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.