By Lewis W. Diuguid
At age 92, my dad climbed ladders this spring to a second-story roof to do repairs at the chemical company he has owned and run since 1947.
I had driven to St. Louis to help, and I didn’t dare take over the project. At age 53, I did what I have done since I was a kid — I carried the nails, tools, buckets of tar and tar paper onto the roof.
The job was complicated by a dip that had developed in the flat roof, causing water to pool. After eight hours of working nonstop, we leveled the roof and fixed the leak.
All of my life, I’ve never seen anyone work harder or in a more enterprising way than black men like Dad. It’s worth celebrating this week leading up to Father’s Day.
But because of stereotypes, black men get a bad rap and often are labeled lazy, underperforming, troublemaking, looking-for-an-easy-way-out ne’er-do-wells.
It is wrong to pin that ugliness on black men. But that has been the history of America. Only people who have worked side by side with black men would see the stereotype as a centuries-old lie.
If the stereotype were true, blacks never would’ve been slaves. There would have been no profit in such poor workers. If the stereotype were true, blacks would never have been sharecroppers, tenant farmers and domestics, or made to do the most dangerous, dirty jobs in American agriculture and industry. People who have been exposed to working black men know that and understand that those who are hired and promoted are valued in the workplace.
Unfortunately, we live in such segregated conditions that many people rely on stereotypes for insight into black men. That perpetuates the lie and an unemployment rate among black men that’s more than double that for whites.
However, a recent Kansas City area forum brought out the fact that President Barack Obama offers the greatest hope this country has ever seen of changing the disturbing image of black men. As a father, Obama cares deeply for his daughters, Malia and Sasha.
People need to see that as the norm. Obama and his wife, Michelle, have been married 16 years. They travel throughout the country and abroad together as the nation’s first couple. They work as a team.
It’s more than a photo opportunity. The Obamas help repair the battered image of the U.S. nuclear family and black families in particular.
Obama also works non-stop. In the short time he has been in office, he has pushed Congress to repair the banking industry, taken on the troubled auto industry and the housing crisis, created jobs, moved to end torture, made plans to close the Guantanamo prison and developed green industries.
Obama is like my dad. He is everywhere at the same time. Dad was multitasking before multitasking was cool, running his company, teaching college full time, managing rental property and doing consultant work for the government. Dad still goes to work every day, doing research and repair work when needed and keeping up on the latest trends in chemistry. Every year he wins impressive awards for his work.
Dad remains open to visitors and dialogue on the possibilities that exist in science, business, race relations, civic affairs and politics. When people ask me about Dad I tell them he is possessed.
Most folks laugh and assume that’s a negative thing, but it isn’t. Dad, like most of the black men I know, is possessed to do as much good work as he can in the time he has so that when he’s gone, life on Earth will be better.
Obama embodies that characteristic. Because Obama is president, the media enlarge his virtues for everyone to see.
Obama’s work ethic counters the stereotypes of black men and helps to elevate people of color so that other folks now will start to assume the best about us instead of the worst.
It is what hard-working men like my father have sought all of their lives. It’s what we now have a chance to achieve. Happy Father’s Day to them and all men who have maintained strong, instructional roles in the lives of children everywhere.
X Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.