Blacks must drop victimhood and reclaim dignity

Everybody is talking about Cosby and Poussaint and the press they’ve been getting on their new book.  I haven’t read the book yet, so I’ve held back on commenting.  However, I want to offer this article to you readers and hear what you think.  I found it in the Christian Science Monitor…I don’t really feel comfortable with their readership buying into some of this rhetoric.   I think I also saw if in a couple of other major publications.

African Americans can succeed despite the forces of poverty and systemic racism. But first we must shed the mind-set of victimhood.

Martin Luther King had a dream that some day his children would “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

He wanted his children to become strong, beautiful people. But what we see today in poor African American neighborhoods is a nightmare.

We know there are forces that make the ability to escape poverty seem bleak: overburdened single-parent homes, a high dropout rate, joblessness, gangs, drugs, crime, incarceration, deaths at an early age from guns fired by angry black men. We know that systemic racism and governmental neglect still exist.

Yet we in the black community must look at ourselves and understand our own responsibility. We sometimes inflict ourselves with a victim mentality, feel hopeless, and do self-destructive things that make our lives even worse. Many people who are trying to make it find themselves struggling against fellow African Americans so lost in self-destructive behaviors that they bring down other people as well as themselves.

These forces are decimating our communities. And they are not what Reverend King and other leaders took those whuppings for. This is not the future for which our ancestors escaped slavery or resisted it. None of our forebears sacrificed their lives so that their children’s children could call each other “nigger.”

Time to overcome

We cannot accept this current state of affairs. We must realize – and believe – that, for all the external hassles we face, we are not helpless. We can overcome the odds and succeed in spite of the obstacles. And we must try. Despite the fact that racial discrimination has not been eliminated, black strength lies in the resolve to keep on keeping on, never quit, never give up, never yield to the role of cooperative victim.

Since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to end school segregation, black people have achieved extraordinary accomplishments on all fronts that seemed unthinkable 50 years ago.

As black people face the future, we must remember our successes in American society.

One way slaves survived brutal conditions was to turn the Christianity they had learned into a liberation theology. The stories of the Hebrew slaves became their own. Even as slave owners used the Bible to justify slavery, black people used the Bible as God intended – to give people hope for a time when there would be true justice.

For black people to hold their heads high even today means getting rid of internal feelings of inferiority.

A history of obstacles

This can be difficult given that white supremacists had real clout in this nation for nearly 250 years.

Take, for example, the very definition of a “black” person in America. Historically, a person with any known black ancestry was defined as black, making African ancestry a taint on white purity.

The way race is defined in the United States makes no biological or genetic sense. It’s been used primarily as a tool for political and psychological oppression – providing economic gain for many white people.

The Emancipation Proclamation, written in 1863 during the Civil War, finally freed slaves in the South from bondage. After slavery, there was a short-lived period of “Reconstruction” in the South when black people started businesses, bought property, voted, and even served in Congress.

But old habits die hard, especially racist ones. When Northerners wearied of Reconstruction, the old South reared its head and imposed “Jim Crow” segregation.

Buying into victimhood

Although few acknowledge it, the doctrine of white supremacy has sunk deeply into the minds of too many Americans, black people included. It has slithered its way into the psyches of poor black youth with low self-esteem, who equate academic success with “acting white.” If success is “white,” then are they saying that to “act black” is to fail?

We wonder how these embedded stereotypes affect black people today. Are we too dependent? Do we rely too much on white people or “the system” to rescue us? Do we lack faith in our own ability to run things? Has the legacy of slavery affected even our current mental state?

Too many people, including some black people, believe many poor black youth – particularly males – cannot be educated. This position harkens back to the notion of poor genes determining poor performance rather than poor environment, poor schools, or a music scene that imparts destructive, degrading values. The good must be separated from the bad while treating black people with respect and not demeaning an entire culture.

Victors through community, family

When restaurants, laundries, hotels, theaters, groceries, and clothing stores were legally segregated, black people opened and ran their own.

Such successes provided jobs and strength to black economic well-being. They also gave black people that gratifying sense of an interdependent community with people working to help each other.

During legal segregation, white racists destroyed some of these economically independent communities. To their credit, our ancestors did not accept victimhood. They fought back as individuals and as a people. Most refused to become passive victims of the system.

