[This is not the exact version that National Review published. Instead, it’s my final draft, so don’t blame NR for my lapses in proofreading. The published version was about 20% shorter than this.]
As the competitors in the Olympics grow ever more representative of the entire globe, the more obvious becomes the kaleidoscopic variety of the human race’s gene pool. Back in the Chariots of Fire days, when entry was largely restricted to genteel North Atlantic amateurs, the games chiefly showcased the most gifted white males. Today, though, by inviting pros from 197 countries, the Olympics spotlight differences not only among individuals, but among ethnic groups. The summer Games are now the world’s festival of genetic diversity.
In Atlanta, for example, Kenyan, Ethiopians, and other elegantly slender East African men are again excelling in running races from 800 to 10,000 meters. [This draft was finished the week before the 1996 Olympics, but the predictions held up extremely well. As it turned out, East Africans won the 3000, 5000, 10,000, and Marathon.] In contrast, explosively muscular men of West African descent like America’s Michael Johnson are once more virtually monopolizing the sprints and hurdles from 100 to 400 meters. [Men of West African descent did monopolize all events of 100 to 400 meters, winning gold in all seven events.] On the basketball court, European squads’ fantasies of gold are being crushed by a U.S. Dream Team of eleven West African-Americans and a lone white. [And that’s exactly what happened].
These heroic performances by blacks will come as no surprise to American sports fans. Fifty years after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, it is now clear that equality of opportunity in America’s top team sports has lead not to equality of results but to black supremacy. A random African-American is currently about 15 times more likely to reach the NFL and 28 times more likely the NBA than a random nonblack. Even in baseball, a sport with which many African-Americans have become bored, black American ballplayers have earned 11 of the last 20 Most Valuable Player awards (1987-1996).
Mentioning these tremendous accomplishments, however, inspires unease among white intellectuals. They shrink from serious analysis of modern athletics, even though its relatively level playing fields and voluminous statistics offer us simplified but brutally clear models for testing our theories of how the real world works. Numerous writers and editors believe it’s best to block average sports fans from noticing black preeminence because it threatens the orthodoxy that all groups must be equal in all ways. Specifically, if told the truth, fans might conclude that if blacks are stronger on average physically, then they might be weaker on average mentally. As well-intentioned as this journalistic cover-up may be, it suffers one shortcoming: it doesn’t work. Fans don’t have to read about black superiority, they see it for themselves round the clock on ESPN, and discuss it endlessly in every sports bar in America.
Sadly, barroom blather is a limited vehicle for advancing our understanding of race. And that’s the real problem with trying to airbrush this fascinating topic out of the press. The taboo certainly doesn’t slow down those whites who merely want to conclude that since blacks are more athletic, then whites must be more intelligent, end of story. The good news is that there’s more to the story. The bad news is it’s not getting heard.
We must finally confront the much dreaded implications of black athletic superiority. That liberals are afraid to look hard at sports and race implies that helping blacks may have become less important to them than shielding the prestige of their own investment in a theory of racial uniformity that, despite its heroic service in the 1960’s, is now running on vapors. Like generals yearning to refight the last war, for 25 years the civil rights establishment and its army of fellow travelers in the press have forced the same strategy that once won black legal equality upon the current struggle for black personal fulfillment and economic prosperity. Affirmative action, however, has proven not just futile but perverse, especially for black men, because black equality is too modest a goal. By operationally defining “economic equality” to mean scattering a representative percentage of blacks into every field — in effect, trying to turn blacks into a scale model of whites — affirmative action encourages widespread psychological frustration and long-term economic stagnation among black men.
Why? In the job market, if you are equal, you are just a commodity. How to succeed in business? Find some niche where your talents and connections aren’t merely mediocre but potentially superior, sweat to fortify these competitive advantages, then monopolize the hell out of them. Immigrant groups thrive because they understand acutely the advantages of specialization (e.g., Asian Indians, the most successful of the recent arrivals, manage about half of America’s motels). In the sports market, where affirmative action hardly exists, blacks grasp this logic equally well. Blacks don’t comprise 12.4% of NBA players, 12.4% of synchronized swimmers, 12.4% of monster truck drivers, etc. Instead, blacks concentrate overwhelmingly on games where they are most apt to possess natural edges. In turn, this narrow focus grants them sizable cultural advantages: growing up amidst a critical mass of players, coaches, and aficionados, black youths can conveniently absorb the needed expertise.
