Black History Month is as good a time as any for that elusive “national conversation” we never seem to have in this country.
Yes, we can talk about all the problems African Americans suffer from and how they can be traced to White racism, White privilege, and back to slavery and Jim Crow. Instead, let’s look at how successful African Americans are.
My interests are mainly in Italian American affairs, but it is often helpful to compare our progress with other groups.
The U.S. Census statistics point to African Americans as low on the socio-economic ladder. But read any newspaper, watch television, or go to the movies and you can’t help but be impressed by what African Americans have achieved. It is not a stretch to say they are a powerful segment of our society. They dominate most professional sports – earning mega salaries; they have their own music industry (Hip Hop), they have reached the U.S. presidency, the Supreme Court, and have forty-one members of Congress. They have stable, prosperous neighborhoods as well as gritty ones. Their presence in the media – as news anchors, reporters, and show hosts – gives them national influence. Their dignity and intelligence are second to none.
In entertainment, they pretty much mold their own image. Have you ever tuned into the annual NAACP Image Awards? Many of the awards go to shows on BET (Black Entertainment Television), their own cable station. Hollywood and Madison Avenue constantly celebrate Black achievement, document Black suffering, and market to Black consumers. I recently saw the movie 12 Strong, based on the story of a U.S. Special Forces team in Afghanistan that helped bring down the Taliban after 9/11. Although the actual team was all White, a Black commando was inserted for appeal.
African American success was launched with the civil rights movement which spawned affirmative action and media respect. Some 18% of all federal employees are Black even though they are only 12% of the U.S. population. They have an edge in college admissions via affirmative action but, by their own initiative, they established the United Negro College Fund to support 37 traditional Black institutions. These schools educate 60,000 students, 75% of whom get federal Pell grants.
One secret of Black success is their proprietary religion – Black denominations and Black preachers. It was no accident that most civil rights leaders were preachers. And, their colleges produced such luminaries as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., filmmaker Spike Lee, former Homeland Security director Jeh Johnson, and actor Samuel L. Jackson. Both their religion and their colleges inculcate pride and heritage.
And they don’t waste what they learn. Black leaders know how to tap the spigots of government largesse for museums, education, and subsidies of every kind. They understand voting blocs and how to use media clout. By comparison, Italian Americans are babes in the woods. We are politically inept, economically detached from the public trough, and intellectually scatter-brained when it comes to heritage.
Two examples of how the media is sensitized to Black image both happened in Italy.
The infamous trial of American student Amanda Knox in Perugia for the murder of a British exchange student was media-driven by the theme of Knox as a promiscuous White co-ed. Here in the United States that media focus distracted the public from the man who was actually convicted of the murder – an immigrant from the Ivory Coast named Rudy Guede.
Another recent example was the shooting by an Italian neo-Nazi in an African neighborhood outside Rome. Five Blacks were wounded but few media reports divulged the gunman’s motive: an 18-year Italian girl had been murdered and dismembered days before, her body parts stuffed into two suitcases. A Nigerian immigrant was arrested after evidence was found in his apartment.
Why don’t we get complete news?
Some groups are well insulated in society. Rather than bemoan this fact we should give those groups credit for their skills of persuasion. African Americans are among the winners. -JLM