Preface: I am a passionate, forward thinking optimist by nature. That said, I must admit that this article was difficult for me on some levels to write, and it might be difficult for others, on some other levels, to read. But good marriages are made of a lot of honest communication and “constructive friction.” And so, the optimist in me says let’s dive into the deep end of this collective thought pool together, and let’s give real progress a go…

First of all, let me say that on substance, I support what Bill Cosby is trying to do.

Yes, he could have said it nicer and he could have more equitably distributed the problem beyond the black urban poor parent to also include black parents whose economic profiles look more like Mr. Cosby’s and my own – or in short most all of us black folk. He probably could have found a different venue than the marking of the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education… or maybe not on this one, …but one thing is for sure, he was substantively right on target!

Message: Black America, let’s get on with the business of really living out the full potential of our lives.

But first, let me say…

Racism Just Doesn’t Matter.

To quote my friend Bernard Kinsey, one of the first Black corporate vice presidents at the Xerox Corporation and today a self-made millionaire, along with his wife and partner Shirley Kinsey, “(racism) it just flat out doesn’t matter…”

Racism just doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, I said it.  …And I meant it too.

But “doesn’t matter,” is different from “doesn’t exist.”

Am I saying that racism doesn’t exist anymore?

Am I saying that racism and discrimination are no longer terminal cancers on society? 

Or that racism and discrimination have somehow been miraculously eradicated from society? 

Or maybe that somehow mankind has succeeded in getting out of its own collective way, and has instead been reborn anew; unfailingly fair, reasoned, and compassionate? 

No. Absolutely not.  And it is “no” I might add precisely because we are all, well, very human. Imperfect (or as Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of Faithful Central Church in Los Angeles has been known to say, “a saint is a sinner that got up”). Making matters worse, many people today are what I would call spiritually lazy too; and thus prone to accept either a backwards dogma they grew up around or simply one laid out before them and presented as Truth.

What I am saying though, is when you get yourself right, most all other problems begin to solve themselves.

In the African-American community we often talk about racism like we heard about it on
the 11 o’clock news last night, when by all historic accounts it has been with us in various forms since the beginning of time itself. 

Racism is either falling or Gathering…

For all practical purposes racism is “an is.”  And as such, it’s either falling someplace, or it’s gathering.  So you might as well get out an umbrella in a color you like, and just start walking through it.   It’s not going to change, so you must. I believe that life is 10% what life does to you, and 90% how you choose to respond to it.


For African-Americans, the enslaved, indentured servant, and Jim Crow experience in


is still an open wound.  There has been no substantive acknowledgment, no real apology, and no real closure, …and for many in my community it still hurts.

To this day, racism and discrimination seem to impact and effect almost every facet of life for the average African-American in this country. But racism is not just an African-American phenomenon. 

Arguably, Japanese Americans were discriminated against, in this country, in the early 1940’s during World War II, and stripped of their rights as American citizens; simply because of their race.  As we have subsequently learned many of them were great American patriots.  This was mass ignorance that I am sure felt like racism.

More than 6 million Jews met a deplorable fate at the hands of the Nazi’s, again because of harsh and intolerant discrimination against their  “differences.”  This was pure, evil and hate filled racism, plain and simple.

For centuries “the lighter and brighter” have, on the whole, achieved more and done better than their darker complexion brethren, in almost every country around the world.  And even today, to this day, the “Masteso” in Mexico, a darker ethnic mixture of the native Indian and the Spaniard, are locked within a century old class-based system of structural poverty – both economically and educationally – while their Spanish bred brothers and sisters, arguably the ruling class in Mexico, own more than 90% of the shops and businesses, run industry and lead the political power structure. Ever notice what the typical Mexican immigrant looks like that’s risking life and limb and placing almost unbearable pressure on our borders in their attempt to enter the

United States

for a better life for their families? A little Indian maybe? A little…well, “darker” than their Spanish brethren?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ambassador Andrew Young, A. Philip Randolph, Bill Lucy, Whitney Young, Malcolm X and a number of other prominent African-American leaders of the late 20th Century fought their entire lives to secure basic civil rights — in a country that openly advocated a mainstream social policy of “separate and unequal,” or as my friend and BANKING ON OUR FUTURE co-author

Michael Levin

would say, “separate but separate.”

