Soundtrack: Bob Marley “One Love”

   I recently had a wide-ranging discussion with a dear friend and confidant in which she disagreed with most of what I was saying. The crux of it was that she declared that I was focusing way too much on viewing and discussing Black people as recipients of abuse, discrimination, and oppression. As part of her argument she posited that by us talking so much about what has been done TO us, by the Law of Attraction, we attract more of those things into our reality. With me being the Pan-African revolutionary nationalist that I am, I resisted that idea. At one point in the discussion I made the point that Jewish people are very successful and they are not shy about telling each other and telling the world about their past suffering.  

  Fast forward a couple of days. That conversation kept playing on repeat in the back of my mind. I thought about it as I was falling asleep. I dreamed about it. It wasn’t sitting right with me. And soon I realized that it was because of the inconsistencies in my arguments. I am a believer in the Law of Attraction. I bear witness that what you resist, persists. That whatever you focus on in your mind with emotional intensity will manifest itself in your life…whatever it is…no matter what. However, I was unable to bring myself to apply these concepts to my beliefs about the quest of Black people for freedom, justice, and equality. Or rather I should say that I’ve been hesitant. It has been a gradual process. And this recent conversation was a foot in the rear end that pushed me to take the next step in this evolution.

There is almost universal agreement that the two most successful Black Nationalist organizations in United States history have been Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NOI). There are some similarities between these two men that are worth mentioning here. Both Garvey and Muhammad were staunch advocates of a “do for self” mentality and approach to advancement. They didn’t believe in petitioning the Establishment for anything.

 Marcus Garvey stood in contrast to W.E.B. Dubois and the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League, the beginners of what would come to be known as the Civil Rights movement. The civil rights leaders protested for government to stop the lynching of Black Americans and to stop discrimination in housing and employment. Garvey didn’t bother with those things. He taught that if Black people united their efforts and pooled their resources then they could build up their community without any outside help. Marcus Garvey believed that his people could benefit greatly from emulating the example of the Jewish community. His most popular statement was “Up you mighty nation! You can accomplish what you will!”

Elijah Muhammad stood in contrast to the civil rights leaders of his day as well. Rather than pursuing court victories or congressional actions to end segregation, Muhammad taught that Black people should separate themselves from the whites and focus on supplying the necessities of life for themselves. He led his followers in purchasing farmland, growing food, operating schools, restaurants, barber shops, clothing stores, grocery stores, and he was in the beginning stages of starting a bank and a hospital before his departure from among us in 1975. In his economic blueprint, he wrote these words: “Observe the operations of the White man. He is successful. He makes no excuses for his failures. He works hard in a collective manner. You do the same.”

Both Garvey and Muhammad faced major criticism from civil rights leaders for not participating in protesting the actions of racist white people. Neither of them participated in organized efforts to resist lynchings or police brutality or things of the sort. And although they are both highly revered by many Black people today, this aspect of their example largely goes ignored. Most people today who believe that they are carrying on the legacy of Garvey and Muhammad feel the need to protest against what they feel are injustices done against the Black community.

Now, I can return to my earlier statement about the Jewish community being “not shy about telling each other and telling the world about their past suffering.” After tossing and turning with that conversation for a few days I realized that I was deluding myself. The general stance of the Jewish community and the Black community regarding their histories of discrimination are not similar at all. The majority of Black people who consider themselves to be socially conscious find themselves making some kind of complaint about the way Black people are treated almost every day…literally. The Jewish community doesn’t function that way. They don’t have those cultural habits.

There is a Jewish gentleman by the name of Steven Silbiger who wrote an excellent book called The Jewish Phenomenon. Silbiger had previously sold 200,000 copies of a book called The Ten-Day MBA. But that success did not fully prepare him for the reaction he received for his follow-up effort wherein he broached the “taboo” subject of Jewish success and wealth, disproportionate in terms of the community’s relatively small population size – in America and throughout the world. The back cover of The Jewish Phenomenon gets right to the heart of the matter promising to answer why : 1) Jews make up only 2% of the total U.S. population, yet 45% of the top 40 of the Forbes 400 richest Americans are Jewish 2) One-third of all American multimillionaires are Jewish 3) The percentage of Jewish households with income greater than $50,000 is double that of non-Jews while on the other hand, the percentage of Jewish households with income less than $20,000 is half that of non-Jews 4) 20% of professors at leading universities are Jewish 5) 40% of partners in leading New York and Washington D.C. law firms are Jewish and 25% percent of all American Nobel Prize winners are Jewish.

