Our new “Talented Tenth” has turned out not unlike its predecessor of 1903, which W.E.B. DuBois lived to regret, as he stated in his speech to The Boule in 1948. Forty-five years of watching the selfishness of his brothers and sisters was enough for DuBois to admit that he had made a mistake. “I assumed that with knowledge, sacrifice would automatically follow. In my youth and idealism, I did not realize that selfishness is even more natural than sacrifice,” DuBois lamented. “There were especially sharp young persons [at Fisk University] with the distinct and single-minded idea of seeing what they could get out of it for themselves, and nobody else.”
DuBois left this country, a sad and disheartened man, never wanting to return again, and we have seen his words and his assessment of our people magnified. Black people spend an estimated $1 trillion every year, much of which is wasted everyday on anything and everything other people make and sell. We buy it all, but we are dead last in every other economic category. We also have the worst housing, the highest unemployment, the poorest healthcare, the highest infant mortality, the poorest education, and our life expectancy is not even long enough to collect our hard-earned social security payments.
We are not using our tremendous resources — or talents — to do good “and” to do well. We are not using our talents to help the least of our brethren. We are not multiplying our resources. Instead, we are virtually burying them in the ground by succumbing to every advertisement and marketing campaign laid before us by corporate America. We have taken on the title of “Conspicuous Consumption Champions of the World.”
Second, we have placed too much emphasis on creature comforts and have allowed ourselves to be defined by what we do on someone else’s job, rather than what we can do to create our own jobs. We have devalued business ownership and business education, and we have lost sight of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and collective economic empowerment. We have been lulled into the trap of thinking “the man” will take care of us or the government will take care of us, or our local politicians will take care of us. That is so far from the truth it is not even funny. Besides, anyone or anything that has the power to give you all you need also has the power to take away everything you have.
[pullquote]With $1 trillion, coupled with trillions in intellectual capital, Black people in this country can do anything we set our minds to. I think we have gotten very lazy and complacent, because it makes absolutely no sense for us to be in the situation we find ourselves today. It simply means we have not been taking care of our business, while everyone else has.[/pullquote]
We must get back to the way it was before integration and before Black people in this country were dis-integrated. For almost 50 years we have mimicked the Children of Israel, wandering in this desert called America, whining, murmuring, and complaining about our situation since we left Egypt in 1964 when Pharaoh (President Lyndon Johnson) signed the Civil Rights Act. Some of us even want to return to Egypt. We must use our $1 trillion to possess the land.
What we have been given was not given to us just for us, just for our families, and just for our friends. It was given to us to help others — even strangers.
Rich athletes and entertainers, who are already doing some fantastic things with their wealth, must look deep inside themselves and consider their own mortality. Then they should each make a relatively small effort to help someone, maybe by pooling some of their dollars to start a business, that will create employment or housing opportunities.
I often have a dream of a beautiful world, a world where our children are educated properly, where our elderly are taken care of properly, where our youth are taught respect and responsibility, where our adults are not afraid to administer discipline – with love, and a world where our people are taking care of our resources, providing for ourselves, and making the necessary sacrifices to build a sure and certain foundation for the next generation. It’s a dream that would make W.E.B. DuBois proud.
James Clingman is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. His latest book, “Black Dollars Matter! Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense,” is available on his website, Blackonomics.com.