These demeaning policies were not based on the intellect, nor ones abilities, but simply the color of a person’s skin. And even today, many of these issues are so rampant and obvious that organizations such as the NAACP are still fighting the good fight, as they see it.

And so no, I am not suggesting that racism and discrimination in


somehow no longer exist, or are otherwise no longer a factor.  Frankly, the facts and the data unfortunately suggest that just the opposite is true.

The Oppressor’s Tool

Racism and discrimination are two symbolic Elephants sitting in the middle of


’s pristine social living room.  A stubborn stain in our otherwise impressive American welcome matt that just doesn’t seem to want to come out.

As Dr. Scott Peck has said in his book, The Road Less Traveled, “human beings are born broken, we live by mending, and the grace of God is glue..”  And the result of this unnatural yet fundamental defect of the soul, and more so man’s inability to correct it (thank you Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for trying…), is that mankind it appears has acquired the devastatingly bad habit of often choosing to stand on someone else’s head in order to elevate oneself.  Winning and losing taken much too far.

The names that we have attributed to these manmade defects of the soul, which through our actions have now made manifest in the whole of society, are discrimination and racism. What, you don’t discriminate? Sure you do. And so do I.  I freely admit that I discriminate against stupid, dumb and insensitive people, and I am working on it.  I ask God to forgive me, yes, every single day.

The twin cancers of racism and discrimination caused, allowed and even condoned the unforgivable injustice of the Holocaust.  Germany and many of its otherwise well meaning people (egged on by its not so well meaning Nazis population) – driven to near desperation by the economic calamity that followed World War I – managed to find a way to blame an entire country’s woes on a single minority group, the Jews, which at the time represented less than 2% of the entire German population. 

Or right here in America; how ignorant, poor and uneducated whites in the South – whipped into an emotional frenzy and bated by the South’s power structure elite into believing that their very financial and social welfare were at risk – organized, tormented and attacked innocent African-Americans seeking nothing more than their God given right to exist.

It could be said that simple oppression is the weapon of choice against societies’ underclass, or its poor in spirit.  Making matters even worse, as we enter the 21st century, the nature, look and very structure of oppression… is changing. 

Up to the 20th century, racism around the globe was almost exclusively race based, and place based. If you were black in


in the early 20th century chances are you were catch’en hell. A black parent couldn’t even play with their children in a public park, or use public services, without using the equipment and areas marked “for colored only.”

African-Americans, based solely on their race, were, by law, local ordinance and accepted social mores, refused basic education, opportunities for ownership, and the access to any of the levers of true economic empowerment. In short, the American Dream for African-Americans in the 20th century was just that – a dream. In fact, in the 19th century it was actually illegal for an African-American to own a book.  Yes, illegal.

The Economics of Racism

A friend who works at the Los Angeles Times, and who happens to be African-American, told me the story of her mother and father growing up right here in


. Not exactly the bigoted south of the 20th century. How they hard worked hard, saved well, and then sought to purchase some real property in the 1960’s in the


, County area of


. Her parents decided that they wanted to purchase property on the westside of the (train) tracks; an area occupied mostly by whites.  It was an economic decision, not a social statement they were attempting to make. But this was not to be. Denied this opportunity they were forced to acquire property “east of the tracks,” so to speak, which also just happened to be a predominately Black community.  But again, this intended to be a business investment, not some sort of a perverted social experiment, and my friend’s parents knew where real property values just happen to be rising during that period of time.