Black neighborhoods today must adopt that same can-do attitude and take action. They must be enterprising and work hard to improve their own economic situation – and by so doing, help improve the community.

This tenacious drive to be victorious is a quality that will help us meet the current challenges in our neighborhoods.

We can pass this sense of strength on to our children by strengthening black families, whatever their structure, and nurturing our youth with love and guidance. We must put children first and sharpen our parenting skills in both single-parent and two-parent homes. Fathers must play a bigger role. They cannot be absent. Children do better when fathers are actively involved in their lives.

With the help of supportive social policies, we can shoulder the remaining challenges and overcome the barriers to black success.

The driving force for change has been the activism of African Americans and others who take up our cause. The key word is activism, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We must be actively involved in empowering our schools and participating in the political process by exercising our right to vote. Being passive takes us nowhere. Activism is what gets us where we want to go.

It is time to think positively and act positively. A people armed with the will to want to get better, armed with the will to win, and armed with knowledge of the past and present, can move forward and take action, succeed, and reclaim their dignity.

Bill Cosby is a longtime entertainer. Alvin F. Poussaint is the director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston and a professor of psychiatry and the faculty associate dean for student affairs at Harvard Medical School. They recently wrote the book, “Come on, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.”


Filed under african american, assimulation, culture, history, news, opinion, race, slavery, society, stereotype

7 responses to “Blacks must drop victimhood and reclaim dignity

  1. Lucem ferre

    How can anyone argure with the position of empowerment. The only question continuously remaining is – How do you get from point “A” (a self-defeated subconscious and conscious) to point “B” (a healthy, self-actualized, productive, strong high self-esteem)? So many people are great at identifying the problems but few are really good at acting out the solutions.

    It’s great to say that we need to focus on children, parents (single and couples) and especially fathers but where is the energy and the finances supporting programs like the “Father’s Initiative?”

    Why is so much attention and money given to get people into college when the need is getting poor people into good pre-K schools, Kindergarten and so forth? Why is foster care so underfunded that agencies like Philadelphia have as many as 15 children die in their care? Why is there so little money spent on hiring enough workers, even in wealthy counties, to allow those workers the time to actually make an informed, practical, rational decision rahter than a snap decision because they are so stressed out with 30 other cases to deal with? And why do we not support workers having enough time to work with abused, neglected and sexually abused children so as to actually be able to make a difference in that child’s life rather than pop in and visit once a month for 45 minutes?

    Why? Because most people really don’t care enough and won’t even pick up the goddamn phone to call their local representative to complain or to get out of their house and vote. It’s about empowerment not entitlement. It’s about empowerment not intellectualization. It’s bout action not addition by subtraction.

    Where are the street activists? Where are the people willing to risk getting fired for what is right? Where are the programs promised after the initial million man march? Where are the college campus rallies, protests, marchers, fighters, boycotters and others standing on the courthouse steps in small towns and large cities? Where are the Progressive radio hosts, aside from Air America, which is a station most people cannot get?

    Everyone flips over Imus but no one flips out over Rush, Hanity or O’Reiley. Whenever there’s a race issue the entire mega media force goes after Al Sharpton for his views, as if he’s Black Jesus. Where’s the insanity for humanity, or even the people like those wacked out glossy eyed anti’abortionists who picket and protest every week? We need to get a little crazy, a little radical and a lot self-righteous and stop being so intellectual about fixing these problems. Jesus Christ! What is going on?

    I know I’m rambling but my point should be clear. It’s all about doing not constantly identifying the problem. Who cares if we make mistakes, we’re fucking human. So let’s Get Up, Get Out and Do Something!

