Too often when I care to go on social media or Twitter I see posts like this:
And I understand the sentiment and why the person feels like this. It can be hard for some Black people to navigate in a society that was never intended for us to be citizens, but rather chattel. Many of us still encounter workplace discrimination, poverty, overcrowded underfunded schools, Over achieving Karen’s, and Petty Police officers that shoot first and ask questions later. This is a lot to bear, but since slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights, much progress has been made, though racist individuals and systems have percolated down into the present. Black people are frustrated, we feel we’ve been denied opportunities, given the wrong game plan, and manipulated into being docile citizens to be used by the chosen elite for the purposes of perpetuating white supremacy. I get it. And I can not discount this, because a lot of it is true.
Does this mean that Black people should stop pursuing these facets of society; professional careers in STEM, or business ownership, or the learning of trades, or the pursuit of high education, or the seeking of financial literacy, or increased political representation, to give it up for others to pursue, and believe them not to be a critical part of uplifting the community because of everything we, Black people, have against us in the United States? No.
Think about all of the progress that would have been stunted if people like Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, Madam C.J. Walker, or the African-American women at NASA that helped put us on the moon– Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson would have gave in to this type of thinking; never pursuing their goals because, well, “they will never let you”.
“I think it’s a terrible signal to our young people about who black people are to have us constantly wrapped in the cloak of victimhood, and to have black leadership that in a knee-jerk fashion defends negative, dysfunctional behavior,” Juan Williams, senior correspondent of NPR, suggests of the current mentality of Black Americans.
One of the negative, dysfunctional behavioral traits that Williams is speaking of can often be found with those who have a defeated mentality within the community due to this pedaling of victimhood. While he has a point on victimhood, I do not believe it applies to those who are defending actual victims of racism or those who acknowledge the effects of oppression relative to decisions made by society or individuals, however, it does apply to those who do use victimhood as he describes. It’s been proven that Black Americans are victims to unjust laws, marginalization, and poverty; there are records, statistics, and past laws that back this claim. From slavery, to Jim Crow Segregation, to the War on Drugs, to the 94 Crime Bill; the Black community has taken some really big setbacks throughout American History. When one highlights and acknowledges these facts during a discussion of racial injustice it provides a greater perspective to the causes of poverty, violence, and lack of upward mobility suffered in the Black community. Is it victimhood? No. But it becomes victimhood when we strip away individual accountability for those who are mentally and physically able to make rational and informed decisions to use the facts of Black victimization to defend negative behavior. Victimhood is definitely a detriment to growth, but what can be just as bad or even worst is the defeated mentality.
That being said, it is my opinion that the facts of Black victimization and its history of oppression and marginalization; as well as the pedaling of victimhood, has lead to a defeated mentality among many of us in the Black community. Both consciously and unconsciously, it becomes apparent in a lot of our actions, words, and lifestyle.
In politics, when Black people use the excuse “Voting doesn’t change anything,” or “My vote doesn’t count,” or “what has voting ever changed?”, to not vote or attempt to get involved, despite all of the contrary evidence that shows voting and getting involved in your local and national politics is crucial in community development.
Economically we see this as many Black people have become disillusioned with the various financial systems, housing, and job markets. Constant rhetoric about Jews hoarding all of the wealth, Hispanics taking all of the jobs, Asians carry outs and corner stores leeching off the hood, and the white power structure blocking much needed loans, as an excuse to NOT attempt to build your credit, get a loan, a house, and start a business often shows a sense of being defeated.
Socially, as a person that grew up in the Suburbs then moved to the “hood” as an adult, I believe the defeated attitude is most apparent in the hood—inner cities. Once again, one must acknowledge the disparities between life in the inner city compared to the suburbs. Variables such as population size, family life, income inequality, education, drugs, violence, and job competition can be fierce within the inner city. These pressures often lead to lack of confidence in being a productive member of society and are compensated by the “streets” or hiphop, and sports—the only gateways they see as a way out. A lot of us who become stuck in the system, can’t see a way out and become content—stagnate, others end up dead or in jail; defeated. A famous excuse for not putting in effort to gain employment is “Man, they ain’t gon hire a brother like me”
In education we see this defeated attitude in improper research, biases, and sometimes in the flat out dismissal of anything deemed “white”. The factual narrative that the “true” history has been hidden is often exaggerated and pedaled causing many Black people to believe there is little they could ever actually know to be factual about our history because white people control everything. As I said in another article, “some of us give white people too much credit…”, Credit that they have the keys of all knowledge and they beat Black people down to the point of total ignorance until the age of YouTube when Black people only now can find out who they really are. This often leads Black people to be bias only towards Black scholars and Black demagogues who distort Black scholarship for their own narrative; not knowing that Black scholars rely heavily on European sources. The resulting attitude toward education becomes: what strokes one’s ego is considered facts and what doesn’t is HIStory by white people. Often brothers will tell me to “know thyself” in regards to history, but they don’t know where to find “thyself” in the ancient literature because they believe the person or source to be a liar because they were white.
