First and foremost, let there be no equivocation about the deleterious effect racism has on the human psyche. Those who have been on the receiving end of racist comments or acts know what a soul-sucking experience it can be.
But racism can also serve as a clarion call for victims to overcome man-made barriers and aspire to new heights.
The antidote for racist behavior can be found in one word: success.
Many of the individuals whose self-worth is derived from condemning others are, in fact, created from diluted gene pools. Stupidity is in their DNA.
Therefore, any discussion of racism should include a prescription for combating it.
Talking about the problem is commendable, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
That was the case last Tuesday when the four candidates for mayor of Youngstown participated in a forum at St. Columba Cathedral, sponsored by ACTION’s Task Force on Racism.
The candidates, Democratic nominee Jamael Tito Brown and independents Sean McKinney, Cecil Monroe and Janet Tarpley, are black. To them, racism isn’t a talking point or campaign issue. It’s personal.
Come January, the next mayor of Youngstown, which has a significant number of black residents, will be black. He or she will be expected to address the entrenched issues that have served to undermine economic and social progress in the black community.
Deeply rooted problems
The last black mayor of the city was Jay Williams, who won election by running as an independent and defeating the Democratic nominee, Robert F. Hagan, a veteran politician. Williams had never sought election before his mayoral bid and once in office found that many of the problems confronting Youngstown were deeply rooted.
Of particular concern was the black-on-black crime rate, including the large number of homicides.
Perhaps it was unfair to expect that he would be able to bring about changes in black neighborhoods that had flummoxed white mayors.
Williams left office with a great deal of unfinished business.
But come January, another black mayor will be forced to deal with the reality of a city with a majority of residents who do not pay income taxes because they are retired, unemployed or are on welfare.
The mayor will also have to deal with the issue of a breakdown of the family unit in the black community.
Several years ago, some black leaders across the country were incensed when Bill Cosby, a world renowned entertainer and long-time social commentator, blasted black parents for having skewed priorities.
For instance, Cosby noted that parents buy their children expensive sneakers but fail to ensure they have proper communications skills.
Referring to the civil rights movement in which blacks demanded education equality, he said, “These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: ‘Why you ain’t,’ ‘ Where you is’ …”
He said he blamed the child until he heard the mother and father talk.
“Everyone knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth.”
The no-holds-barred commentary drew a lot of criticism, but also generated discussion around the country.
It is noteworthy that several years after Cosby’s critique, the United States elected its first black president, Barack Obama. Obama, a highly educated, articulate, wordly leader shattered all the stereotypes about black men.
By Obama’s side was First Lady Michelle Obama, also a highly educated, articulate leader in her own right.
The couple and their two daughters occupied the White House with dignity and class, but were still subject to vile, racist comments.
However, the Obamas weren’t cowed because they knew that many of their detractors were inferior, both academically and culturally.
Therein lies the weapon for combating racism.
Indeed, in 2014, Mrs. Obama gave a speech about the value of education for everyone and had this to say to the students of Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta:
“And let me tell you something, here is the secret to what you all have that a lot of other kids don’t – a lot of you already have that kind of grit, because all the challenges you’re facing right now at home, in your neighborhood, those experiences are making you tougher. They’re making you stronger. Those are advantages. They’re not disadvantages.
“ ... you’ve got to just learn how to use that grit to help you get to and through college. It’s the same determination – you already have it.
“So if there is anybody telling you that you’re not college material – anyone – I want you to brush them off. Prove them wrong.”
According to CNSNews.com, which reported on the speech, the first lady recalled that when she was in high school her counselors told her she shouldn’t apply to Princeton.
“They told me I would never make it there, that I was setting my sights too high – can you believe that? She told me, don’t bother.
“But let me tell you something – that stuck with me. It made me a little uncertain, it did. It threw me off a little bit. But let me tell you, it made me mad, too. But I didn’t let the emotions get the best of me. Instead, I focused on getting good grades. I focused on signing up for activities, lining up my recommendations from teachers and mentors. And in the end, I ended up showing that counselor just how wrong she was – because look at where I am right now.”
Educational and professional success are an effective antidote to racism. Just ask the Obamas.