  2. Mo

    Many black people are quick to get angry at Bill Cosby for “Airing our dirty laundry”, but something has to happen before we become extinct. He’s right when he says that we have to stop viewing ourselves as the victim and blaming the government for everything. Many of us complain that there are not enough jobs out there, especially for young black men. To me that’s not the biggest problem. For example, what’s the point of creating jobs for people who think it’s not “cool” to work for $8 an hour? For people who show up to job interviews with jeans hanging off their butts and an unkempt afro. (Trust me, I’ve witnessed it). For people who often have the worst attitudes and work ethic at the workplace. Don’t get me wrong, not all black people are guilty of this, but too many of us are. I’m just saying that our problems are much bigger than just throwing money and jobs at the situation. Bill Cosby was right – we have to change our way of thinking, our values as a people. Racism exists now, has existed in the past, and will continue to exist in the future – that has always been the case in the US. Despite that, past generations have managed to prosper without killing each other by the thousands. It’s very sad when you fear your own worse than you fear the other. The solution is not going to be easy and honestly I don’t know if a solution is possible at this point. We can save a few, but we’ll lose many more before the madness stops. Lucem, you were right when you asked where are the street leaders and college campus rallies. Honestly, they’re probably scared. Those of us who are employed and live in good neighborhoods want to see the violence end, but we don’t want to get our hands dirty in the hood.
    We’ve all got to do better before it’s too late.

  3. Lucem ferre

    Thanks Mo for the mention. I just want to add that I believe poor people, Blacks, Browns and others who feel left out, including those in the third or fourth world status from other countries, are sitting on opportunities that rival the greatest economic booms in history. No, I’m not insane, okay a little but in an insane society, the sane seem insane so let’s ride down that road for a moment. Today, on NPR National Public Radio, there were two guys speaking on the Radio Times show. They are Michael Shellenberger and Ted Northouse of the Breakthrough or “Break Through” Institute. Please check them out.

    As we face more and more evidence that our natural resources are being either ruined, polluted and/or exhausted (wait until China and India start consuming the way we do), we have to deal with solutions that will impact our environment and economy. In short, we need to invest our energy in solar and wind power evergy, as well as other alternatives and in doing so, we will create the largest economic boom in history. However, big oil is against this and our gov. has been kissing oil’s ass for over a 100 years. BUT, if there is a cause that we the people can gather around that has plausable, measurable solutions and can lead to millions of jobs at the same time, it’s this one.

    I do not have time to go much further right now but check out these two guys and you may start to see what I’m trying to explain. What they are doing is laying the foundation for an incredible future that lay open to us for the taking, right now, so weeeee need to encourage the less fortunate and the concerned wealthy to get interested in this.

    Sorry this is so discombobulated but we need to be on the ground floor of this because had we been on the ground floor of the computer chip or the Internet, we would be swimming in money.

  4. Lucem ferre

    For some more insight into the controversy surrounding Cosby’s views please visit my favorite site at “”. Or, go directly to the article below at the same site.

    If you register at you can write what are called webletters and/or post like here, but the webletters are cool in that on occasion, if your letter or response is liked enough, the author of the article you responded to may respond to you pesonally via your e-mail. It happened to me once and was pretty interesting. Kind of a thrill for a non professional writer. Enjoy the site.

  5. Connie-Jo Hall

    I would like to charge wealthy Blacks–movie stars, musicians, CEO’s, etc–with the task of establishing private elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools that teach Black History. The regular American curriculum should be taught there but like Jewish or Magnet Program schools, specialty classes about Black History and Culture should be added.

    I think that this is neccessary because everything starts with the mind and we have to develop a sense of pride in our kids from a very young age. We can do this by teaching them their history. If we teach our history to our children they will be able to love themselves and see their worth. They won’t be concerned with what white people are doing they will only be concerned with competing in society as all people do–and must. Their self esteem will rise.

    Most of the people I have encountered in my young life have insecurities about their race because of popular opinions. They don’t know which opinion is the right one or that they don’t have to heed what is said. Instead, low income Blacks tend to display what Whites and the media expects of them and higher income blacks put great effort into displaying what White people think is the opposite of lower income behavior. Both sides end up disliking each other. Disunity is a disgraceful Black tradition. Look at how it’s destroying Africa.

    Most 20 something blacks are quick to display anger when put in a situation about their race. They never think to argue their point civilly using examples and facts from the past and semi-present. Whites are usually more taken back by an intelligent response to their negativity. They are amused and entertained when we display rage and aggression. I’ve put many in their place by correcting their opinions on black history and the black mentality using an average vocabulary but a vast understanding of who we are and where we came from.

    Many of our kids have never seen films, pictures or images from the past that would drive them to thought. They’ve never heard varied stories about our past that would drive them to though. Thought leads to questions. They then need someone readily available to answer them. I think that a school that offers an accredited source of those answers would be ideal. We already have excellent universities and colleges. Yes we do need more but lets cover all ages as many other groups in the US do.

    I’m proud to be Black. When I was young and angry I decided to pickup a certificate in Ethnic Studies at University to add to my degree. I took all the classes that my university offered on Black History in the USA, Caribbean and South America. I graduated before the program offered African Studies, so I read in my spare time and surfed the web for truths and unthruths. As I knew more, I became less angry and more confident in myself and my people. I felt pride.

    I can never be embarassed by another Black person (except in the case of pedophilia and other extremes); because I understand that we have a struggle that needs constant support and can only be overcome through collective effort. Each one teach one. I help those younger than me and I continually look to those older than me for guidance and my education.

    We need each other. We have to show each other that. Belief shouldn’t be reserved only for church. Doctors, thugs, the elderly, the newborns and everyone in between needs to have a common belief. And I think our common belief is us. Believe in me because I believe in you.

  6. Mo

    I agree with many of the things you said Connie, but I think it should be more than just wealthy blacks (entertainers, etc.). I feel that middle-class blacks have the power to make the most change. Our churches, civic organizations, greek organizations, etc. need to do more. Black-on-black violence and drugs are two of the biggest problems facing our people but I don’t see the AKAs, Deltas, Kappas, etc. doing anything worthwhile to help…at least not where I live which is the home of one of the most respected HBCUs in the country. You were right when you said that those of us who are doing well really don’t want much to do with our low-income brothers and sisters. I meant the same thing in my previous post when I said that we don’t want to get our hands dirty in the hood. I must admit that I’ve been guilty of it myself, but with each news story that I read about some young man losing his life for something petty, it makes me sad and makes me want to get involved. Some type of push is needed to get the ball rolling to stir the support and actions of our Talented 10th.

  7. Lucem ferre

    Just for some fun and my sense of curiosity, I’d like to start something here to see how far it will travel. Below is a poem that I put in numerical form. It’s not a rhyming poem or an abstract story but it is based on a feeling I had after reading Connie-Jo Hall’s post from today – November 14, 2007 at 9:53 pm. It’s a list of sayings or phrases that begin with the word “perhaps” that popped into my head after I finished her comments. In less than 2 minutes I came up with 15 sayings.

    What I’d like to see happen is for anyone who wants to add to the list, for them to do so. Then, at the end or in about a week or two I’d like to pull from everyone’s additions and put them all together to see how many we’ve come up with collectively.

    So, if anyone wants to play along, feel free to do the following: (I won’t be hurt if no one plays…)
    1. Copy the entire text and paste it into a “word” document.
    2. Add as many “perhaps” statements as you can.
    3. Copy it again and paste it into your next response from the “Blacks must drop victimhood and reclaim dignity” article.
    4. In a couple of weeks we can go back and copy the replies from everyone that participated and put them all together.

    I was thinking about many things while writing this but the theme does not have to be something I choose, rather, it should come from what each of us chooses or feels.

    Here goes!
    1. Perhaps our expectations are too high.
    2. Perhaps we want to see “all” instead of as many as will or can or want to experience opportunities taken for granted by more fortunate sons and daughters.
    3. Perhaps we need to be less affected and influenced by our failures.
    4. Perhaps we need to understand why one grows silent when their voice is most needed and why one runs when it is time to turn and fight.
    5. Perhaps we need to realize that no people are one and no one represents all.
    6. Perhaps we are focused on the wrong problem for the wrong reason.
    7. Perhaps we are being tricked, misled and hoodwinked.
    8. Perhaps our failure is in not knowing that we need to shift the paradigm.
    9. Perhaps we are victims of being victims.
    10. Perhaps we’ve put our trust in a god that cares less.
    11. Perhaps we are followers.
    12. Perhaps we are being sold a bill of goods.
    13. Perhaps we are buying what we are being sold.
    14. Perhaps we need to stop.
    15. Perhaps “we” does not include “you” and “you” will not include “us.”
    16. Perhaps…

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