The subject has been so “off-limits” that Mr. Silbiger was greeted with scheduled media appearances cancelled; and journalists and editors who knew him from his first effort (which has now sold 300,000 copies) informing him that they could not write about his book or publicize it in reviews because it was just too controversial. National Public Radio (NPR) even canceled a scheduled show featuring Mr. Silbiger and Black conservative intellectual John McWhorter out of fear that a discussion involving The Jewish Phenomenon would alienate NPR’s numerous Jewish benefactors. Only John McWhorter appeared on the radio that day.

Mr. Silbiger lists seven principles that form the base of the Jewish culture which has led to their inordinate success.  

  • Number 1: “Understand that real wealth is portable; it’s knowledge”. Jews have highly valued education all through the centuries and that education translates into higher incomes and Jews not only pursue education for income but also just for education’s sake. They like to be informed. They just venerate knowledge and if somebody is an artist, they become the best artist they can; if they become a social worker; or whatever their chosen pursuit; they go and get a great education and pursue it to the best of their ability.
  • Number 2: “Take care of your own and they will take care of you”. Jewish people give the largest percentage of their income, twice as much as other people, to charities. But when they do so they support causes that affect their community. When it comes to charities and taking care of their own community they have set up social welfare systems, in Europe as well as in America, so that when government is lacking or Jews are in need and have problems where they may be fleeing a bad situation like in Argentina recently or in Russia in the past; they can come here and get a good start and the community will support them.
  • Number 3: “Successful people are professionals and entrepreneurs”. The basic lesson here is that laborers and employees don’t get rich. And where possible, and in the face of discrimination, Jews have gone in areas that other people didn’t want to be. So, when they were barred from becoming a post office worker or working for General Motors they found their own ways for being creative. When the big law firms in the nation did not want Jews in their ranks, Jews went into parts of the law that were distasteful to other lawyers – tax law; labor law; securities law; while the other Protestant, Anglo-Saxon types, they pursued other places. So Jews created opportunities for themselves that others didn’t want but they were fulfilling a need. Also, Jews are given the leeway to pursue a dream and not be shot down by their families. It is ok to not work a 9-to-5; it is ok to pursue your dream to invent something to go the other way. And the book is replete with situations and stories of people who went the other way and that is why Jews have been so successful. They have been good at inventing things out of nothing.
  • Number 4: “Develop your verbal self-confidence”. If you are confronted with a situation and you don’t agree with it, you just don’t take it; you speak up and are forceful. If ever there is a defacing of a synagogue or a form of discrimination, you had better believe that Jews are going to be the first ones out there. They are not going to bite their tongue or be inarticulate. But where they differ from Black people in this regard is that they have financial capital to apply pressure to those who oppose them.  
  • Number 5: “Be selectively extravagant but prudently frugal”. That means, when you are making money, you need to spend your money where it is most important. You can’t spend it on everything but if education is really important, well, then you will spend a lot of your money on education. The idea of delayed gratification is one that Jews have done well with for a long time. If most of the Jews in a country were first or second generation they made sure that the third generation would not be in the same situation. Jews didn’t immigrate with a great deal of wealth themselves. They actually created it by saving it and investing it in their future.
  • Number 6: “Encourage individuality and celebrate creativity”. For Jewish people it is ok to stand out and it is ok to be different and it is ok to pursue different ideas and different careers. Some of the greatest successes come from people who have gone their own way.
  • Number 7: “Have something to prove: a drive to succeed”. Because they were outsiders, Jews have felt this pressure to prove themselves and a desire to belong to the United States’ general mainstream but to do that they’ve pursued different areas that have brought them great success. For instance, Ralph Lauren, which represents the epitome of what White Anglo Saxon Protestant country-club living is all about; Ralph Lauren’s real name is Ralph Lifshitz. He is a Brooklyn boy who viewed what it really is to be in a country club set from the perspective of an outsider. So he packaged it, marketed it and sold it. And that is all possible when coming from an outsider’s standpoint. If you look at Gap Jeans or Calvin Klein or Levi’s you are going to find Jews concentrated themselves in the fashion industry as designers. But when the Jewish immigrants were coming over to America and didn’t have jobs in the fashion industry, and designing was going on; they were also in the garment industry so that the wealth that they created in the industry by being fashion designers wasn’t given to somebody else, the money in the entire garment industry was kept within the Jewish community. So they weren’t creating wealth for other people – they were creating it for themselves.

