Historian Carter G. Woodson, the father of black history month, hoped that eventually the need for this designated month would fade as black history became intertwined with American history. Indeed the once honorable intent of recognizing the many great achievements of black people throughout history has devolved into a tool used to patronize people who are falling further into the abyss of apathy and dependency.
It is horrific to think how backward African Americans would be at this point in American history were it not for the bravery of the men and women of the civil rights struggle of the late 50s and early 60s. America has come a long way since those days of oppression and hurt. Unfortunately, a time of the year that was meant to be a celebration of African Americans’ contributions to society is now too often a reflection on that dark time in American history before the civil rights movement, when African Americans had little opportunity, no vote and no equal access. Dwelling on these memories as we too often do can conjure up negative feelings, reopen old wounds, and reinforce the sense of entitlement that plagues the black community today. It is important to remember and honor our predecessors’ struggles, but we should use that history as inspiration to strive for more in the future, not to excuse meritocracy and dependency in the present.
Minorities of all races and religions are blessed to share in the American freedoms we have today, whether it’s running a company or becoming president of the United States. The overwhelming support for Barack Obama in 2008 shows how far America has come in believing in equality and putting race barriers to rest. Even so, the errant analysis on the lips of many black leaders today is that African Americans have not yet been set free.
Freedom, they believe, is government doing more to overcompensate for wrongdoings during the pre-civil rights era. Instead of touting the individual achievement, autonomy, and freedom from government that would lead to true equal opportunity, they demand that government give handouts, not a hand up. These handouts weaken us and, in Obama’s own words, encourage dependency and diminish motivation.
I have found that it takes little courage to complain about what you don’t have and demand that someone else provide it. It takes small determination to be a victim. But it takes character to turn a complaint into an effective action and a victim into a victor. The lesson we have lost from the civil rights era is that character is king. A person with character and conviction, no matter how oppressed they are, can find a way to overcome.
Instead, we black Americans have accepted the message spoon-fed by liberals who are focused solely on the color of skin: that the fight for social justice is about an entitlement to equal outcome. But, to fight for equal outcome, rather than equal opportunity, robs an individual of the character it takes to achieve. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1963 speech dreamed, “That one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Equal outcome focuses on the color of our skin, not character, and misses the genius of Dr. King’s magnificent dream.
Strong character will cause an individual to contribute to society, just as Dr. King did, in spite of minimal opportunity. Strong character will open doors, and keep them open, when they remain closed to others. Strong character wants government out of the way so individuals can achieve their individual dreams. Strong character drives runaway slaves to insurmountable heights where together, regardless of skin color, they are equal with all who seek freedom.
Rev. CL Bryant, is a former NAACP chapter president and creator of the Documentary Runaway Slave. He also serves as a FreedomWorks Fellow.