Commentary

Keeping the faith

Investing in racial progress is an ongoing effort requiring vigilance

Updated: November 28, 2013, 7:28 AM ET
By Jason Whitlock | ESPN.com

 Getty ImagesThe lives and work of Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks created a better world for the generations that followed them.

These words are meant to serve as my contribution to your Thanksgiving feast, which should include overindulgence in provocative conversation as well as Hennessy cognac.

It is not, nor will it ever be, white people's responsibility to teach black children our unique American history. Forty years of abdicating this responsibility to people who have their own unique history to teach has repressed African-American evolution to the point that we have regressed socially.

That is my big-picture takeaway from the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito controversy and our defiant, public love affair with the N-word.

We don't know what we haven't been taught. And we haven't been taught the principles of sustained progress. Sacrifice and self-sufficiency are the building blocks of any type of advancement. Investing in your long-term health means cultivating the skills to prepare your own meals, developing healthy eating habits and a willingness to make time to exercise. The earlier you embrace these habits, the healthier you will be in your 50s, 60s and beyond. The sacrifices you make in your 20s pay off 30 and 40 years later. The same is true when it comes to financial progress. Every dime saved in your 20s turns into a dollar in your 60s.

All of this is equally true about racial progress. There is a sense today that we have reached a post-racial America, a sense that Barack Obama's presidency symbolizes an arrival of a more harmonious era of racial equality as we move forward.

This naive belief defies the principles of sustained progress. This naive belief misidentifies the people responsible for President Obama's ascension, Oprah's success and Michael Wilbon's pardonable interruption of Tony Kornheiser.

This current in-our-prime generation -- the people 55 and below -- is not responsible for the freedom, power and wealth enjoyed by a handful of African-Americans. This progress was won 50 years ago by a segregated self-sufficient generation that was willing to invest in our future by making the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives. They endured and fought indignities so that we didn't have to. Their investments matured, and we have reaped the benefits.

We pay lip service to comprehending this fact. But we have practiced virtually none of the principles and concepts they employed so that Obama could seek the White House, Kobe Bryant could land a $50 million contract well past his prime and Tyler Perry could get rich making bad movies.

We have lived self-indulgently in the opportunities and progress MLK's generation won. We did not double down on their investments. Nor did we attempt to perfect the flawed ideas they saw as solutions. Integration is a worthy aspiration, a luxury item. It is not a necessity. It is not self-sufficiency.

You can assign blame wherever you choose. And I certainly point a finger at the civil rights opponents who concocted a drug war and mass incarceration as backlash for the sweeping changes brought on by Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedys, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks. But the history of the world stipulates there will always be opponents of advancement. Progress is won through unrelenting diligence to a cause.

The HBCU-educated generation that stared down racist cops, attack dogs and fire hoses so that their grandkids could be educated anywhere they chose has been replaced by a generation that disavows education and argues it has redefined the N-word.

People who were taught our unique African-American history by people who comprehend it and are passionate about it have been replaced by the integration and incarceration generation. That's why you have the blind following the dysfunctional.

Jay Z, an unrepentant street criminal, is W.E.B. Du Bois, and we've been made to believe Lil Wayne, Drake and 2 Chainz are the new Talented Tenth. Jay Z's cultural influence as a tastemaker with the incarceration generation is so pervasive that the integration generation (Obama) feels it must embrace him for relevancy and authenticity.

We now have highly educated Jay Z disciples preaching the gospel of n---adom on national TV. It's a profession, a hustle. Professor Michael Eric Dyson, who teaches a course at Georgetown University on Jay Z, is the Dr. Valentin Narcisse of n---adom. Narcisse hypnotically preaches black nationalism while hustling heroin on HBO's brilliant "Boardwalk Empire." Dyson rhymes black empowerment while hustling the virtues of the N-word and gangsta rap culture.

Dyson uses his Carson-Newman College and Princeton University degrees to cash in on legitimizing the myth that rappers repurposed the N-word as a term of endearment, affection and respect.

Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz
Getty ImagesAre Jay Z, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz the intellectual descendants of W. E. B. Dubois and his idea of The Talented Tenth?

So that's what Dre, Cube and Easy were doing when they formed N.W.A. That's what all of these commercial rappers have been doing the past 30 years. They didn't use the N-word to promote the notion that black men were proudly criminal, violent, sexually irresponsible, predatory, sexist and committed to misspelling every word in the dictionary. No. Jay Z uses the word to uplift.

Only the miseducated or uneducated would buy this absurdity. Only the manipulative would sell it.

The fact that MLK's generation used the N-word in segregated, casual conversation in no way justifies its pervasive mainstream use today. Properly functioning human beings, cultures and societies evolve. We used to eat with our hands. Nonsmokers used to breathe second-hand smoke without a second thought. We used to think fried foods were no big deal. We used to believe physical punishment was the best way to discipline a child. We thought gay slurs were harmless.

Why are we not evolving on how we define ourselves? Why are we comfortable going the opposite direction? Well-intentioned, evolution-seeking people are going one direction, and we have a generation who believes the more we embrace the worst racial slur the better we are.

We don't understand the principles of progress. We've made no investment in racial progress. And we wonder why conditions are worsening for the overwhelming majority of African-Americans. Don't look at the 1 percent. Don't focus in on the high-profile exceptions, the hardworking lottery winners of a previous generation's sacrifices.

Examine the masses and how they are viewed. Examine the motivation of the forces that enabled the Supreme Court to undermine the voting rights won in the 1960s. Consider that America, with a black president in the White House, has absolutely zero resolve to even discuss the No. 1 crisis impacting black America: mass incarceration. Look at the decay of historically black colleges and universities and the rollback of affirmative-action policies that gave us access to mainstream universities. We're not self-sufficient academically. This generation has all but guaranteed our intellectual collapse.

We've been doing a 40-year end zone celebration of the victories won by our parents and grandparents. We haven't shepherded our history. We haven't taught it so others can learn from it and implement the lessons. Our failure to educate our own and educate ourselves about our rich and courageous history leaves Jay Z, his "scholars" and worshipers to grant black cultural status to the latest fads emanating from mass incarceration and street corners. Any objection to sagging pants, tattoo armor, cornrows, dreadlocks, gold grills and white T's is framed as a racist assault on black culture. Professor Jay Z suggests on his song "F@#$WithMeYouKnowIGotIt" that black youth's foolish, wasteful obsession with gaudy, overpriced jewelry is a natural byproduct of descending from Africa.

This self-destructive idiocy goes unchecked.

Those of us who have advanced beyond poverty are content, delusional and convinced our special place in society can never be threatened. We're Solomon Northup ("12 Years A Slave") before his abduction into slavery. We don't comprehend that unfairness and inequality left unaddressed will eventually visit us. We don't understand our responsibility to grab the baton and push our culture forward.

The destruction of our family structure compromises our fallback position. Street culture and values have replaced family culture and values. We champion loyalty to our boys, our day one N-words, more than loyalty to our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even our kids. There's no greater shame than "selling out" your boys. It is a value taken straight from prison, where your boys are all that separate you from life and death.

As you enjoy Thanksgiving and fellowship with your real family, ask yourself if the generation behind us will be as thankful to us as we are to MLK, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and the great sports writer Sam Lacy. Ask yourself if you have invested in freedom, equality and self-respect.

• Columnist for Fox Sports from 2010-2013
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• ESPN.com Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006

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