Jewish people are too busy pursuing greatness to focus on what someone else is trying to do to them. “Ain’t nobody got time for that” as Sweet Brown would say. They have specific times of year, especially the holiday of Passover, where they tell the stories of their past suffering. They have a Holocaust Museum in every city where a significant number of them live where the history of their suffering in Europe can be seen. And other than that, they’re focused on prosperity. This is one of the biggest lessons that the Black community can learn from the Jewish community.

The victim mentality must be done away with. Whether it is true or not that people outside of the Black community desire to exploit us, we can’t focus on that because by doing so we feed into it. It is time for us to shift our focus so that we become so consumed with the pursuit of prosperity that we don’t have the time or the mental space to worry about what anyone is doing to us. There are six million Jewish people in the United States. There are 40 million Black people. If their unity can get them to be 45% of the richest Americans then what can our unity do for us? It’s beyond the scope of this blog entry to answer that question. I’ll let your imagine run free on that. Rather than complain about the lack of opportunity, we must search for those areas where we are uniquely positioned to create opportunities for ourselves. It would be better for us to act as if we are completely on our own and we must provide everything for ourselves than to concern ourselves with what someone is not providing for us.

In the next installment of COMPLETE CONSTRUCTIVE CHANGE we’ll dig further into how and why the Law of Attraction works. For now, I am suggesting that the successes of Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, and the Jewish community are because of their being alignment with this law and the other laws that govern success. What we have been doing, collectively, has not worked the way we would like. It’s time to try something different.   




Getcho Edumucation!


(Pictured are members of the General Education Board)

Soundtrack: Dead Prez – “They Schools”

I’ve had several conversations with my friends lately about America’s schools; one a public school teacher, one a public school counselor, one a recent PhD recipient. These have been very enlightening discussions. I have three children in school and deciding what schools to send them to have been some of the toughest decisions that I’ve ever made (along with their mothers). Here are some relevant facts:

  • More than half the young black men who graduated high school in 2010 earned their diploma in four years, an improved graduation rate that still lagged behind that of their white counterparts
  • The Schott Foundation for Public Education, which has tracked graduation rates of black males from public schools since 2004, said 52 percent of black males who entered ninth grade in the 2006-07 school year graduated in four years. That compared with 78 percent of white, non-Latino males and 58 percent of Latino males.
  • In 2008, the black male graduation rate was 47 percent.
  • In a recent comparison of academic performance in 57 countries, students in Finland came out on top overall. Finnish 15-year-olds did the best in science and came in second in math. Other top-performing countries were: Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and Korea.
  • Students in the United States performed near the middle of the pack. On average 16 other industrialized countries scored above the United States in science, and 23 scored above us in math. The reading scores for the United States had to be tossed due to a printing error.
  • The United States has one of the biggest gaps between high- and low-performing students in any industrialized nation

The United States public school system is not working extremely well for the majority of its students. It is especially not working well for Black students. However, “working well” depends on your perspective. Some historical perspective…The current American school system was shaped around the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, John D. Rockefeller founded the General Education Board, which provided major funding for schools across the country and was especially in promoting the public (state controlled) school movement. For most of America’s history up to that point, schools were privately owned and home schooling was very popular. Americans were well educated and literacy rates were high.

There is an influential tradition in democratic theory which assumes that there is an intrinsic relationship between democracy and education. Professor Walter Carlsnaes of Oxford University has said that democracy requires:

“an enlightened and critically reflective public, a corps of politicians sufficiently well-informed not to be the pawns of experts and professional bureaucrats, and a dynamic area of public debate not beholden to any particular — private or public — interest.”

In this view, democracy presupposes rational and informed citizens, whose influence on the political decision-making process is not restricted to elections, but who are rational participators in the public debate about political issues. Unless citizens are educated to be critical, they lack the prerequisites for taking part in critical discussion and therefore in the rational guidance of society, since the values fostered by education as well as those applied to social and political life have to be established in the context of critical discussion.

In 1913, Frederick T. Gates, Director of Charity for the Rockefeller Foundation wrote in The Country School of Tomorrow: Occasional Papers Volume 1: “In our dreams, we have limitless resources and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present education conventions fade from their minds, and unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning, or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, editors, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have an ample supply…The task we set before ourselves is very simple as well as a very beautiful one, to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are. So we will organize our children and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way, in the homes, in the shops and on the farm.” 