Of course, they did what they could do, or what they were allowed to do,  …and they purchased real property on the eastside. Today, their property, that same property, is worth more than $25,000.  A nice gain on investment for her parents. …The problem is that the same property they “intended” to purchase, on the westside, is now valued at more than $250,000! 

My friend’s parents were no less intelligent, no less industrious or hard working, and no less committed to doing all they could do to make a way and to build a future for their family.  What stopped them in their tracks, and held them to less than 90% of their economic potential, was racism and discrimination. Plain and simple. Nothing more, and nothing less. No blaming. No victimization. No dramatization. Just the facts.

That said, we are told today by rational, well intentioned people that whites and blacks are on the same level playing field, simply because we can now see, and presumably touch, the same things. Respectfully stated, the question could be asked by a thoughtful and intelligent person of any race, “okay, but what about the 200 year-old head start called “generational accumulation;” of wealth, of knowledge, of education (the ultimate poverty eradication tool), of real power, of vitally important social circles, …and what really makes the world go round – of that gold mine called relationships?   

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the whining of black people who need to “move on,” but simply a material fact.  Getting up earlier in the morning

is a material advantage over the worker that shows up just before noon, no matter how smart the noon-o-clock worker is!

The Racism of Middle Class Blacks

Making matters worse, even our prized middle-class African-Americans today often feel stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place.  They feel an increasing, yet more subtle and insidious form of racism impacting and affecting their lives. 

Sure, you can dress down and go into an upscale store, as long as you don’t mind being monitored by store security. 

You can dress up and go into the same upscale store, as has happened to me on numerous occasions in my custom made suits, as long as you don’t mind being confused with the help.

You can go out accompanied by two of your black friends and sit outside your car catching up, in a nice, upscale neighborhood or area, as long as you don’t invite a fourth or fifth friend, because if you are all black the police might refer to this lovely, peaceful gathering as a gang. I am not joking friends. This happens today.

You can go and rent, lease or buy a home in whatever community you decide to, as long as you don’t mind running the risk of a little game called financial musical chairs; as the “available” becomes the suddenly “unavailable,” criteria bars of evaluation often get raised, and prices miraculously change (up, of course).

You can go into that fine dining establishment you have always wanted to eat at, or maybe it’s just Denny’s Restaurant, as long as you don’t mind serving yourself on occasion.

You can buy a fancy new car, as long as you don’t mind “driving while black,” and being pulled over on a regular basis “just to make sure your registration is current.”

You can work in corporate


, as long as you don’t mind, with rare exception, mentoring yourself, and often being invisible too.

Sure, you can feel good about the successes of our new, high profile African-American sports figures, celebrities, and national political leaders, as long as you don’t mind being what I call “black for a living” when these same individuals get into trouble or fall from grace.  For instance, I have always found it a bit puzzling when a reporter shoves a microphone in front of some unsuspecting and well-dressed African-American man or woman, asking the question, “…well, how will you and the black community respond to this O.J. Simpson situation…?”  Huh? What?  Respectfully, what would happen if they responded in return, “I don’t know, how do you feel, and how will you and the white community respond to say Adolph Hitler, or Jeffrey Dalmer, or the three

white guys who drug Mr. Bird to his gruesome death in


?  If you happen to be white and are feeling a little indignant and put upon by such a ridiculous question, then that would make you intelligent. We are on the same page.

For the record: considering that one would be silly enough to actually answer one of these ridiculous questions – that associates and indicts the group, with and as a result of the actions of any one particular individual idiot within that group – the answer, assuming the individual in question is guilty, would be “lock’em up.” Just like everyone else.

When Lukewarm is Worse than Cold

In the 21st century, the modern form of racism will increasingly rear its head in the form of an economic class structure, and indifference.  Increasingly, the problem is not a matter of love or hate, b
ut indifference. And indifference is the death nail of the soul.

In the 21st century ones’ wealth, defined by your level of education, your access to cutting edge information resources, and your ability to manipulate and manage this information, will define the quality of your life and the future lives of your family, much more than race and place ever did. As I have often said, “if the 20th century was defined by race and the color line, or civil rights, then the 21st century will be defined by class and poverty.

