Despite calls for a post-racial reality, one cannot avoid that race is everywhere today, especially in this political environment. Thus, I don’t see the benefit in pretending that race doesn’t exist. Instead, I think not only should we acknowledge the obvious, we should embrace our differences and learn from each other. And today, I specifically want to discuss what we can all learn from Black America.
Turn on the news and the media portrayal of Black America is usually not positive. Salacious reports about gang violence, broken homes and neighborhoods routinely make headlines. Coupled with our own secret prejudices or biases, the negative narrative overwhelming sets the framework for how we view African Americans.
However, what many may find surprising about Black America is the community’s overwhelming optimism. According to Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution:
What about optimism? Here again race enters the equation: black Americans are by far the most optimistic racial group. Most optimistic of all poor groups are blacks in poverty. Poor blacks are in fact more optimistic about the future than the sample as a whole. Poor Hispanics are less optimistic than the average, and poor whites are by far the least optimistic group:
As one of the most disenfranchised communities, how is it possible that black America is so positive?
Black America Knows the “Struggle”
Typical of a think tank, the Brookings Institution forwarded predictable answers. Perhaps it was President Obama lifting the black community’s spirits? Or maybe, a strong connection to church and community has firmed them up.
Admittedly, these factors are relevant. However, Black America has long remained optimistic well before Obama’s administration. Additionally, while church attendance is important, people are people. As the younger generation emerges, traditional religions become increasingly less relevant.
So, what drives the optimism in Black America? Simply, they understand the struggle.
From an early age, blacks are confronted by both covert and overt racism. That many conservative whites brush off the mere idea that racism exists adds to these pressures. Essentially, blacks and other minorities in America have less social currency than whites.
A prime example: if a black man dressed in typical street clothes walks into a rich, white neighborhood, he’ll attract the wrong attention. If a white man did the same, he’s just a white man. In many circumstances, whites are given the benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless, Blacks daily overcome this racism and discriminatory attitude. And that ones that do so without getting into trouble with the law have incredibly thick skin. They’ve earned their lot in life because to them, every achievement was gotten under fire.
On the other hand, whites are privileged in that they never have to suffer the pangs of societal racism; that is, racism based on suspicion. As such, whites typically have an easier road in life, yet that easy road corrodes the soul.
Thus, what we can learn from Black America is to embrace the struggle when it comes. Only when we are tested by fire are we ever truly tested.