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Why Do We Settle?

By on July 9, 2013

My Black friend laughed when I said I wanted a PhD. She advised me to settle for “something easier.” This is the mindset of many Blacks. We’ve been conditioned since slavery not to strive for advancement. If you look at many Black characters in media geared towards a Black audience, many of them fit the roles of entertainers, athletes, or assistants. Conversely, Whites see themselves in a wide gamut of careers. There are few jobs where you are not working under somebody, but many Blacks intentionally avoid climbing the ladder. During slavery, it was a matter of life or death, but the trait of “not ruffling any feathers” continues.

Many Blacks want jobs such as models, actors, singers, writers, nurses while shunning the idea of having a top managerial position. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be a lawyer, but the point is if you genuinely want to be a judge someday, it is prevalent in our culture to discourage advancement and to instead settle with what we have. If you are truly happy being a teacher and have no desire to be a principal, this is perfectly fine. However, the issue comes with those who actually want to be a principal, but refuse to move forward because an internal inferiority status. There are few Blacks corporate executives getting the same amount of attention as athletes and entertainers, making it appear  we cannot do much of anything else.

We compensate by segregating ourselves from mainstream America. Rather than becoming the best university, we call it the best Black university. Rather than the best restaurant, we call it the best Black restaurant. There is no reason why an HBCU cannot be on the same academic field of a predominantly White university.

By isolating ourselves, we are practically demanding failure; there simply aren’t enough Blacks in the US to ensure anything that is catered solely towards Blacks will become as successful as something catered to a wider demographic, such as an age group. One misconception is that rappers are mainly supported by Blacks. In fact, Whites make up the largest consumers of rap. This explains the success of The Cosby Show. Bill Cosby tailored the sitcom to American audiences–not Black audiences. This is why Tyler Perry’s awards and nominations are principally from Black organizations; he heavily accommodates his works towards Blacks. Though his productions are popular in the eyes of Blacks, they are less so by mainstream organizations like the Golden Globes.

One solution is to increase the attention of Blacks in careers that aren’t typically associated with our community, and we must endeavor to break out of “Black America” and into “America.” We cannot expect to reach our greatest potentials (and to put a dent in racism) if we continue to intentionally surround ourselves with people who look, think, and act like us. After all, in the early 1900s, Nannie Helen Burroughs wrote one thing the Negro must do is “…operate business for people — not only for Negro people.” 

Ramal Johnson was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and is a graduate student at Norfolk State University. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Augustine’s College and aspires to work in the media industry. Tweet him @RamalJohnson.

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