Increasingly in this day and age, people’s response to urban poverty and crime, the widening gap of the rich and the poor, and the AIDS epidemic in


, is unfortunately “…not my problem.”  About the best response one could generally expect is “yea, this is a real problem, we need to solve it, I want to see it solved, …as long as it does happen on my block, impact my life, or cost me any money…”

The Bible suggests, “give me hot or give me cold, but give me lukewarm and I will spat you out…” In this new environment, lukewarm is much worse than cold.

Base racism, as noted previously, is no different today from the way it was forty years ago.  The problem in


now is more unconscious behavior than conscious behavior.  It’s not love or hate.  It’s just indifference.  “Racism?  Poverty?  Not my problem.  What can I do about it?  Nothing.  I’ll just build a wall around my little estate and try to forget the whole thing.” 

The most potent symbol of the modern “War on Poverty” is the gated community.  Those gates symbolize our society’s impotence to solve, or even mitigate, the problems of poverty, crime, and drugs. 

Dr. King realized in 1968 with the Poor People’s Campaign, as he said, that “you cannot legislate goodness, and you cannot pass a law to force someone to respect you. The only way to social justice in a capitalist country is economic parity…” 

At Operation HOPE we’re not seeking to force people to love each other.  We’re simply about creating real opportunity so that poverty and wealth do not symbolize threats to one another.  Dr. King talked about “the check that remains unpaid.”  Dr. King and his generation fought for the right to vote.  Equal opportunities in housing and the workplace.  Removing restrictive covenants from trust deeds, overturning oppressive laws, and eliminating separate but unequal facilities.  The basic civil rights Americans need simply to exist, to function in society.

Twentieth century racism in the old south was in many ways much easier to identify and deal with than twenty first-century racism will be in the new north.  Because the greatest threat in the new era of racism is not hate, which identifies itself, but indifference, which doesn’t care enough to.

The Way Forward

In the world that Dr. King faced, it was easy to figure out who the evil person was.
It’s the guy with the Klan robe on.  The guy who spits on you.  The guy holding the dogs that are attacking you.  The sheriffs with the fire hoses drenching you with water.  It’s easy to fight that enemy, to make war against that devil. But how do you fight in this kind of struggle?  Where’s the enemy?  How do you fight this war?  The amazing answer is this: You can’t fight it by fighting it.

You can’t win this war by protesting from the outside.  You’ve got to go inside, into the banks, into the corporations, into the government offices.  You’ve got to massage.  You’ve got to negotiate.  It’s not about coercing people to change.  It’s about convincing people to change.  Today, picketing and protesting only make good sense when genuine attempts towards partnership and progress fail. 

The new movement, the Silver Rights Movement, requires a different perspective on the battle.  It means changing the way somebody sees what’s happening in their world – our world – so that we are ultimately creating fundamental change through a change in fundamental perspective; a paradigm shift. 

My job in inner cities is to change the way Hispanic and black people see themselves and see their community.  My job in mainstream and corporate


is to change the way they see inner cities and see their own responsibilities. 

Here at Operation HOPE, it’s a change in the way we see our jobs and our roles in the nonprofit world.  We do not want to be some nonprofit charity toward which people take a paternalistic view.  We want to be an excellence-driven corporation that happens to be a nonprofit as well, operating on par with other corporate leaders, and treated and respected as equals.  That way, we can negotiate as equals, and with a lot of hard work, ultimately deliver the goods.  Somebody needs to be at the table negotiating with mainstream


, and we at Operation HOPE are part of that somebody. 