By dogmatically (and defensively) insisting that all ethnic groups must be equal in all ways, liberal fundamentalists have stymied discussion of just what competitive advantages blacks do tend to possess, and how they could get more mileage out of them in the general job market. By dismissing sports as mere feats of brawn unworthy of intelligent inquiry, liberal intellectuals ironically overlook that black sports success reflects not just physical but, as we shall see, mental superiorities — Assets that blacks could exploit in other careers, too. Asking four major questions might encourage a new, more productive way to think about America’s racial impasse.
I. Are blacks the best athletes? What do sports fans mean when they say that blacks are better athletes than whites? Well, they are not saying that Al Sharpton could outskate Wayne Gretzky, that any black can beat any white in any game. Rather, men of West African descent appear to be stronger performers on average in basketball and football. (Please keep in mind that throughout I’ll be talking about tendencies, not rules. Individuals vary enormously. Also, note that differences between people, even, say, between Carl Lewis and Ross Perot, are microscopic compared to the differences between, say, termites and people, even Mr. Perot.)
But, are basketball and football the best tests of athleticism? What about the hundreds of other sports in which blacks have not triumphed, like surfing, curling, or dog sled mushing? How can Americans so confidently assume that basketball and football are more demanding than, say, English Channel-swimming (at which walrus-shaped whites stand out)? If the greatest basketball player is automatically the greatest athlete in the world, as so many presume, why has Michael Jordan flopped at baseball and golf?
Clearly, there are many different athletic skills. So, how can we possibly claim that one man is a better athlete than another, much less that one race is more athletic than another? This is exactly analogous to a common attack on Richard Herrnstein’s and Charles Murray’s contention in The Bell Curve that Asians and whites tend to be smarter than blacks: How can just one number represent all the many kinds of mental talents?
In sports, the closest analogy to the IQ test is the decathlon. Olympic decathletes compete in 10 track and field events, but against the stopwatch and measuring tape rather than each other. Their 10 tallies are summed, and the overall highest scorer is hyped as the “world’s greatest athlete.” Similarly, IQ isn’t just a single measure as some critics claim, but a sophisticated aggregating of many skills. Of course, any scheme for weighting the components must be somewhat arbitrary. For example, just as black decathletes often excel in sprinting and whites in upper body strength events, Jews and Japanese both tend to score above average on IQ tests, but in opposite manners. Jews often display exceptional verbal logic linked with mediocre visualization skills, and vice-versa for Japanese. Who can really say in the abstract how track vs. field or verbal vs. visual scores should be weighted? 50-50? 80-20? It all depends on the task at hand.
For example, you can often make more money by perfecting a few skills and finding a role that suits them, than by being pretty good at everything. Take slugging first baseman Cecil Fielder, who is “well-rounded” only in girth, yet will rake in close to $9 million in 1996, far more than any of those ever so versatile decathletes. Tremendous strength compensates for Mr. Fielder being only slightly more mobile than a mausoleum.
Another unavoidable shortcoming of objective measurements like the decathlon and the IQ test is that so many talents useful in sports or in life in general are subjective, and thus hard to quantify with a stopwatch or a #2 pencil: e.g., faking out a tackler in football, rousing your platoon in combat, or sweet talking a customer in business. How could Magic Johnson, a basketball player with little skill at leaping or jump shooting, lead the Lakers to five titles? More valuable was his supreme faculty for anticipating what the other nine players would do. Or consider Dennis Rodman. Although “only” 6’8″, he’s made himself the greatest rebounder since 7’1″ Wilt Chamberlain. Mr. Rodman’s edge is his ability to predict, based partly on rigorous study of the NBA’s shooters and partly on a queerly artistic intuition, where a ball just leaving the shooter’s fingertips will ultimately bounce.
The IQ test was invented by a Frenchman, so it’s not surprising it’s good at gauging what the French value most: impersonal reasoning in a formal setting. It’s worth remembering, though, that since Josephine Baker, Parisians have been importing African-American artists to dazzle them with that improvisatory creativity at which the French seem so hopeless.
