A lady told me that I contradicted myself in last week’s article. She said I indicated that if we learned to think more efficiently, we could resolve our own problems, and we wouldn’t need the government. She then pointed out that efficient thinking requires education, and education requires government assistance. I asked her to think about what she had said-that education requires government. She’s laboring under an erroneous assumption-knowledge is free, so we’re capable of educating ourselves. All we have to do is want it. I went on to tell her that it would be nice if government would educate us, but at best, our current system is a taxpayer subsidized babysitting service, and at worst, a tool used to indoctrinate Black youth into thinking that they’re useless.
But as I listened to my words coming from her mouth, I didn’t like the way they sounded. I came off sounding like one of those Larry Elder-type turncoats who make a living by calling Black people whiners for expecting the services they deserve from our government. So I want to clarify any misimpression that I might have left in that regard right now. The fact is, our government should help to educate our children, and Black people, or any other citizen for that matter—have a right to get everything they can get from this government. The government is a pie that we all contribute to, and the political process is about is getting as much of that pie as we can manage to obtain. Therefore, if Black people tend to whine (the rich also whine, but they call it lobbying), it’s only because we’ve traditionally found ourselves pushed to the side while everybody else eats the filling from the pie, and we’re left with crumbs. So last week’s article was about becoming bakers, and making our own pie, instead of depending on others to negotiate how many crumbs we’re allowed to have.
So the difference between my position and Larry Elder’s is, where Larry says that Black people should be ashamed of asking for what they rightfully deserve, I say, tell ‘em to go to hell—we have enough potential in the community to tell them to keep their crumbs. There’s a big difference between our two points of view—one will have you looking down at your feet, while the other allows you to look out over the horizon.
We’re much too vibrant and creative as a people to have to live the way we’re living, and we don’t have the time to wait for the government’s help. We’ve gotten caught up in a lifestyle where we’re simply existing from day to day instead of engaging the tremendous talents that would allow us to rise to the very top of this society. Our problem is not about what the White man is doing, or not doing for us-our biggest problem is about our mindset, and how we think of ourselves.
I’ve previously discussed how whenever scientists measure intelligence in man, or any other species, the very first thing they look for is creativity, and Black people are clearly among the most creative people on this planet. The very same creative eloquence that Martin used to ignite a yearning for justice among men all over the world, and Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, and a host of others used to develop a Black musical tradition that went from playing washboards and beating on trash cans on the side of the road, to creating the most complex and universally embraced form of music in the world, can very easily be focused to not only resolve our problems, but resolve the problems of all mankind. We’ve got to recognize our creativity as a cultural treasure that can be used to cure cancer, help man to explore the universe, and resolve world disputes. We’ve got to recognize that we are the people of the future-a people that God has groomed to know pain and suffering, in order to make us uniquely qualified to relieve pain and suffering. That is our destiny, and we must embrace it.
We’re currently using our creativity to mask the pain that we’ve suffered in this society-and after what we’ve been through, we were due a few years of partying, rest, and relaxation. But now it’s time to suck it up, to slow down and contemplate who we are as a people, and assume our rightful place in the world community. And the first step in doing that is to redefine our cultural mores.
We’ve got to replace being cool, with being knowledgeable-and the only way we’re going to do that is by changing the values for which we reward our children. What children want more than anything else is to get the approval of their parents, so we’ve got to teach them early in life that what impresses us most is what they know, not how closely they can mimic adult behavior. Instead of waking little Johnny up to show Uncle Willie how well he can “break it down”, we need to wake him up to show his uncle how well he can do an algebra problem-and Uncle Willie should always have a dollar or two to give him once he gets that problem right. That way Little Johnny learns early in life that knowledge is the key to success.
I’ve said this to people before, and I’ve been told, “Why set Little Johnny up for disappointment? His school is not going to prepare him to go to college-and even if it does, where am I going to get the money to pay for it?” But that’s the least of our problems. Our major focus should be to get our young people to fall in love with the pursuit of knowledge. Once we’ve done that, nothing can stop them from obtaining it. The opportunity to go to a top university is a wonderful thing, but it’s not everything. Knowledge is free, and there’s just as much knowledge in the corner library as there is at Harvard University.
It was my experience in college that I did most of my learning at home anyway. When I went to school, all they did was told me what books to read, and what chapters, and thereafter I was tested to see what I’d learned. But in any event, it’s the knowledge that’s important, the degree is secondary. Granted, a degree is necessary to get a job-unless you have the knowledge to create one. But that said, I’m sure that if we make a commitment to come together as a community to promote excellence, we’ll find a way to get our young scholars educated. I’m convinced that we have enough churches, civic organizations, and rich entertainers who are in need of Black dollars to remain rich, to get our young people educated-degrees and all.
Our community will also benefit in a less obvious way from this endeavor. Knowledge is contagious. Those parents who don’t have the education to help their kids with their homework, can allow their kids to educate them. Helping our children with their homework is not only an excellent way to bond, but an excellent way to help re-educate ourselves. It gives us an opportunity to go all the way from elementary school through college all over again, or, for the very first time. And with the right mindset, it can be fun. I’ve learned to look at algebra problems are actually puzzles, and my kids and I use to have a ball spending hours trying figuring them out.
Try figuring this out with your kid: There’s 3000 miles between Los Angeles and New York. Train A left L.A. going to N.Y. at 8 a.m. traveling 65 mph. Train B left N.Y. coming to L.A. at 10:45 traveling 85 mph. Where will they meet, and at what time?
I want to interact with you, so when you figure it out, I’d like to hear from you so I can discuss your experience in a future article. Let’s stop talking, and start doing. Who knows, your child may be an engineer or mathematician, just waiting to be inspired. Wouldn’t that be something? It would sure make my life worthwhile.
Eric L. Wattree
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.