It’s a different kind of a battle today.  You can’t picket this thing into reality.  It’s much more amorphous, because the kind of work the Silver Rights Movement requires rarely makes for good photo ops, the kind of good visuals that the media thrives on.  It’s much more subtle to affect a bank’s lending policy, or the decision-making process of a supermarket chain or a “big box” chain store like a Wal-Mart’s, when they’re considering whether or not  to build in the inner city.  It’s not flashy, and it doesn’t necessarily attract mass public attention – at first….  To use and invert the meaning of the popular catch phrase from the civil rights era — the whole world isn’t watching.

To affect the thinking of corporate America in this manner, to change the way that people who run banks view the inner city and the under-served and the wealthless, to move government towards compassionate yet useful, results oriented action, is kind of like, well, herding cats.  It’s like hugging Jell-O.  You can’t easily get your hands around it.  No good deed shall go unpunished.

But at the end of the day I am not trying to convince individuals, corporations and our government to invest in inner cities because it’s the right thing to do, even though it is that in spades.  Rather, it’s the only thing to do, if we want to create true future American prosperity, and if we want to grow this great American economy of ours even further.  If we want additional efficiency, and new, emerging markets in this country, we can only get them in the future from under-served, urban inner city and low-wealth communities. 

If you go to the places where most of mainstream


lives, you can’t put another grocery store on the corner, you can’t put another gas station there, you can’t put another anything there.  Stores, banks, gas stations, and restaurants in middle class


are essentially trading customers amongst each other.  There’s virtually no room left in mainstream


for the kind of growth engine that you can find in, of all places, …the inner city.

Yes, it’s paradoxical.  This battle will only be won if it’s not a battle.  You can’t bludgeon somebody into enlightenment.  You can’t beat somebody into submission on this stuff.  We have to convince people that it’s in their own enlightened self-interest. 

It’s not about whether you love black folks or Hispanic folks.  I mean, I’d like you to, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. It’s okay if you don’t love me – because I love me. God has no grandchildren; you have to have your own relationship with him. 

That said, given the opportunity, and approximately 45 minutes time, I believe I can compel and convince almost any rational person that it’s in their own enlightened self-interest to invest in, be involved with, and to otherwise empower inner city communities. 

And here are a few good reasons why: you will do it because you want crime to decrease, and so that your kids can grow up in a world that is reasonably safe and secure, or perhaps because you want the local tax base to increase so that your share of the local tax burden decreases, as new stakeholders become new taxpayers, and stakeholders, and the pro-rata amount of social services required by our inner city decreases; ….or maybe its simply because you think it’s the right thing to do. 

P.S. As richest nation in the world we can do better than a simplistic and uninspiring model where the rich seem to be getting richer, the poor definitely seem to be getting poorer, and the middle class is struggling simply to stay that way. Middle.

The Power of Spirit

If I don’t like me, I won’t like you.

If I don’t respect me, I won’t respect you.

If I don’t love me, I can’t and won’t love you.

And if I don’t have a meaningful purpose in my life, I will make your life a living hell….

This statement summarizes almost all of humanities true problems, and if I am even half-correct, these factors are hundreds of times more debilitating that racism and discrimination will ever be in our lives.   

Yes, it is true that racism and discrimination are as real and destructive to the spirit today as they were 2,000 years ago, but if we are going to make these legitimate obstacles to progress, then I say why stop there? 

Why not add sexism, ignorance, bad health and old age, bad parenting and dysfunctional families, financial insecurity, a lack of education and a lack of personal spirituality, and a list of 20 other legitimate obstacles and challenges that any one of us could name if we chose to?  Why don’t we name those too?  Why not add them all to the list?  Why not…? 

Because naming them, and giving them more weight and value than they deserve, would not (without positive action) make one single thing any better in your life, while at the same time giving attention and power to the negative issues and the problems that only guarantee to make a bad situation worse.  I say, “if you are going to fall, at least fall forward.”

In the 21st century everyone has problems, and increasingly no one wants to come to anyone’s pity party.  It is no longer good enough to just be a Ph.D., you have to be a Ph.Do too.  And you can’t be “Black for a living” anymore either.  In the 21st century, everyone is going to have to pull more of their own weight, find a way to make their own unique contribution, and be accountable and responsible for own actions.