So, just as the decathlon is a valiant but hardly conclusive attempt to rank athletes, the use of IQ to rank thinkers, while certainly handy, has significant limits: talents differ in importance depending on the situation, and standardized objective tests can’t measure crucial subjective skills. However, most Bell Curve detractors can’t take much comfort from the validity of this critique, because this logic also undermines their own core tenet that the races must be absolutely identical. You see, the more skills there really are, the less plausible it is that all groups possess exactly equal potential on all these dimensions. The more ways people are different from each other, the less conceivable it is that one group is factually superior or inferior to another in some overall manner. And that means that the destructive debate among white supremacists, liberals, and Afrocentrists about whether in some ill-defined manner blacks are empirically inferior, equal, or superior to whites is as meaningless as arguing over whether the sky is equal to the sea. We should view every man as morally equal in the eyes of God and the law; but in terms of actual skills, the only truthful summation must be that each person and each group tend to have many relative strengths and weaknesses.
[This paragraphs was left out of the printed version.] Try merely assessing whether two men are equal just as basketball players. Take Mugsy Bogues and Manute Bol: Mugsy is 5’3″; on defense he’s tough to dribble against; and on offense a great ballhandler. Manute is 7’7″; a superb shot blocker; and offensively, … well, Manute did once kill a lion with a spear. As you can see, all we can confidently say is that Mugsy is much better than Manute in Mugsy’s proper role, and vice-versa. Now, think of the infinite uncertainties in validating the overall equality of all skills of not just two individuals in one profession, but of all the countless ethnic groups across all the jobs in the world. It can’t be done.
Does this more realistic worldview endanger America’s core belief that “all men are created equal?” More likely, by lashing Jefferson’s sacred moral faith to the leaking hulk of the anti-scientific theory that all men are created identical, liberals are threatening to end up scuttling both ideas in a sea of cynicism. In hindsight, it’s clear that America is burdened today by the naiveté of early 20th century liberals in letting white supremacists define their debate as “Are blacks inferior or equal?” That’s an argument blacks can’t win. When your enemy claims, “Apples are inferior to oranges,” there are many logical and wise ways to object. Unfortunately, replying, “Apples are absolutely equal to oranges both overall and in every particular, and anybody who dares question us on any aspect is a fruitist!” is not one of them.
A more meaningful question than “Are blacks the best athletes?” is:
II. Whether or not basketball and football are the ultimate tests of “athleticism,” what empowers blacks to dominate them? Average sports fans would suggest physical advantages in jumping and running. Yet, Sports Illustrated long denounced this as a redneck’s stereotype. Finally, SI found itself on the spot in 1995 when Dr. Roger Bannister, the first four minute miler and a distinguished medical researcher, informed a scientific gathering, “Black sprinters, and black athletes in general, all seem to have certain natural anatomical advantages.” Unable to bring themselves to slander as a racist Sir Roger (SI‘s first “Sportsman of the Year”), the editors grudgingly conceded that maybe this is an open question. In contrast, black athletes’ like the late tennis star Arthur Ashe tend to hold more urbanely realistic views: “… nature, our unique history in America, and our exclusion from other occupations have produced the psychic addiction to success in sports and entertainment. Once the momentum was established, continuing success became a matter of cultural pride. And yes, we do feel certain positions in sports belong to us. Quick, name a white halfback in the National Football League? … Fast runners are born, not made.”
There is a media stereotype that popular stereotypes are always wrong. In reality, they are urban folk wisdom, ordinarily embodying some truth. This one contains a lot. Consider the supremacy of West African sprinters and East African middle to long distance runners. Granted, social settings play a role in determining who wins in which games (polo and yachting are extreme examples). Still, as the editor of Runner’s World, Amby Burfoot, pointed out in his brave article, “White Men Can’t Run,” running is the cheapest, most equal opportunity sport. No purely cultural explanation for the distinct West and East African advantages in footspeed is plausible.
