. But when we stare those problems in the face- drug addiction and dealing, the trivialization of women and sex, the availability of guns, the lack of sympathy and compassion, schools and jobs don’t seem like suitable weapons.

We tend to focus on what these kids are doing with their bodies and to their bodies. But it really goes back to what and how they’re thinking. They need a new philosophy. One that helps them understand who they are, not who their distant or even recent ancestors are. They need an alternative way to think.

Thought can destroy. Thought can renew and repair. Thought can take a victim mentality and turn it upside down. Our thoughts influence our health and wealth and general well-being. Why? Because they direct the way we interact with the world and determine what we take away from our experiences.

Let’s face it, good schools and jobs are only of value to those who value them. Only those who value life value opportunity and believe in the possibility of good outcomes. That’s why I think we have to get into the heads of at-risk youth and show them something new. If telling them how powerless their ancestors were and how powerless their race remains is constructive, I’m sure not seeing any evidence of it. 

Every thought of victimhood has the potential to imprison the thinker in despair. It’s not just a waste of time. It’s a waste of the power of our attention. It’s a diversion of power that steers us way off course from our natural tendency to desire good things for ourselves. The victim mentality does not exist in a vacuum. It influences what we expect for ourselves and what others expect from us. 

And don’t for one minute think that I am referring solely to black people when I speak of the victim mentality as it pertains to racism and economic disparity. As blacks hark back to the past, so do white people and vice versa. This behavior perpetuates the perception of the black race as victims. It’s not only what causes black people to suffer high blood pressure and low expectations. It causes white people to see us through a flawed lens. We don’t need pity. We’ve always only wanted to be treated equally. But we can’t create and sustain an atmosphere of equality if we persist in unearthing our unequal past.

For an example of how some whites insist on seeing blacks as victims, consider my experience in 2002. I was trying to find a literary agent who would represent a novel I’d written about upscale blacks living in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. It was something I’d witnessed firsthand, but hadn’t seen reflected in literature. This earned me some crabby, handwritten rejection letters that insisted that a story about the social life of a group of black doctors, attorneys and bank presidents living in that time in history, sending their children to private schools was too far-fetched. Basically they told me that what I had actually lived was a lie. They wanted me to write about “the struggle.”

Then we have well-meaning liberals who reach out a helping hand to some black person they’ve encountered. Maybe they want to give them a job or help them pay for school or whatever. But often the do-gooder is blinded by race. They don’t size up the intended recipient of their generosity the way they would if the person was white. They overlook warning signs left and right. Later, these same people stand around at cocktail parties saying “I can’t believe they ripped me off. But, I tried. I guess you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.” No, you helped someone who had also sized you up as a victim. It sucks, doesn’t it? 

Because we keep lugging around history’s carcass, people who are otherwise reasonably intelligent and functional prefer suffering over success, mistake bad people for good and good for bad. People, we can’t see straight when we gaze through the lens of past or present misery or guilt.

The only way any of us at any age can overcome any obstacle is to take what’s going well in our life, and focus on that until it looms large enough to cast the negative stuff into shadow. Yes, this requires us to give up our stubborn, willful attachments to the ugliness of the past and the tragedy of today. It requires us to resist the urge to “arm” our children by demoralizing them with the gory details of battle. But given a chance, it raises our expectation and appreciation to the point where we see solutions that were previously inconceivable. It won’t hurt to give it a try. Gaping at history’s train wrecks hasn’t done us much good.


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