ITS CULTURE, NOT COLOR, THAT HOLDS US BACK

So, I’ve been hearing about racism, systemic racism, more than almost anything else these days. Case in point, there in an article from USA Today dated June 15, 2020, so its fairly recent. The title, “What is systemic racism? Here’s what it means and how you can help dismantle it.” As I read it, something resonated with me.

Here’s the quote…

Glenn Harris, president of Race Forward and publisher of Colorlines, defined it as “the complex interaction of culture, policy and institutions that holds in place the outcomes we see in our lives.”

“Systemic racism is naming the process of white supremacy,” Harris said.

Harris said systemic racism creates disparities in many “success indicators” including wealth, the criminal justice system, employment, housing, health care, politics and education. He said that although the concept dates back to work done by scholar and civil rights pioneer W. E. B. Du Bois, the concept was first named during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and was further refined in the 1980s.

Structural racism prevents or makes it more challenging for people of color to participate in society and in the economy. While structural racism manifests itself in what appears to be separate institutions, Harris emphasized that factors like housing insecurity, the racial wealth gap, education and policing are intimately connected. 

What stood out to me was the emphasis, at least as I saw it, was on how systemic racism made it difficult to succeed in America and that triggered a healthy skepticism in me. I could name a lot of successful African American celebrities, popular athletes, business people and politicians and they would all be African American. If systemic racism was so entrenched, why are there so many success stories I can point to? And then I thought, you know what, maybe I’m wrong. What facts can I point that would substantiate my gut reaction because I don’t want to rely on emotion and skepticism alone. So, I did some research and when I was done, I had more questions and here they are.

  • If systemic racism is such a problem today, why are so many minority groups doing better than whites economically?
  • In the past, systemic racism was much more pronounced than it is today. That being the case, it would be impossible for African Americans to become millionaires after the Civil War and yet, there were several. Why?
  • If systemic racism is not the blame or at least, not the biggest impediment to African American progress, what is?

WHITES ARE NOT THE TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN. ITS ASIANS!

Okay, this is my logic. If white supremacy fuels systemic racism then, it stands to reason that they would be at the top of the food chain – economically speaking, but they are not. Check out these stats from the US Census Bureau as quoted by the website Financial Samurai.

The average income for Asian Americans is among the highest in America. For 2020, the median Asian American household income is roughly $80,000 compared the the median overall U.S. household in America of roughly $64,000. Asian Americans make up roughly 5.6 percent of the total American population as of 2020. The largest ethnic groups represented in the census were Chinese (3.79 million), Filipino (3.41 million), Indian (3.18 million), Vietnamese (1.73 million), Korean (1.7 million), and Japanese (1.3 million).

Further down the article it says…

Their overall annual household income corresponds with the Census Burea, but within the matrix, you can see a wide variation with Indian income at $100,000, or 3X higher than Burmese income and 35% higher than the overall Asian American income.

This fact may be due to a higher proportion of Indian workers in the high tech and medical industries. The other surprising income datapoint is Filipino income second highest at $80,000. This may be attributed to better communication skills given English is widely spoken in Filipino culture, as well as a propensity for self-employment.

BLACK IMMIGRANTS EARN MORE THAN USA-BORN BLACKS! WHY?

Shortly after I read that article, something else caught my eye, an article from the Black Enterprise website entitled, “STUDY: BLACK IMMIGRANTS EARN MORE THAN U.S.-BORN BLACKS.” And I thought, really? Here’s a quote from that article (dated September 24, 2015).

As the black population in the United States grows, the diversity in the black community is unprecedented. According to research by Nielsen, the number of black immigrants in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1980, to a record 3.8 million, accounting for 1 in every 11 blacks. By 2060, 1 out of every 6 U.S. blacks will be immigrants.

Black immigrants from Africa are driving the recent growth in immigration, accounting for 36% of the total foreign-born black population. Blacks from Nigeria and Ethiopia account for much of that growth. Still, the Caribbean population accounts for nearly 50% of all blacks, with most coming from Jamaica.