Sadly, too few whites notice that black sports success seems to also originate above the neck, in certain common black mental advantages over whites. For example, in the NFL most offensive linemen, who diligently execute the coach’s plays, are white. Most defensive linemen, who instantly devise their own responses, are black. More spectacularly, black basketball players like Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving blew wide open a stodgy game of set-piece plays. White coaches long resisted their black players’ ability to make it up as they went along. The only man to consistently hold Michael Jordan to no more than 20 points per game was Dean Smith, his college coach. Yet, “playground jungle ball” eventually routed predictable white-style basketball. Obviously, the occasional Larry Bird or John Stockton show that some whites can master the black game. Still, whites seem less often able to meet modern basketball’s demands for creative improvisation and on-the-fly interpersonal decision-making. As Thomas Sowell notes, “To be an outstanding basketball player means to out-think opponents consistently in these split-second decisions under stress.” Beyond basketball, these black cerebral superiorities in “real time” responsiveness also contribute to black dominance in jazz, running with the football, rap, dance, trash talking, preaching, and oratory. (Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, improvised the immortal conclusion to his “I Have a Dream” speech.)
A second advantage that black men enjoy over white men — in manly charisma — can be deduced by first returning to that knotty question of why do so many people think blacks are the best athletes. The usual rationalization — “We know blacks are best because they dominate basketball and football” — seems unconvincing because those sports reward raw size as much as agility or endurance. The NBA draws a large majority of its players from the less than 2% of American males who are at least 6’3″. Why assume that the world’s greatest athlete is 6’6″ Michael Jordan rather than a soccer superstar, like Diego Maradona or Romario, who must compete against athletes of almost all countries and heights? We Americans tell ourselves, in effect, “Black Americans must be the best athletes because they are the best at the sports that American blacks are best at.”
Curiously, the rest of the world is starting to agree with our logic, circular as it may be. During 1990-1995, Mr. Jordan earned over $150 million from endorsements, more than twice any other athlete on Earth, with a surprising amount coming from abroad. The worldwide marquee value of other black basketball stars like 7’1″, 300 pound Shaquille O’Neal (#2 globally with $17 million in endorsements in 1995) is mounting rapidly.
Why is the world more thrilled by a majestic black man tomahawking a dunk than by, say, a 220 pound white woman swimming the Bering Strait? Ultimately, it comes down to: What are sports for? At the sociobiological foundation, sports appear to be preparation for (or a diversion from) hunting and fighting. Pro sports make money largely by furnishing male fans with masculine role models, mighty warrior heroes with whom to identify. The world likes basketball because it loves basketball stars. Basketball is just the game where African-Americans can best strut their brand of manliness. And at least for right now, the world sees black American jocks as the epitome of masculinity. For example, among the 23 superstars who play team sports on Forbes’ 1995 list of the world’s highest paid athletes, 16 are black and seven white. The blacks now average more than twice as much each from endorsements as the whites.
III. Do these black advantages originate in culture or in biology? Or do nurture and nature interact? Who knows for sure? I don’t. And neither do all those who insist that there must only be social explanations, that to inquire with an open mind is racist.
Yet, the refusal of certain liberal white males to even consider the possibility of innate black superiority in some sports may stem less from egalitarianism than egotism. For instance, Gregg Easterbrook, one of the Atlantic Monthly’s highest IQ pundits, began his denunciation of The Bell Curve by recounting that once he’d played pickup basketball daily in a black neighborhood. Within a few weeks he’d improved so much the black guys were actually “wanting me on their team.” His feat made such an impression on himself that years later it discredits for him the evidence for genetic differences. Is Mr. Easterbrook’s reasoning driven by an idealistic (if patronizing) urge to affirm that a proper upbringing could have made a neoliberal intellectual out of, say, The Shaq? Or, is it intended to convince us (and maybe himself) that beneath his disguise as a mild-mannered reporter, the real Gregg Easterbrook is man enough to deserve his own line of Nikes?
Unfortunately for Mr. Easterbrook’s logic, if effort alone counted in sports, Mexicans would rule big league baseball. In reality, there are countless good Mexican players, but, according to the L.A. Dodger’s chief Mexican scout (who is Mexican-born himself), due to a tendency toward short-legged slowness, there are almost no great Mexican ballplayers.
What’s the harm of censoring all biology-based explanations of group differences? In fact, to a surprising extent, for each individual it wouldn’t make much practical difference whether success in a particular field is determined 100% by genetic inheritance or 100% by upbringing. Even in either extreme case, the best career advice remains: Choose your parents wisely. Failing that, Choose your field wisely.