It doesn’t stop in the “streets” or inner cities, we often negatively generalize ourselves in comparison to others. The phrases “black men with money marry white girls”, “find a white women with good credit” or “black men ain’t shit” often reflect an unconscious inferiority complex indicative of being defeated. Everything just seems so dismal….Nah.
This defeated mentality can be a dangerous road if all Black people were to go down this path. Potential is untapped, productivity is stalled, opportunities are taken by other groups to exploit, leads us to easily fall victim to traps of systemic racism, and economic growth is stunted when a person or community prevents themselves from ever taking the first step on the journey to improving their lives through their economic or academic endeavors.
We often encounter statistics that shows the incredible economic and academic disparities of Black Americans compared to our White, Black immigrant, and Asian counterparts and we often blame it solely on racism; however, we rarely take into consideration our own accountability that add to these disparities. To use STEM as an example, a huge reason the big tech companies, medicine, mathematics, and engineering do not employ Black Americans as much as their counterparts can be explained by our lack of competitive pursuit in these industries. A study done by the American Society for Engineering and Education showed that at a community college in Georgia, a team tracked academic outcomes (GPA, graduation, and transfer rates) for all participants of the STEP program (2012-2016); an extension of their STEM program used to address the disparities within the Black community in its pursuit of STEM careers. Over the course of these 4 years, the STEP program supported 91 foreign-born black students and 55 native-born black students. Already the study shows there are less native Black Americans pursuing these degrees than their counterparts. It went on to show “though native-born and foreign-born black participants transferred to 4-year institutions at similar rates, foreign-born blacks were more than twice as likely to earn a degree prior to transfer. Interestingly, foreign-born blacks also maintained a substantially higher GPA than their native-born counterparts,”
We can easily blame our lack of pursuit of STEM programs and our lack of performanxe on systemic racism , but how do we explain the differences when Native Black Americans enter under the same academic levels as their counterparts pre-program or higher?
It seems to me, that when one dives further into the statistics, it becomes clear that in many cases it is not an unseen racist cloud that is stopping us from gaining these important positions. It seems that one can attribute a lack of pursuit and a lack of performance to the disparities in STEM careers.
When we look further into the degree programs African Americans obtain, we find that we are represented among the lowest earning Degree earners and the lowest representation in the Nations fastest growing fields.
Ironically because of this, Black Americans that do pursue these fields usually find great success in these various careers, with all the obstacles and tokenism considered.
I think back to a bit of information I was given by a government employee in the Office of Contracts and Procurement. As I was telling her plans of starting a business, she expressed to me her frustration about the lack of Black businesses going through the process on bidding for government contracts. She was saying that the system is there for Black businesses to obtain these contracts and compete; however, there is a lack of pursuit by Black companies, and because of this, other groups are taking advantage of the contract allocations. Maybe it’s ignorance, maybe some of it is racism, or maybe some of us business owners would rather do business outside of government, but the few businesses that do compete, usually find success. Covid pandemic ruined my plans to take advantage of this opportunity, but I hope to be attending a workshop soon in order to pursue a contract for my company.
We’ve spent a lot of time on the defeated mentality and how it can be detriment to those who may have some of these traits and those who have fully succumb, but what about the winning mentality? I don’t think we have to spend much time on this because, in my opinion, most of us have a winning mentality or have a winning mentality that outweighs victimhood and defeat when faced with obstacles. Most of us do not use excuses to justify our failures, lack of opportunities, or negative behaviors. Most of us learn from our mistakes.
There are many examples of the winning mentality that we can look towards, apply, and admire. Tyler Perry, Oprah, Jay-Z, are just three examples of winning despite the insurmountable odds against them. Our local professionals; doctors, politicians, and business men and women who ignored the rhetoric of defeat in order to become successful in their lives. Our scholars who take the time to read through HIStory in order to find the true history, conducting proper research to make factual and informed conclusions. Those scientist and inventors who, with little resources , are able to create life changing innovations. That kid who is from the hood but ignores the negativity to graduate with honors among their class. These are the traits of the winning mentality that is common among the Black community.
Where do you fall among these labels? Do we find ourselves with some of these traits? What can we do to better ourselves Oman’s our community when we recognize these traits? Taking a critical look at these traits and how they are relevant to ourselves and our community is essential to healing the insecurities we have within our community. Some may stay behind, refuse self reflection, and continue their same ways, but as we move forward, the foundation has been prepared for those who are ready to build.