By James Clingman
As the saying goes, “Once you know better, you should do better.” Most of us can remember situations that would have benefitted us in some way or another had we only used the knowledge we received from our parents, our elders, our friends, or our teachers. Many accidents could have been prevented, many tragedies could have been averted, a lot of heartache could have been avoided, and a great deal of jail time would have been skipped. Think about it. We have knowledge but fail to act appropriately with the knowledge we have and, therefore, end up paying dearly for not doing better even though we know better.
Collectively, Black people continue to practice inappropriate behavior despite having a wealth of knowledge, or at least have access to it. We have folks who share knowledge with us on a daily basis, but we fail to put it to good use. We are intellectually lazy, and we refuse to move once we obtain knowledge that will assist us in our quest to get off the bottom rungs of this society.
Admittedly, many of us only have information, and we have it coming out of our ears. Just listen to some talk radio shows, or listen to the brothers in the barber shop. We are experts in everything. No subject is foreign to us. You name it, we can discuss it and make others believe we know what we’re talking about. That’s the difference between having knowledge and just having information. Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (which is the proper application of it all), are what we should seek.
I once wrote a piece titled “If we are so smart, why are we so far behind?” It typified our penchant for purporting to know a lot of things but failing to put that knowledge to good use. We know that we are being lied to by politicians; we know that our justice system is rigged against us; we know that our education system is not the best for our children; we know that we are primarily consumers and not producers; we know that we own about the same percentage of this nation’s wealth as we did 100 years ago; and we know that we are suffering from the highest poverty and unemployment, the worst health, and the lowest life expectancy in this country. We know these things but are acting inappropriately in the face of it all.
Our leaders are telling us everything is getting better, or it will get better, if we would only “keep marching” – as if that will change our condition. While we are marching other folks are taking care of their businesses, selling us marching shoes, caps, and T-shirts that, show the world how angry we are.
We have a Congress that keeps threatening to shut down the government, thus, stopping services and in some cases, curtailing or delaying pay and benefits for “the people,” knowing all the while that their pay and benefits will keep right on coming if that happens. What a heartless group of guys and gals they are; we know better, but we elect them to rule over us. They make rules that only we have to follow, rules that will devastate “the people” but exempt them and their families – and we put them in office. We know better, but we don’t do better.
When Warren Buffett himself comes out and says, “Inequality is getting worse,” and adds that since our near economic disaster five years ago, business has come back and now the rich are faring very well. We had better listen to that knowledge. He notes the aggregate wealth of the Forbes 400 is as much as $2 trillion. But he also says that the general populace is suffering. The bottom 20 percent of households (24 million households, 60 million people), at the top level, earns just $22,000. Our economy is delivering $50,000 in GDP per capita and we have an awful lot of people not living very well. “I don’t want to try to live on $22,000 with a couple of kids,” Buffett continued.
So what about you? We know Warren is living larger than any of us can imagine, but he is still correct in his assessment. His wealth does not automatically negate his knowledge of the financial markets and the economic conditions of our society. We have the same general economic knowledge he has; or we have access to it. We can see what he has done with his knowledge; what have we done with ours?
Remember when your parents told you not to do something, like play around the hot stove or throw rocks at one another? After you got hurt, some of our parents and grandparents would say, “No better for you; I told you not to do that.” So, let’s add their admonishment to the end of our saying: “Once you know better, you should do better or ‘no better’ for you.”
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.