“A lot of the African . . . immigrants are coming specifically to get an education in the States,” says Andrew McCaskill, senior vice president of global communications at Nielsen.

“High numbers are college-educated, and not only have college degrees, but also masters,” he adds.

McCaskill also says that the black immigrant population in the U.S. has a higher percentage of entrepreneurs, and an increased ability to keep dollars in their own communities.

Further down it reads…

“While U.S. born blacks have had to battle generations of institutional racism, such as predatory lending, that has put them at a socioeconomic and psychological disadvantage that some immigrants have not experienced in this country. McCaskill hopes the changing economic landscape for blacks, citing the Nielsen finding that income growth rates in black households are surpassing almost all others, will help U.S. born blacks and immigrants realize the economic power they collectively have.”

WAIT! WHAT? SOME AMERICAN SLAVES BECAME MILLIONAIRES?

Okay, so now I am looking at the Asian American community doing better than whites economically and I am mulling over how Black immigrants come to the USA and do better – economically than native African Americans and while that is going on in my head, someone shares a book with me that I am adding to my Amazon Wishlist. It’s called, “Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires.”

Check out the book description…

The astonishing untold history of America’s first black millionairesformer slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century, from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties—self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison.

While Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Michael Jordan, and Will Smith are among the estimated 35,000 black millionaires in the nation today, these famous celebrities were not the first blacks to reach the storied one percent. Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of smart, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.

Black Fortunes is an intriguing look at these remarkable individuals, including Napoleon Bonaparte Drew – the first black man in Powhatan County (contemporary Richmond) to own property in post-Civil War Virginia. His achievements were matched by five other unknown black entrepreneurs including:

  • Mary Ellen Pleasant, who used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown;
  • Robert Reed Church, who became the largest landowner in Tennessee;
  • Hannah Elias, the mistress of a New York City millionaire, who used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem;
  • Orphan and self-taught chemist Annie Turnbo-Malone, who developed the first national brand of hair care products;
  • Madam C. J Walker, Turnbo-Malone’s employee who would earn the nickname America’s “first female black millionaire;”
  • Mississippi schoolteacher W. Gurley, who developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a “town” for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen” that would become known as “the Black Wall Street.”

Okay, simple question for all readers, “Was there more racism or less racism in America between 1830 and 1927? I can assure you, there was substantially more racism in America at that time than there is now. And yet, there were black millionaires and successful black professionals. Why didn’t systemic racism hold them back? Why isn’t it holding back black immigrants and the Asian community today? Well, if I had to point to one thing, I would point to the culture.

THE SECRET SAUCE TO SUCCESS IS CULTURE

A few years back, Amy Chua aka “The Tiger Mom” wrote a book called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” where she exalts the Chinese culture for its ability to rear high-achieving children in America. She followed up that success with another book called “The Triple Package” that she co-wrote with her husband and in that book, she analyzes the cultures of Nigerians, Jews, Indians, Iranians, Lebanese Americans, Cuban exiles.

A quote from her book reads, “Cubans in Miami climbed from poverty to prosperity in a generation. Nigerians earn doctorates at stunningly high rates … [these] groups have a cultural edge, which enables them to take advantage of opportunity far more than others.”


Amy Chua, co-author of “The Triple Package”, explains the
three underlying traits she thinks lead to success.
 

Hmm… So many thoughts.

According to Pew Research, about half of Asians ages 25 and older (51%) have a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 30% of all Americans this age. About 26% of Asians live in multigenerational households, a higher share than the U.S. overall (19%). Multigenerational families are households that include two or more adult generations or one that includes both grandparents and grandchildren. And according to US Census data, they have the lowest divorce rates. All this suggests to me that fathers are in the home.

Pew Research tells me that black immigrants from Africa are more likely than Americans overall to have a college degree or higher. For example, 59% of foreign-born blacks from Nigeria have a bachelor’s or advanced degree – a share that is roughly double that of the overall population. In Nigeria, the idea of divorce is considered taboo. Check out these quotes from the website – OZY, its titled, “ THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ETHNIC GROUP IN THE U.S. MAY SURPRISE YOU.”

