Monday, May 9, 2011

The Impossibility of Black Achievement

Back when I was applying to law school I used to be a regular on some of the chat sites where other newly admitted law students would go and talk with each other about the admissions process, which schools they were going to, and all of that jazz.  At some point during these many discussions, I'll never forget that there was this one young lady who had received a 171 on the LSAT (out of a possible 180), was accepted at Columbia, Harvard, NYU, Georgetown and several other top ranked law schools, and was constantly admired for the sound advice she gave to other first-year hopefuls based on her own experiences.  And then it happened.  One day it came out that this particular commentator was Black.  All of a sudden the attitudes towards her achievements changed overnight.  Her acceptances were either completely attributed to affirmative action or disbelieved altogether.  Her LSAT score was immediately called into question.  One individual even went so far as to create an entire post dedicated to disproving that anybody who "spoke" like she did could not possibly have earned a 171 on the LSAT because, according to this individual, people who score that high do not talk as informally as she did.  In other words, no Black person is capable of such a feat.

A few years after my graduation I came across another Black female attorney who had stellar credentials.  Every type of honor you can think of, she had it.  She was senior in experience to most of the associates at her law firm and the firm used her quite frequently to do legal research for some of its largest and most prestigious clients. Yet, when it came time to give credit where credit was due, the firm consistently credited any legal victories to the other White males on her team.  In some cases, even giving credit to White males who were several years her junior who barely had a grasp of what the case was about.  To the partners at her firm, it was simply incomprehensible that the winning argument that they had relied upon in court to their benefit was actually developed by one of their Black attorneys.  In other words, no Black person is capable of such a feat.

Of course nobody wants to say that directly.  To do so would clearly be racist and if there's one thing we know that mainstream America hates it is being labeled with the "R"-word.  But much like the ostrich sticking its head in the sand, hiding from the problem in your own little world does very little to address the problem in reality.  Indeed, it is America's collective failure to address its race problem that continues to color our actions, decisions, and beliefs everyday.

Consistent with that theme:

A new Gallup poll conducted May 2 finds that 71% of Americans credit Barack Obama with the killing of Osama bin Laden, “a great deal or a moderate amount,” and 52% give former President George W. Bush “a great deal or a moderate amount” of credit.

While 71% of Americans think President Obama should receive credit for killing bin Laden, that still leaves 29% of Americans (almost a third) who feel that this great accomplishment cannot possibly be attributable to Barack Obama.  Likewise, 52% of Americans believe that the credit for an event this historic must surely lie with a White male President, even if said President has been out of office for nearly 3 years.  The fact that people can literally believe that Obama does not deserve credit for an act that he did almost defies belief...that is until you consider the perspective of where those people are coming from. In other words, no Black person is capable of such a feat.

Indeed, there still remains a significant swath of Americans who continue to act out of their disbelief over the fact that we actually have a Black man sitting in the highest office of the land.  They'll concede that there are some jobs that Blacks can actually earn on their own, but the Presidency of the United States is not one of them.  The Presidency, by their view, is a position that no Black person could possibly attain and until it returns to its rightful owner they are fully justified in asking for his birth records, asking for his college transcripts, calling him a liar on the House floor, mitigating his role in the assassination of the most notorious terrorist the world has ever seen, questioning his motives to visit Ground Zero, denying his authority, and depriving him of any other right or privilege that would be (and has been) afforded to any other similarly situated White male President throughout our nation's history. In short, as far as this crowd is concerned, Barack Obama is not the President of the United States.  We're simply going through a transitional phase right now until the real President comes along.

We may not realize it, but our perspectives have the power to affect the world around us every day.  Imagine how differently all of this President's achievements and shortcomings would play out on the national stage if the entire American collective had truly come to terms with the fact that Black people really are capable of achieving many coveted stations in life, including the Presidency, through their own merit.  It is difficult to imagine that in such a world the "birther" issue would have even received a second look, let alone served as the basis for Donald Trump's rise to prominence among the GOP.  It is also difficult to imagine that in such a world anyone would have felt comfortable in shouting out "you lie" in the middle of a President's formal address, let alone profiting politically and financially from such an act of disrespect.  America has come a long way in dealing with its original sin, but until we can shake ourselves of the impossibility of Black achievement in certain areas of our society, these problems will continue to shape our national debate whether we stick our collective heads in the sand or not.


Have you experienced or witnessed this type of phenomenon in your academic or professional career? Please share.
Why do you think this problem continue to persist?
What can be done to combat and/or solve this problem?
Will the next Black President (assuming we have one) have an easier road to walk because of Obama?
Is affirmative action to blame for the negative stigma placed on Black and other minority success stories?
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