“American Blacks must cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit independent of any president in the White House.” — Armstrong Williams
There is no getting around certain troubling and enduring implications of Black-White differences in America. Is there any question that there are meaningful differences between the races? The typical White household has 16 times the wealth of a Black one. It’s true that as Blacks have become politically active over the past 25 years, mostly as loyal Democrats, the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites has nearly tripled. Actually, Blacks haven’t made made much progress in closing the economic chasm with Whites since the March on Washington 50 years ago.
Surely, people with some prejudices will always be with us. Blacks will continue to be subjected to hostile acts in America, but all too often our upward mobility is curbed by customs of dependency. Too often, Blacks shun enterprise for dependence on the government for their needs. Most of African-American identity is about government. Blacks have reached the highest office in the land, but government has not the answer for Black empowerment. No matter who occupies the White House, the plight of America’s Blacks continues. It’s true that as urban politicians have poured billions of dollars into these communities, they’ve not lifted these populations from poverty and despair and have worsened the plight of many of the nation’s Blacks.
“All flash and no cash” is a suitable profile for Blacks in America. After we get beyond societal privileges that benefit Whites beyond what is commonly experienced by non-Whites under similar circumstances, the races have starkly different views on the appropriate role of government in dealing with civil rights. A majority of Blacks (59 percent) say the government should play a major role in improving their social and economic position, while 19 percent of Whites agree. Over half of Blacks (52 percent) say the country needs new civil rights laws, while 15 percent of Whites agree.
Despite good intentions and a 25-fold increase in welfare spending since 1967, centrally designed and administered social programs have largely failed to strengthen the cultural institutions upon which economic advancement depends. Low levels of business growth have retarded savings, investments and jobs in Black communities. Public policy decisions can support community-based entrepreneurship, but it takes racially sensitive people to make it work. Blacks haven’t had such racial champions in the Congress since Rep. Parren Mitchell. During a distinguished 16-year career, Mitchell forcefully fought for affirmative action legislation. Thirty years ago, as chairman of the Small Business Committee, Mitchell attached an amendment to a $4 billion public works bill that compelled state and local governments seeking federal grants to set aside 10 percent of the funds to retain minority firms as contractors and subcontractors.
Blacks’ strategies and politicians show that entrepreneurship is a “White thing” that they don’t understand. A majority of contemporary Black Americans have placed their hopes of equality and justice on the government. Whites do not share these views – exemplifying a tension in opinions about whether “mainstream” or “Black” issues dominate political themes and priorities.
Blacks need to celebrate entrepreneurialism and cease their fixation with being victims. Contrary to what some Blacks seem to think, capitalism is not evil or amoral. In its proper form, it encourages such virtues as hard work, cooperation, resolve and deferral of gratification. More Black Americans should advance understanding of the causes, means and effects of government power and start engaging institutions that protect and advance liberty and prosperity.
For this to be a time of rapid economic change in Black American communities, fresh thinking is needed about our values, institutions and economics. The impetus for change must come from within us and become basic among us and our families that entrepreneurship, not government, is the driving force behind sustained economic progress in industrial societies. For Black Americans to become equal in the American dream, we must harness and stimulate our families and communities’ entrepreneurial resources and potential.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and is available for projects via firstname.lastname@example.org.