Friday, November 14, 2014

Come on Home Mr. Graham

You are Not Their Kind of People

Recently, Lawrence Otis Graham wrote a blog that appeared in the Washington Post titled, "I Taught My Black Kids that their Elite Upbringing Would Protect Them from Discrimination. I Was Wrong." 

At the foundation of Graham's blog are a number of ideas that are both false and debilitating for African people. Dr. Timothy Knight unpacks some of these ideas. 

Translation of Graham's Essay:  I hoped by working hard, achieving individual success, separating myself and my family from the other Negroes, and behaving white, that whites would treat us as they do affluent whites.  

What Graham demonstrated, was the deeply held untruth that the lack of individual goal attainment, skills development, and self-actualization are the root causes of the African American low-status dilemma.  It isn't.  We fear pointing the finger at the culprit: (a) white institutions (from government to individually owned businesses) that are founded and ran by whites, and (b) whites themselves.  Think about it for a moment; protected classes (in the workplace) are not protected from what, they are protected from who. They are protected from whites.  

Few Blacks rise or fall in this country due to their individual persistence, hard work, and talent.  Success in this country is, in my opinion, primarily the by-product of likability, acceptance, and the opportunistic nature of whites who seek to capitalize on Black talent.   Anecdotal and scientific opinion make it clear that whites need no special talents, skills, or abilities to excel in this country.  I think that, while education, goal attainment, and individual self-ascendance improve the quality of our lives in many ways, it is not key to success for blacks in our country - the kind of success that white men frequently enjoy.  The the so-called gateways to success (clean arrest record, high levels of education, socially innocuous, hard working, etc.) are for blacks, in effect, barriers to success: part and parcel of an exclusionary system.  If racism, sexism, and classism didn't exist, all human beings would be valued equally and contributions made by each would be judged on its merit alone.

Whites are required to have no special skill sets or pedigree to access the American dream.  They are shaped for success from the cradle: wired for empowerment and acceptance - plug and play.  As for blacks, particularly blacks of low estate, we spend the first thirty years of our lives outfitting ourselves for acceptance (and wrestling with our sense of identity), only to learn that we are yet incompatible.  In this respect, I think that Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X had it right: the ticket to African American ascendancy is Black nationalism - entrepreneurship, the patronage of Black owned businesses, Black run education for Black people, and an end to seeking acceptance, affirmation, and valuation from white institutions and whites themselves.  Self-love is an attractive trait.  Once we stop expecting whites to love us and do right by us and begin to love ourselves, our social, cultural, and economic capital will increase.  Until then, we will never take our place in the world.

Timothy A. Knight, Ph.D. is a 22-year veteran of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD). With IMPD he served 8 years as a homicide detective where he specialized in police action shootings and in-custody death investigations. He also co-founded the O.K. Program of Indiana, a program designed to improve the education and life conditions of adolescent African American males. Dr. Knight's research focuses on the etiology of African American male dysfunction, racial inequity and theological social ethics. He is president of Knight Life Solutions, which is a counseling firm for persons navigating educational, career, and personal challenges. He is also a member of the (ES)2 Research Program. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit: