Huntsville, Alabama --" I learned what it was like to stand before a crowd in which a coterie of one's enemies had the license to shame, while a mixture of decorum and fear silenced the decent people who might have come to one's aid. I was as vulnerable to the decency as to the shaming since together they amounted to shame."
This is a statement from an essay by noted author Shelby Steele which appeared in the Hoover Digest. He is a black conservative, and he is lamenting his treatment at the hands of a small group of university students after he has expressed his views that the majority of blacks are using victimization as such a " rich vein of black power that it is allowed not only to explain black fate but to explain it totally."
And, he points out that those "decent" black and white students and faculty who remained silent and "averted their eyes" were just as guilty as his attackers. He says that both actions are shameful.
Mr. Steele is a very successful black who one would expect to be a leader in the black community. Instead, he is an outcast. Because he preaches the gospel of self-reliance and individual responsibility, and because he does not believe that white people are the cause of all of the problems in the black community, he is belittled.. He does not absolve white people of all guilt, but he believes " victim-focused racial identity stifles black advancement more than racism itself did."
Thomas Sowell, another successful black author puts it another way. In an essay also in the Hoover Digest, he says that the present black leaders " are less interested in leading black Americans than in extracting what they can from white people.." He says this gives the children " a vision of a future in which their only hope is in changing whites or getting preferences or handouts from the government."
Walter Williams is yet another successful black author who is even more direct concerning race relations. In a recent article in The Huntsville Times, he said: " No one denies that weighty problems confront a large segment of the black population. But those problems have little to do with discrimination.
Mr. Williams went on to say: " There is no evidence that colleges are turning away black students with 1200 on the SAT, but there's a plenty of evidence that blacks are not achieving high SAT scores. There's no evidence that businesses don't locate in black neighborhoods because white owners and investors don't like dollars coming out of black hands. There's a plenty of evidence that black criminals make economic activity in black communities unattractive. There's no evidence that discrimination accounts for today's unprecedented, devastating illegitimacy, family breakdown and dependency rates. There's a plenty of evidence that irresponsible personal choices do."
He concludes by saying: " The major problems that stand in the way of broader advancement will be solved only when blacks finally recognize that our destinies lie in our hands and only we can solve what are essentially black problems -- not Washington, politicians and the intellectual elite."
I cite the writings of these gentlemen for three reasons. First, I believe their assessment of the basic problems in race relations in America are right on target. Second, these men are the personification of the many successful blacks whose leadership could greatly benefit the black community, but who are not only ignored but are vilified. And third, the problems in race relations that they are talking about mirror the problems that currently exist in Huntsville.
There are probably few cities in the country that have a more open receptiveness to the full integration of blacks into the mainstream of society than does this city. The education level of blacks in Huntsville is high (there are three 4-year universities here, two of which are predominately black), there are two large highly skilled government installations here (the U.S. Army and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center), the list of successful blacks is full, and the list of black-owned businesses is so long that it requires a separate telephone book.
Yet the atmosphere is so full of racial tension that you could cut it with a knife. The city is plagued with those who would shame and those who are silent. Those who attended the town meeting on race relations back in January got a full dose of what these gentlemen are talking about. The racial activist were out in force, as were the enabling city officials and commission and board members. The "decent" people, black and white, "averted their eyes."
The upcoming education strategic planning sessions to be held in mid September will offer the city another opportunity for the "decent" people to step forward and take charge. Much is at stake -- maybe an entire school system.
Jim Jackson is a retired NASA executive who writes about community matters. Some of his articles are accepted for publication in The Huntsville Times; some are not. This one was not.