Unfortunately, the lack of public discussion about group differences has badly retarded our thinking about what might be the most important question facing America: How can black men earn more money? In even the least slippery of situations it’s hard to grasp how the world works, but with one hand tied behind your back you’ll never get a grip on reality. By smugly tarring as a bigot anyone who even ponders whether there might be fundamental differences, the reigning orthodoxy encourages us to frivolously assume away group inequalities as arbitrary and fleeting, when all history shows that a group’s advantage in particular skills — whatever their origins — can long endure.
Why do ethnic dissimilarities tend to last? For years, academics have tirelessly lectured us that society socializes its members. True, but what socializes societies? Many differences stem from random circumstances of environment, but it also appears that cultures often emphasize and vastly magnify what their members have inborn aptitudes for. Put another way, people will work harder on what they find rewarding and walk away from what they find frustrating. It’s true that there is only a modest correlation between talent and enthusiasm when it comes to some of the fundamental pleasures of life: many folks who are embarrassingly awful at sex or golf still wade right in. But, for lesser urges, innate skills help socialize society. For instance, the white suburban culture I grew up in stressed jump shooting over slam dunking in basketball. Why? Because 99% of us white boys couldn’t jam without a ladder.
Of course, if you are raised in a segregated society, you may not notice how clumsy your performance is until newcomers show you. This helps explain the curious fact that the integration of a society frequently deepens the segregation of roles. For instance, growing up, I played a lot of badminton at family picnics, where I was the scourge of my cousins. Thus, at college I rushed to sign up for intramural badminton. In contrast to Mr. Easterbrook’s triumphs, I soon discovered to my lumbering chagrin that lithe little Indonesians and Indians play badminton at a pace that left me befuddled. I’ve rarely picked up a shuttlecock since.
Although affirmative action’s key assumption is that statistical inequality in hiring demonstrates bias, this opposite tendency for more equal opportunity to often lead to less equal allotment of jobs is visible globally. In other words, integration of a society frequently deepens the segregation of roles. In monoethnic Japan, for example, Japanese fill all the roles advanced societies seem to require, including game show host, organized crime boss, professional wrestler, barroom bouncer, repo man, crooked politician, and scary cult leader. In multiethnic America, however, Japanese-Americans find themselves confronted by an abundance of job-hunters proficient at shooting the breeze or violently intimidating people. Rather than toil to equal other Americans in these skills, Japanese-Americans instead generally converge in those fields like engineering and health where they find competition less formidable.
Similarly, a group can tire of a career or pastime even if its members tend to be better than their rivals, if they enjoy more glittering opportunities elsewhere. This helps explain the strange tale of blacks and baseball over the last few decades. Within pro baseball, integration has caused segregation by position. The Negro Leagues starred legendary pitchers like Satchel Paige and catchers like Josh Gibson, but African-American Major Leaguers now concentrate primarily in the outfield, where their edge in speed counts most.
Even more unexpectedly, after African-Americans fled Southern segregation, they began specializing in basketball and football at the expense of what had long been their favorite game. Pundits often blame a shortage of baseball diamonds in the inner city. Yet, immigrants from rural Mexico haven’t forsaken fastballs for free throws. More astute observers point to the decline of patriarchy in the black ghettos, since a love of baseball is best passed on by fathers playing catch with sons. Perhaps most important, however, is that black Americans have found baseball, with its straight-line baserunning, less suited for expressing their creativity than basketball or football.
IV. How could black males who aren’t pro athletes make more money in the 21st Century? Although I will emphasize African-Americans’ cerebral and personality advantages as one key to their future economic progress, others might very reasonably prefer to stress more universal morals. For example, the intense effort black youths put into mastering basketball shows once again the value of hard work, a lesson they could remember better in the classroom. However, the half-emptiness of African-American culture’s glass has been lamented by more eloquent voices than mine. So, I’ll discuss its half-fullness. I’ll especially focus on the better-educated black male.
Since distinctions between groups are inevitable and often long-lasting, one strategy for economic advancement is to look for new markets for a group’s traditional strengths. For instance, centuries of rabbinical disputes over the Talmud seem to have paved the way for many contemporary Jews to prosper as lawyers. Similarly, how could black men with competitive advantages in creative improvisation and manly charm better exploit them in the job market? Well, it’s easy to first identify an entire class of jobs that don’t particularly reward black men’s strong suits: paper-pushing assignments in stagnant government, corporate, charitable, and educational bureaucracies. Unfortunately, those are exactly what affirmative action programs most often proffer. Although critics often note that affirmative action does little for underclass blacks, few fully understand its ill effects on better educated blacks. The affirmative action worldview insists that blacks simply cannot get ahead the way every other community does — by mastering some well-chosen fields — and therefore the highest potential African-Americans must fritter away their strengths across the entire economy. There is astoundingly little in common between the genteel, memo-writing staff positions often filled by quotas and the rough and tumble careers where black men have most succeeded — like sports, entertainment, the Army, the numbers rackets, store front preaching, and big city politics.
This contrast is especially graphic in the not-for-profit sector. For example, few organizations are more ideologically committed to affirmative action than elite universities’ English Departments, especially those trendy ones obsessed with Deconstructionism, Gender Studies, and Queer Theory. Yet, it’s hard to imagine an employer less suited to an African-American man’s typical strengths (e.g., persuasive speech rather than jargon-drenched writing), ambitions (e.g., becoming a leader of men and making some serious money rather than burnishing one’s sense of cultural and moral superiority), and even romantic styles (e.g., watch out for sexual harassment charges!). There appears to be a Paradox of Voluntary Affirmative Action among non-profits:
1. The more feminist an institution, the more its white leaders will favor affirmative action for blacks applicants.
2. The more accurately the Verbal SAT predicts success within an institution, the more likely the high-scoring white leaders are to talk themselves into lowering test requirements for black applicants.
Therefore, the more whole-heartedly a not-for-profit pursues blacks, the more likely the black men hired will find their jobs pointless and their colleagues insufferable, and the less likely they will be to earn promotions without more quotas.
The flip side of the Paradox is also revealing. (1) The more male-chauvinistic an institution, the more black guys like it. Exhibit A is The Citadel, where the black cadets confounded Shannon Faulkner’s feminist supporters by standing firm for sex discrimination. Seldom mentioned in all the coverage was that The Citadel, which emphasizes character development and leadership training rather than scholarship, is one of the most successful integrated colleges in America at inspiring black males to achieve.
(2) The less relevant that written tests are to a particular career, the more that entrenched whites will stress exams as a way to keep black men out. For example, Irish-American firemen and cops fought for segregation for years, and have since battled for colorblind testing. Why? Because Irish-Americans and African-Americans tend to possess such similar talents (e.g., strength, size, courage, street smarts, a commanding personality, and a touch of blarney) that they’re natural rivals for fire and police jobs. One advantage the Irish possess, however, is in generally scoring higher on written exams, so they swear by testing.
Many conservatives abhor court-ordered quotas, but mildly favor or at least tolerate voluntary affirmative action, especially when it’s just intensified recruiting of blacks rather than lowered standards. Yet, in the not-for-profit sector its impact is often to seduce black men into organizations where they won’t pose much of a threat to the white leadership’s posts. In contrast, blacks are more apt to succeed in those non-profit and civic jobs where they first needed court-imposed quotas to kick in the door.
The nice liberal white who beseeches black men, “I’m your friend, be like me,” isn’t always somebody they could be like and frequently isn’t somebody they would be like, and thus can’t give them a job they’ll do themselves proud in. On the other hand, the not-so-nice white often holds the keys to what could be the right career. Another little-understood problem that will also continue to slow black male economic progress is that while Asian immigrants have flourished in part by their objective skills with numbers, blacks’ advantages are typically in working with people. Thus, blacks are more susceptible than Asians both to residual bias and to debilitating fear of bias. I don’t know of any quick solutions to either of these difficulties.
That said, what careers should black men consider more seriously in the next century? Since this type of question has been unthinkable under the reigning intellectual orthodoxy, my answers haven’t yet been adequately assayed by public debate. But somebody has to stick his neck out first. So here goes:
Conservatives often advise blacks to start their own small businesses. However, African-Americans tend to face fierce competition from immigrants who can call upon more dependable relatives for advice, loans, and labor. Thus, for those African-Americans who are the most ambitious members of their families, integrated profit-seeking companies often provide better opportunities. But which jobs within those firms? For better educated black youths, the good news is that there are some fairly lucrative corporate careers that blacks have not yet widely discovered, but that especially reward persuasiveness and masculine charisma. There is always a price to be paid for breaking into new sectors, but these might hold long-run promise: selling big ticket contracts, stock-brokering, headhunting, and motivational speaking. In a word: Sales.
Unfortunately, the media climate saps the confidence blacks need. A salesguy must overflow with the assurance that the next account will love him more than the last one did. By automatically ascribing all gaps between whites and blacks to discrimination, the press drums up the menace of racism to the point of paranoia. This saps both motivation and that virile self-confidence that inspires customers to buy. Of course, some clients are anti-black, but over time blacks can mitigate that by discovering the less-biased industries and sales territories. Anyway, unfair as it is, the relevant question for a young black career-seeker is not whether he’d get richer if he was a white salesman. No, he needs to ask himself whether he’d ultimately end up generating more money and pride as a black salesman than as quota fodder in a make-work posting like Diversity Sensitivity Liaison.
In addition, the more a black man fears discrimination by his own boss, the more he should consider sales, a field where pay and promotion depend more upon hard numbers than whether your employer likes your attitude. You can fight bigots with rhetoric but you can’t win without figures. For instance, why did baseball begin hiring black players almost two decades before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but never employed a black manager until 1975, and didn’t make them common until the 1990’s? Unlike with players, nobody can quantify whether a baseball manager is definitely good himself or just has a good team. In illustration, Casey Stengel won 10 pennants in 12 years with the mighty Yankees, but never finished higher than fifth in any of his 13 seasons with lesser clubs. In summary, blacks fearful of bias should remember: there is safety in numbers.
Beyond sales, in the next century black men should also be able to better exploit their leadership talent. “Natural leadership” is practically synonymous with something black guys have in abundance: masculine charisma. This equation may sound unspeakably sexist, but whether it stems from The Backlash or human nature, it’s time for black men to cash in on it.
White fears that other whites wouldn’t follow black leaders slowed black advancement into leadership positions for decades. For example, no NFL team started a black at quarterback until into the 1970’s, and the first black head coach didn’t arrive until 1989. Yet, when given a chance, blacks have tended to exert impressive command charisma, even over Southern whites. The performance of black Army sergeants has been exceptionally encouraging. Their success implies that similar unscholarly black men should better be able to work their way up to comparable civilian positions in blue collar management. Unfortunately, affirmative action methodically lures many of these men into white collar careers where their scholastic shortcomings slam a “glass ceiling” down upon their need to lead.
The apathy that too often drags down black males’ job efforts stems partly from this systematic mismatching between those Big Man personalities that black America seems to specialize in (think of Charles Barkley or James Earl Jones), and the modest paper-fumbling billets that affirmative action campaigns pester black men into accepting. The U.S. Army has best exploited the African-American capacity for command, specifically because it doesn’t toss affirmative action victims in over their heads academically.
At the high end, we are likely to see blacks, especially ex-jocks (of whom Congressman J.C. Watts, former Oklahoma quarterback, is the first), furnish the Republican Party with many leaders. David Robinson — the NBA’s 1995 MVP, and a handsome 7′ tall Annapolis graduate — is only the most obvious political thoroughbred in the making. Just as politically conservative Jews, who comprise a tiny fraction of the population, supply much of the GOP’s intellectual firepower, black Republicans, no matter how few overall, will win an impressive number of elective offices within two decades.
In conclusion, we must finally take seriously the value of diversity. The first step is to drop the fashionable but Orwellian habit of saying “diversity” when we mean “sameness.” To pretend that all groups have all the same talents to all the same degree is the antithesis of truly celebrating diversity. By insisting upon “diversity” within all institutions, affirmative action tries to impose the same homogenous demographics across all institutions. This diffuses black talent thinly and impotently across the economic landscape. Rather like what Gandhi once replied when asked his opinion of Christian civilization, diversity is such a great idea that somebody ought to try it.
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