At an Onyejekwe family get-together, you can’t throw a stone without hitting someone with a master’s degree. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors — every family member is highly educated and professionally successful, and many have a lucrative side gig to boot. Parents and grandparents share stories of whose kid just won an academic honor, achieved an athletic title or performed in the school play. Aunts, uncles and cousins celebrate one another’s job promotions or the new nonprofit one of them just started. To the Ohio-based Onyejekwes, this level of achievement is normal. They’re Nigerian-American — it’s just what they do.

Today, 61 percent of Nigerian-Americans over the age of 25 hold a graduate degree, compared to 32 percent for the U.S.-born population, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Among Nigerian-American professionals, 45 percent work in education services, the 2016 American Community Survey found, and many are professors at top universities. Nigerians are entering the medical field in the U.S. at an increased rate, leaving their home country to work in American hospitals, where they can earn more and work in better facilities. A growing number of Nigerian-Americans are becoming entrepreneurs and CEOs, building tech companies in the U.S. to help people back home.

Further down it reads…

Anyone from the Nigerian diaspora will tell you their parents gave them three career choices: doctor, lawyer or engineer. For a younger generation of Nigerian-Americans, that’s still true, but many are adding a second career, or even a third, to that trajectory.

Anie Akpe works full time as vice president of mortgages at Municipal Credit Union in New York City, but she’s also the founder of Innov8tiv magazine, African Women in Technology (an education and mentorship program) and an app called NetWorq that connects professionals. Raised in the southern port city of Calabar, she had the Nigerian hustle baked into her upbringing. “There was no such thing as ‘can’t’ in our household,” she says.

Hmm…

I THINK I AM SENSING A PATTERN

Before and after slavery, African Americans fought hard to preserve their families, build lasting kinship networks, and survive cruelty and hardship. A phenomenon studied well in Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century. This suggests to me fathers (or father figures) were very much part of the African American experience and likely influenced the former slaves who went on to become millionaires.

In case you haven’t discerned the pattern I am developing here, I’ll make it plain. A culture that emphasizes education, work ethic and fatherhood tends to thrive. And while there may be other factors in play, these are consistent elements of success in Asian communities, Black Immigrant communities and was once more dominant in African American communities at a time of heightened systemic racism. Are those patterns at play in the African American community today? To some degree, yes, as no race of people is a monolith of personality. We do not all think alike or behave as one sentient being to a predetermined course. Yet, the trending data does tell a depressing story.

Walter Williams, professor of Economics at George Mason University recently said this in his syndicated column back in 2017. (I tend to agree with him. Emphasis and links added.)

The No. 1 problem among blacks is the effects stemming from a very weak family structure.

Children from fatherless homes are likelier to drop out of high school, die by suicide, have behavioral disorders, join gangs, commit crimes, and end up in prison. They are also likelier to live in poverty-stricken households.

But is the weak black family a legacy of slavery?

In 1960, just 22 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families. Fifty years later, more than 70 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families.

Here’s my question: Was the increase in single-parent black families after 1960 a legacy of slavery, or might it be a legacy of the welfare state ushered in by the War on Poverty?

According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. Today about 75 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers.

Is that supposed to be a delayed response to the legacy of slavery?

The bottom line is that the black family was stronger the first 100 years after slavery than during what will be the second 100 years.

Parenthetically, a desire to see strong stable families with fathers in the home is a sentiment shared by President Barack Obama as well.

EDUCATION IS KEY

In addition to the negative repercussions inherent to a fatherless generation, another concern for me is the dropout rates in the African American community. Insight Into Diversity cited a study by The Education Trust — an organization that advocates for the academic achievement of underrepresented students — reveals that graduation rates for African American students fall far behind those of their peers of all races and ethnicities. Said study included 676 traditional private and public nonprofit colleges and universities nationwide that enroll 60 percent of all first-time, full-time African American students. At these institutions, black students had the lowest graduation rates of any ethnic group, with just 40.9 percent completing a degree within six years.

