Good News About Black Progress
In starting new businesses and in academic achievement, African Americans have stepped up their efforts without any special help from a "black agenda."
As for the black businesses, as the National Black Chamber of Commerce's Harry C. Alford puts it, among black people, "capitalism is catching on like wildfire." Calvin Coolidge famously had it that the chief business of the American people is business; President Obama put it less baldly in his U.S. Chamber of Commerce speech last week, stating, "We need to make America the best place on earth to do business." Black people, as Americans, have the bug and have gone with it. And it's been working.
Some preach about how America is "set against" us. Others, often of an Ivied cast, hint that the truly informed black thinker courts Marxism. Just as commonly, we hear that America has yet to "fulfill its promise" where black people are concerned.
People who think this way have the right to their views. But there is an alternate view that seems to be working out better. Namely, the system isn't perfect and it certainly isn't set up to favor black effort. But black capitalists are in there hustling, and succeeding. And not just BET and B. Smith.
And another thing people do is work with what there is. On the Advanced Placement testing issue, there are few more disempowering myths regarding black kids and education than that the problem is just a matter of black public schools needing a cash influx. Again and again it is shown that this doesn't work (a good example is here); the issue is what schools do with the money.
I have written before about how using the proper techniques to teach reading demonstrates this. Another example is that over the past 10 years, the word has gotten out among educators of all races, as well as to black parents, that getting black kids to college requires steering them to A.P. courses. We do not live in an America where funding is equal between black public schools in the city and white ones in the suburbs. But look what happened regardless.
Things like this are behind my lack of enthusiasm for fatalistic rhetoric about how black problems cannot change, short of what currently is called a governmental "black agenda." Ten years ago, the term of art was "reparations," but the meaning was essentially the same -- that black people need some kind of rupture in the way America works.
There is always good music in that point, and in the intonations and gestures that typically go along with it. But year by year, the routine seems ever more otherworldly. Good things are happening here in real life, as they will always be. Attention must be paid.
John McWhorter is a regular contributor to The Root.