And in this environment, the nature of love must change too.  We must all begin to understand and appreciate that “there is a lot of love in the word no!” 

          I love you, but no, you cannot sit around this house and do nothing.

          I love you, but you cannot bring a child into this world and not be a father.

          I love you, but you cannot call yourself a community leader and produce no community results.

          I love you, but you cannot prey on the weak and old in our community and expect anyone to protect you from the prosecution and conviction you so rightly deserve.

          I love you, but we are not buying into the myth that young Black men are an endangered species, and thereafter make matters worse by “raising our daughters and loving our sons…”

Progress in this new, fast paced environment demands that we find a way; “to get over it, go around it, go through it, and get with it,” if we are going to achieve true greatness in our lives.  This done not for anyone else’s sake, but for ourselves.

I tell people all the time, “it’s okay if you don’t like me, because I like me…” When you have yourself together, and you are comfortable in your own skin, problems that other people have about race and ignorance simply begin to solve themselves… and they carry less importance to us and our respective lives. “It’s okay if you don’t like me, because I like me…. And to argue with a fool, only proves that there are two!”

At the end of the day, the “white man,” the boogieman, or any other man, is just a distraction.  The main attraction – the problem and the solution – is staring us all in the mirror.  This of course includes me.

I believe that the meaning to life, managing life, and success in life, is well within our understanding, and our grasp. 

·         The purpose of life is to become transparent to God’s will.

·         The key to managing life, is managing pain; both your own and the pain brought to you from others.

·         And the key to success in life is simply “getting out of your own darn way.”

African-Americans in particular are a religious and spiritual people, but we must also come to better understand and appreciate that faith without works is dead.

One cannot say “let go and let God,” and then grab the steering wheel halfway through a turn in life because you have decided you want to help God drive!  Put another way, “If you’re going to pray, why worry, and if you are going to worry, then why pray!”

Almost 400 years after the birth of slavery in


, I would argue that the shackles are no longer on our hands, feet and body, but our mind, heart and spirit.  I strongly believe that “there is a difference between being broke and being poor. To be broke is an economic condition, and to be poor is a disabling frame of mind and a depressed condition of your spirit. …And we must vow never to be poor again.”

Yes, racism and discrimination are alive and well in society today, and for that reason I am very thankful that organizations such as the NAACP and MALDEF are working full-time to identify it where it rears its ugly head, and to eradicate it. 

This said, the greatest threat to African-Americans and other ethnic minorities and the under-served today is not racism and discrimination, but poverty.  Spiritual poverty.

The Greek word for poor, as used by Jesus, is poucos, which means productivity. To be poor doesn’t mean you don’t have anything, it means you aren’t DOING ANYTHING! 

Poverty is cured by hard work, for Proverbs 10-4 states, “lazy hands makes a man poor.”

Or as Proverbs 6-10/11 asks, “how long will you lie there you sluggard?  When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come on you like a bandit, and scarcity like an armed man.”

When an individual takes responsibility for their own life, and begins to enrich themselves and their life with love, wisdom and knowledge, a marketable skill, economic education, economic empowerment and ultimately ownership… self esteem will soon follow.  And with a healthy self-esteem poverty dissipates and falls away, and is replaced with wealth and the understanding of owning oneself.

At this critical stage in one’s life, life changes because what you see depends on where you sit. 

At this stage, when you walk down the street and someone calls you a foul name, there is no response, and no recognition.  Not because the experience wasn’t real, and not because you aren’t very aware that it was meant for you.  But understanding, and self worth.

As my pastor, Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray of First AME Church would say, “it’s not what people call you, but what you answer to that’s important.  Stop answering out of your name…” And with that I added, “to argue with a fool only proves that there are two!”

When we do this… 

When we embrace this… 

And when we decide to truly love, respect and value ourselves…

“…the problem called racism simply solves itself.”

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