That is the original goal of the United States public school system. Everything about America’s schools was set up toward that objective. This is why America’s educational output is so mediocre in comparison to other industrialized nations, even though this country has more resources with which to educate its children than any other nation. If America’s children are ever to be educated in a way that makes them good critical thinkers and makes them qualified to handle the civic demands of a democracy, a radical shift in values needs to take place in America’s education community.

Finland’s stellar performance has drawn the attention of education and government officials around the world. These experts have uncovered many attributes of the Finnish educational system that are distinctive and contribute to the success of Finnish students. Some of these features are:

  • The Finnish school system uses the same curriculum for all students (which may be one reason why Finnish scores varied so little from school to school).
  • Students have light homework loads.
  • Finnish schools do not have classes for gifted students.
  • Finland uses very little standardized testing.
  • Children do not start school until age 7.
  • Finland has a comprehensive preschool program that emphasizes “self-reflection” and socializing, not academics.
  • Grades are not given until high school, and even then, class rankings are not compiled.
  • Teachers must have master’s degrees.
  • Becoming a teacher in Finland is highly competitive. Just 10% of Finnish college graduates are accepted into the teacher training program; as a result, teaching is a high-status profession. (Teacher salaries are similar to teacher salaries in the U.S., however.)
  • Students are separated into academic and vocational tracks during the last three years of high school. About 50% go into each track.
  • Diagnostic testing of students is used early and frequently. If a student is in need of extra help, intensive intervention is provided.
  • Groups of teachers visit each other’s classes to observe their colleagues at work. Teachers also get one afternoon per week for professional development.
  • School funding is higher for the middle school years, the years when children are most in danger of dropping out.
  • College is free in Finland.

Says Professor Jouni Välijärvi of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä, and Project Manager of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) for Finland: “In light of the PISA data, Finnish schools manage to activate learning among the whole age cohort more effectively than any other country. Students are not sorted into different groups or schools but different types of learners are learning together. In this kind of setting high achieving students seem to serve as positive models for their less advanced classmates. The pedagogy differs from that applied in systems characterized by tracking and streaming. Efforts are made to provide instruction to cater to the needs of different learners in terms of their skills and interests.”

Finnish educational practices may provide clues to improvement for the United States, but taken together they do not constitute a magical pill that will cure our educational blues. For one thing, Finland has a vastly more homogeneous population than the United States. Very few students in Finland speak a language at home other than Finnish. In the U.S., on the other hand, 8% of children are English language learners, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

This information points to the fact that different learning styles work for different children, depending on the culture practiced within their homes. In the still untitled book that I’m currently writing, I will demonstrate the similarities between European and Asian cultures which explain why those students both perform well in similar systems of education. I will also show the similarities in culture between Africans and Native American, which explains why children descended from those societies do not perform so well in educational systems that work well for Europeans and Asians. If the educational gap in America between Caucasian and Asian students on one hand, and Black and Latino students on the other hand, is ever to be closed, then different styles of learning and teaching will have to be embraced.

There are other things that need to be considered also. Another area where Finland is homogeneous is in school funding. All of Finland’s schools receive the same per-pupil funding, in contrast to the United States where school funding is based upon a complex formula that uses a local-funding component and creates inequities between affluent and poor communities. It is not difficult to see how that might lead to different educational outcomes for students from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Many people point to the existence of standardized tests as a major flaw in America’s schools. Välijärvi believes that some educational choices can produce results regardless of the demographics of a country. “During the last 20 to 30 years most of the industrialized countries have invested huge amounts of money and intelligence on external evaluations and standardized tests. Finland has not. Finland has invested in teacher education,” he says. “I dare to say that the profit of the Finnish investments has been greater.”

I could go on and on and on about this subject, but I won’t. In conclusion, the stakes in this issue are very high for America in general, but extremely high for African Americans. We make up approximately 12% of America’s population but approximately 50% of the prison population. We’ll save a discussion about the prison industrial complex for another day but for now consider this…In a 2011 Education Week article; the magazine highlighted a report by sociology professor Donald Hernandez who compared reading scores and graduation rates of almost 4,000 students. “A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer,” read the report.

Couple that article with a study comparing dropout rates and incarceration rates in The New York Times, and one could draw a strong connection. The study by researchers at Northeastern University used a range of census data to find that “about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates.” If Black people are going to prison more than anyone else, then it behooves us to declare a state of emergency on the 50% graduation rate for Black males. It is time for us to take a long and hard look at who is educating our children, how they are being educated, how they’re being miseducated, and what role every member of our community can play in fixing this problem. It is difficult to think of anything that is more important at this time.