A good friend of mine recently wrote,
“Underneath all the gloss and confusion about inclusion and diversity, it just seems like the real dividing line is socio-economic and the erosion of family. And as a Catholic, albeit not a very good one, I believe that the erosion of the family system is ultimately the most devastating. It’s at the heart of the unraveling of African-American communities. It’s why they cannot easily escape the socio-economic ghetto they are trapped in. This is the systemic problem.”
You know that my Dad abandoned us when I was 11. He left us destitute and never paid a penny in child support, so I began working in a heavy steel fabrication shop when I was 14. We manufactured oil field equipment and shipped it worldwide.
With Mom working long hours to keep food on the table and with me working long hours to have gasoline, cheeseburgers, and dollars for dating, I was more or less free to do whatever I wanted with no adult supervision. If I wanted to stay out all night, no problem. If I wanted to run with a street gang, no problem. If I wanted to ditch school, no problem. The point is, my circumstances were very similar to those of a lot of black kids raised by single moms with no money.
Except that I wasn’t black.
I’ve been told by countless people that the absence of a father in the home is why blacks in America struggle as a group economically.
But I don’t believe it’s true.
As a white kid, it was easy for me to gain the trust of people in authority, get a job, get promoted, and make my future whatever I wanted it to be. If I wasn’t a tall, blue-eyed white boy, I know for a fact that it would have been impossible for me to gain access to the American Dream. I have worked with incredibly bright, talented, hard-working black men but they, and I, knew they had zero chance of ever being promoted into management, even if they were the obvious choice for it. I, on the other hand, was made the GM of a radio station with a staff of 32 people when I was 26 years old. My 38-year-old friend, Cal Long, would have been a much better choice. Except that Cal was black.
Cal was well-spoken. He dressed impeccably. He was as handsome as Denzel Washington and was highly respected and admired as a salesman. He had the perfect temperament to be the General Manager but he was black, so it was simply out of the question. It would have been pointless to have tried to talk about it. He knew it. I knew it. The problem was systemic.
Today, right now, this minute, if I found a young Cal Long who was a great ad writer or media buyer there is little chance that my average client would accept his leadership or guidance. A few would, but they are the exception. The problem is systemic. He could become a “tradesman” like an airlines pilot or a chef or an HVAC tech or a cameraman or an editor in TV production. He could even do audio production like Dave Nevland, but he couldn’t voice radio ads for clients because he would “sound black” and that just wouldn’t do now, would it?
The problem is systemic.
The systemic racism that the American professional class can’t seem to escape is that we feel forced to accommodate the preferences of our clients. And we know that our clients would find an excuse to quit doing business with us if we asked them to embrace the leadership and advice of a black man. And God help you if you suggest they accept the leadership and insight of a black woman. Unless she is in the kitchen. Then we all love her, right?
Not once have I ever had a client who was worried about my judgment or my ability to guide them due to the fact that I was raised without a father, or that I had a sibling who was a criminal, or that I graduated high school in the bottom 1/3 of my class. Screw all that. I’m tall and I’m white and I’ve read a lot of books. And I’m just outrageous enough to be entertaining.
But that same degree of outrageousness would be alarming if I was black.
The problem is systemic and it is not due to the absence of a father in black homes. That is simply what we tell each other. It allows us to feel like “we’re doing all we can,” but then at the end of the day we can say, “It’s their own fault. Those poor babies are raised without a Daddy and their Mommies ain’t got no morals. It’s just heartbreaking and I wish I could help, but they’re just doing it to themselves. You know, they ain’t got no Daddies and all, so they don’t make good choices. They’re just doing it to themselves.”
So while I love you and respect you and have no doubt about the goodness of your heart and I believe that you are a much better Catholic than you think you are, please think twice before you suggest that the problems blacks face in America today would be solved if only black men would stay home and be fathers to their kids. Because I can assure you that the problems black people face would remain.
PS – I have had the occasional black person “weaponize” their blackness by accusing me of being a racist when I – and my adversary – both knew it wasn’t true. These jerks were just elevating the dispute to a new level to try to force me to give them their way. But incidents like that are the exception, not the rule. And I’ve encountered 20 dishonest white jerks for every black one. A dishonest jerk is a dishonest jerk and they come in every color.