I went to a function this evening that had on the schedule of speakers, a former governor, three chancellors, numerous CEOs of million dollar or billion dollar companies ( we are talking big banks, big pharmaceutical companies, computer software companies, etc.) and a laundry list of who’s who in the big time in my state and the country. At least one cabinet member of the governor’s staff was there as well.
So, you ask, what is the problem, nothing like rubbing elbows with the beautiful people, right? WRONG! This enclave was supposed to have as its topic how to make the South, including NC more competitive in the global market. Included in our documents handed to us, after we had been checked in and vetted by the corporation security at the gate and showed our invitations so they knew we were not some rabble trying to crash, was an essay by a colleague of mine. He outlined several problems the South in general and NC in particular face. I was thrilled to see that he included the following statement: “Third, in order to enhance the region’s human capital and foster entrepreneurship and innovation, we will have to find ways to overcome the remaining historical constraints that have long impeded the South’s progress, particularly in rural areas and in inner cities where the region’s “shadows” are most marked. The most prominent of these constraints, not surprisingly, are related to and, in fact, grow out of the economic and social inequities begat by racial slavery centuries ago.” This was in the News and Observer on November 14th.
Seeing that, and hearing much talk about “human capital” I presumed there would be some kind of nod to the fact that racism, race, privilege, discrimination, etc. is not only an impediment in North Carolina to progress, but might be equally a problem in a global economy. At least four years ago I heard a lecture by the President of Arizona State, in which he maintained that one reason America was falling behind economically, especially in foreign markets and trade was that we were arrogant and did not believe the Chinese or any other country of “foreigners” could out do us for long, that this had to be a temporary situation because we were just better. The prez, a white man, also said that there was more than likely a bit of both xenophobia and racism in that presumption.
The first four or five speakers were, surprise! white males this evening. But after our break there was a panel on the stage with two women, one white, one black and one black male. I thought ” finally!”, surely now we would get to some of the issues that hold the South back, like our failure to educate large portions of our population, some of them of color, but some of them white and poor, adequately. But no, it was not to be. Oh, they danced around it, talking about ” changing demographics’ but not one of the wretched people said the words black, race, Latino, Indian, poor whites….nothing!
So, I being incorrigible, and not able to sit on it anymore, when they opened the floor up for questions raised my hand and asked the panel. ” Considering the mention of race and racism and lingering problems of race and privilege what impact do you see that having on the ability of the state to succeed in a global economy?” I also pointed out that the professor who had given graduation rates for NC students had not disaggregated the data by race and gender. If he had, he would have had to report that fewer that 50% of black males and Latino males in NC graduate from high school.
I am sure there is the odd individual who has invented something wonderful who did not finish high school, but considering you usually need money to develop your invention or innovation and banks tend to take a dim view of poor people without high school educations, I am pretty confident that the majority of black and Latino males in the state will not become leaders in industry. I would think any truly viable discussion of “human capital” would take that into account. Who knows what Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is dropping out of high school this week and will never reach his potential?
Ah but dear readers, here lies the rub. Too many people believe those young men do not have any potential, they are disposable. And lest you think it is only white folks who think so, let me tell you that the black woman moderator tried her darnedest to leave my question and go to the next one. Race had not been mentioned for 2.5 hours of a 3 hour session, but neither the black male or the black female saw fit when it was their turn to talk to bring it up. Well the black man did make an oblique reference to race, he said that “a lot of our students are not doing well in school and they do not speak English , and they look like me”. So I presume all the white students speak standard English and none of the black students do. Adding insult to injury, he said in response to my question ,” We all know there is racism and sexism in NC, like there is all over America, but I try not to dwell on it.” Bless his little Uncle Tom heart. When you are talking about educational disparities and lack of academic achievement ( one of the CEOs reported that when they go to hire factory workers fully 40% of them either fail a basic math and English test or the drug test) how are you going to leave race out of the discussion? A few minutes later, when you could see my question was still percolating in some of the panel members’ brains and the cabinet member made reference to it, the NeoStepandFetchit decided he wanted some of that perceived social justice advocacy referred to ( the cabinet member referred to me as “that lady) so he drew himself up to slight height and announced ringingly to the audience ( unfortunately he has a voice like a six year old) ” America will never prosper if she continues to leave 1/3 of her people behind.” “He got a goodly amount of applause for this pap and I am sure went home just sure he had stood up for the cause!
As Pogo said years ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I have never in my life run into so many black people who are willing to purchase the approval and rewards that come with being one of the master’s tools, with their dignity and ethics. These are the most obedient, grateful and delusional black folks I have ever run into.
I did not expect the white millionaires to bring up race. I doubt any of them even see black people on a regular basis, or think about any race, or about race at all. Money is a wonderful insulator. But you would think the blacks, who were not millionaires would bring up a few little details like the achievement gap.
There was a reception after the program, but I was, by that time, in no fit mood to make nice. I would probably have said something that would have had me banned from future gatherings of the beautiful people as unworthy revolutionary rabble. On second thought I should have stayed and had a couple of glasses of wine and some fun!