As significant segments of Black America, particularly Black women and Black Hollywood, continue to bask in the profound words and tidal wave of emotionalism that predictably follows the words of Jesse W. Williams at the 2016 Black Entertainment Television Awards, I am left with a familiar unsettling feeling that tells me that we have been here before.
Now I do not want you to think that I am disagreeing with anything that Mr. Williams, who is reminding many of a young Harry Belafonte, stated in his remarkable speech, it was spot-on; however, we as a Race have been ensnared in the throes of intense emotions that are eerily reminiscent of an orgasmic eruption. Unfortunately for African-Americans, once the emotional climax subsides we are left with little more than rapidly deescalating emotions and exhaustion. Emotional moments such as Jesse Williams’ BET speech are powerful, yet unsustainable.
In this case, I consider Mr. Williams’ speech ill-timed as it not only occurred on the same date as data from the Pew Research Center, but also eclipsed the more meaningful information that it held. The alluded to information provided by the Pew Research Center failed to produce the exhilarating orgasmic feelings that Williams’ speech achieved, however, there is no doubt that its contents are much more important to Black America’s future.
There is no doubt that it is difficult to consider the Pew Center data that illuminates the economic disparities between blacks and whites as such information raises the question of have we moved any closer to racial equality in this nation over the past half-century. Put simply, has the protesting, marching, integrating, and schooling that Black America has invested so much of its energies actually closed the racial gap at all?
According to the Pew Center, the tremendous political activism that we have seen the African-American community undergo has failed to translate into economic progress. Consider for a moment that in 2014, the median household income for whites was $71,300 compared to$43,300 for blacks. To the shock and dismay of many, not even educational attainment is capable of appreciably closing the alluded to gap. According to the Pew Center, for college-educated whites, the median household income was $106,600, significantly higher than the $82,300 for households headed by college-educated blacks.
Things are equally disturbing when one examines the tremendous disparity regarding wealth between blacks and whites. In 2013, whites with a number of $144,200 had almost 13 times the median wealth of black households that registered $11,200. This harsh economic reality is further emphasized when examining the median wealth of educated blacks and whites. White households headed by a college degree holder, male or female, have a median wealth of $301,300 compared to similar black households that check in with a median wealth of $26,300.
Unfortunately for Black America, inspirational moments such as that experienced at the BET Awards show have historically made little difference in the harsh realities of economic disparity between American blacks and whites. It appears that such moments are ‘all sizzle and no steak’ for an economically exploited and socially woe-smitten people. There is little doubt that in time, the emotions that emerged during Jesse W. Williams impassioned pleas will dissipate and the harsh, and very real, economic realities facing our community will remain.
The present economic plight of African-Americans is a peculiar position. There is a natural tendency to call our business leaders into action; however, such impulses are far from promising as the vast majority of that class has proven to be ardent Capitalists who frequently avoid any sense of communal-ism in their endeavors that could potentially betray their profits. Put simply, black businessmen are no different than their white counterparts in regards to the ultimate goal of becoming rich, if not wealthy, ‘by any means necessary’.
If nothing else, the Pew Center research on the ever-increasing income gap between blacks and whites highlights the fact that it is time our community abandon its traditional protest tactics and activist impulses in favor of a new unemotional real-world plan.
Unfortunately, the emotional response that Jesse W. Williams’ BET Awards speech wrought from our people is one of the clearest sign that we are not ready for such an alteration to our traditional activist impulses. It is for that reason that I am absolutely certain that we will remain in this economically impoverished position for the foreseeable future because if I know one thing for certain, it is, “If you do what you always did, you’re gonna get what you always got.” In this case, that is a horrible position for Black America to find itself in.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016
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Author, Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
Author, ‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian
Author, O’Bruni: An African-American Odyssey Home?