BLACK LIKE ME
In 1959, a white Texas journalist, John Howard Griffin, pictured on the left, decided to conduct a social experiment. He consulted a New Orleans dermatologist, who prescribed a drug regimen, sunlamp treatments, and skin creams in order to darken his skin. Griffin also cropped his hair to conceal the fact that it was straight. He wanted to determine what it was like to be a black man in the South. He traveled through the area and experienced firsthand the plight of the Negro attempting to survive under the terror of bigotry and the weight of Jim Crow. He appears as a black man in the picture on the right. In 1961, Griffin wrote a sensitive book about his journey, entitled Black like Me. A motion picture, starring James Whitmore, was subsequently made based upon the book. I remember, as a high school boy, reading it and feeling a deep sense of sorrow that human beings were treated with such cruelty.
As everyone realizes, much has changed since 1959. The Civil Rights Movement gained national recognition and traction. In Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, landmark civil rights legislation was enacted, which helped to end racial discrimination in polling places, schools, and public accommodations. Furthermore, preferential programs for blacks in education and employment were implemented. Under-qualified black people received opportunities that nobody else did. In many instances, racial quotas were the order of the day. Now as a result of these initiatives, the nation has its first African-American president and first lady and virtually every commercial on television features members of their race. America has traveled light-years from the moment of Griffin’s experiment.
I was recently engaged in a discussion of the changes that have occurred on America’s social and political landscape over the last 55 years and, in this context, was asked to ponder a provocative question: “What do you think you would do if you were a young black man today?” It is an interesting question to consider; so allow me to respond to it.
First, knowing myself as I do, I suspect that I would be "out to prove something." I would begin with a mastery of the English language. I would learn how to write and to speak in flawless prose. I would study the meanings, nuances, and pronunciations of words in English. I would declare my own personal war upon Ebonics as the mark of ignorance that it is.
Second, instead of accepting patronizing government freebies “owed” to me, I would regard purveyors of these gifts on a par with drug pushers and pimps, and would sneer, “I am not interested in your taking care of me. I can and will take care of myself.” To this end, I would single-mindedly pursue academic excellence. I would study hard every day in order to become a superlative student. I would take the toughest courses in school and seek to graduate at the top of my class. I would scoff at the intellectual ghetto of so-called "Black Studies," which would have no place in my college curriculum, although I would utilize my skin color to inspire and to motivate me to succeed. I would consider it nothing short of an insult to be offered preferential treatment by any university and would regard the “need for academic diversity” as nothing but the thin transparency of condescension that it is. I would forcefully insist upon competing with all other students on a level playing field and would derive in such friendly competition a perverse satisfaction and enjoyment from out-performing them intellectually.
Third, I would choose a profession in which I was immensely interested. Yet it would also be one which requires educational accomplishment. In order to crush stereotypes, I would decline to enter the fields of entertainment, athletics, or the clergy.
This is to say that I would not be a rapper, singer, comedian, actor, or talk show host. My values and principles would not suit the superficialities of show business. I would probably ask, “What of substance do these people contribute by doing what they do? They make obscene amounts of money, but so what?”
Nor would I consider joining the ranks of the clergy, since I would fear identification with the countless charlatans in the black community who brandish the title “Reverend.” I would never desire to discover myself sitting in a NAACP convention where the mindlessness and stupidity of a welfare mentality thrive.
Nor would I give my life, or any part of it, to the idiocy of playing football and risking traumatic brain injury (CTE) or attempting to render another person unconscious in a boxing ring. I would shun brutes like Ray Lewis and Dennis Rodman, whose most apparent deficiencies are moral and intellectual in nature. Indeed, let me emphasize here: it would make no difference to me how prodigious my talent was as an athlete, I would refuse to invest large portions of my time in that arena. If some dull-witted coach approached me and asked me to "be on the team," I would probably respond, “A horse can run faster than you and I can. A kangaroo is a far more agile pugilist than we are. A bear can overcome both of us together in a wrestling match. There is only one thing that I can do that these animals cannot, and that is to manage complex intellectual tasks. I will exercise my body in intramural athletics for sure, but I will spend the bulk of my time developing my mind.”
Fourth, I would not pay one nanosecond of attention to “civil rights leaders,” such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I would have nothing but disdain and contempt for them. “Political leaders” such as Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee, Elijah Cummings, John Conyers, and the rest of the Black Caucus would be an unmitigated embarrassment to me. I would oppose Barack Obama as the anti-democratic enemy of liberty and incorrigible liar that he is. I would not wish to be in any way supportive of or identified with him or his minions.
In sum, I would not work for anyone’s approval but my own and those whose lives demonstrate dedication to the same values that I have expressed here. I would honor God in a reverent manner, praise traditional American culture, and exalt all the men and women who have striven to make this country the capstone of Western civilization. I would express my thanks every day to the Almighty that I too was blessed with the opportunity to live and to work in this place.
I would stand, resolutely, for the active, inexorable pursuit of moral and intellectual excellence as the panacea for most of what ails African-Americans and the country in general. I would do what I could to change this unfortunate state of affairs and would dare some big-government liberal to call me an "Uncle Tom."
February 9, 2014