The results of that study coincides with US Census Bureau data where BlackDemographics.com points out “Eighty Percent of African Americans over age 25 have high school diplomas. The average number of African Americans that have at least a bachelor’s degree increased two percentage point to 19% since the year 2000. This however is still ten percentage points lower than the national average.”

I THINK WE ARE FOCUSED ON THE WRONG THING

Business Insider recently posted “26 simple charts to show friends and family who aren’t convinced racism is still a problem in America.” Here are most of the bullet points:

  • The employment-population ratio for Black Americans has historically tended to fall quite a bit lower than for whites or Latinos.
  • The unemployment rate has also spiked for all racial groups in the US during the coronavirus pandemic and is especially high for Black Americans.
  • Black Americans are underrepresented in high-paying jobs
  • People of color, and especially Black Americans, are severely underrepresented at the top of the corporate hierarchy.
  • Black Americans have historically been underrepresented in the highest echelons of government, as well.
  • Black workers have historically earned far less than white workers.
  • Similarly, overall income for Black Americans was about 42% lower than for whites in 2018.
  • There’s a similar disparity at the household level. Lower incomes mean that the poverty rate for Black families is over twice that of white families.
  • One of the contributing factors to the household wealth disparity is student loans.
  • The wage gap between races also interacts with the gender wage gap between men and women.
  • A key part of the “American Dream” is leaving your children in a better economic position than you were in, but that dream is less attainable for Black Americans.
  • Educational opportunities remain starkly split by race.
  • The share of both white and Black Americans with college degrees has increased dramatically over the last half-century, but there’s still a gap.
  • When they tried to get financing from banks, Black mortgage applicants were more likely to be denied loans than aspiring homeowners of other races. Thus, the share of Black households that own their own homes is lower than other racial groups.
  • Black men are roughly five times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts — and nearly 13 times as likely in the 18-19 age group.
  • Roughly half of those fatally shot by police are white, but Black Americans are fatally shot at a disproportionate rate compared to their representation in the US population.

When I review these data points, I think about this quote from Frederick Douglass.

Fredrick Douglass said, “Everybody has asked the question, … ‘What shall we do with the Negro?‘ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! You’re doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, … let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also.”

Many of the data points from Business Insider outlined above could be resolved with a cultural change within the African American community. If the pursuit of education and stable families were the focal point concerning our community and echoed in the pop culture we produce, repeated ad nauseum by celebrities and championed by political and spiritual leaders en masse, most of the issues cited above would fall away; in my opinion. For any meaningful and significant long-term impact to happen, it will take blacks encouraging blacks to follow advice akin to a certain tiger mom and realize that you are special but have something to prove (to yourself) and should work towards that aim, delaying self-gratification until you have achieved your goal. It will take blacks encouraging blacks to point out that if former slaves can become millionaires then, our self-inflicted wounds become excuses at best. At worst, they become leverage for those seeking some sort of political advantage. Most of all, it will take blacks encouraging blacks because the psychological benefit of self-empowerment would eradicate a victim mentality that prohibits achievement and that frees every generation that follows afterwards.

LET ME SUM IT UP LIKE THIS

Racism is the by-product of imperfect people. There will always be imperfect people. If blacks encourage blacks to focus on education, stable households and the discipline to delay personal gratification for a much grander long-term goal then, racism will be far less relevant.

PERSONAL DISCLAIMER FOR THE EASILY TRIGGERED

  • This article is not intended to deny the existence of racism or its enduring effects.
  • This article is not intended to denigrate the black community in any way. Quite the contrary, the goal is to share a solution to a societal ill.
  • This article is not intended to disparage black mothers in any way.
  • This article is not intended to gloss over other relevant issues in the black community.
  • This article is my opinion. Take it or leave it. I am entitled to mine as you are to your own.

And I’ll leave you with this…

Further study: