Dear Dr. Comer:
Your answer to the lady concerned about some "sorry black men" was excellent.
But I feel you were remiss in not suggesting that she attempt to install the work ethic into her children. I run two small businesses and, believe me, it is very difficult to find young people who are willing to put in a day's work for a day's pay.
Those few that do are soon rewarded and moved on and up to bigger and better things. I have taught my children to put out 110 percent. No matter what the job -- washing dishes, sweeping floors -- try to be the best darn dishwasher or floor sweeper that an employer ever had.
Sooner or later he will notice and reward you. You know it works. P. E.
Dear P. e.:
Today it often does work. Unfortunately this has not always been the case for blacks.
Times have changed but the burden of the past lingers on. One cause of the "sorry-black-man" syndrome was the utter hopelessness about advancement except for the few lucky and talented enough to become teachers, doctors, and later, lawyers and social workers.
Business and politics -- the areas that enabled most individuals and groups to "make it" -- where closed to blacks during the important growth period of America. There were too few black success stories for young blacks to come in contact with, learn from, and be encouraged and supported by.
The work ethic is very much a part of the old black culture. My parents taught me exactly what you taught your children. But such lessons had little meaning in areas where you couldn't get ahead, or even earn a living wage, no matter how hard you worked. This situation created "sorry" behavior -- irresponsible family and community conduct -- and was transmitted from one generation to the next.
This problem has always affected blacks and whites, a disproportionate number of blacks because of extreme socioeconomic conditions. Whites in economically underdeveloped and troubled cities and rural areas are also greatly affected. It least affects groups that have been able to maintain family, religious and social networks that promote a work and responsibility ethic.
Our negative national attitude about people who have low prestige jobs is also a part of the problem. Mass communication -- television and films -- has also contributed to the problem by creating unrealistic expectation among all people. Many young people now demand instant success and affluence and distain hard work and low prestige jobs.
Persons lowest on the socioeconomic totem pole are particularly sensitive to prestige issues.
For example, when I visited Israel a few years ago, officials pointed out that Jews from areas where they were most persecuted were least receptive of low prestige jobs. Throughout Europe immigrants hold jobs that native born persons won't hold.
Nonetheless, I agree with you that parents should teach their children to be good and responsible workers. Schools should do the same; recognizing that acquiring such habits is as important as learning the three Rs. This child who is taught to work only when the reward is outstanding may never develop personal skills needed to be a good and responsible worker. He or she will then not be in a position to create better opportunities or will not be a candidate for them when they do come along.
Conditions are somewhat better today for blacks, though bars to advancement do exist. But youngsters who have acquired habits related to low opportunities in the past are going to need some extra help. Parents, teachers, employers and others may have to be quite explicit about how to take care of a job and the benefits and consequences of doing so and not doing so. Dr. Comer