This guest commentary is intended to try to undo an important measure of the malicious mischief done, however unintentionally, by The Post's most recent series of articles and editorials aimed at discrediting blacks seeking to enter the commercial mainstream of this city and the enlightened policy of the Barry administration in fostering such access. Unfortunately, the one-time gift of this space can never equal the reckless and relentless pattern of such criticism, unless those responsible lend an open mind when next addressing this subject on the merits and pause before poisoning the tips of their pens to consider the mis-message of their words.
What follows does not claim to be an exhaustive discussion of all of the technical asides in need of a public airing, such as the established legitimacy of equity given in new ventures without cash contributions; or the proper limits and traditions of patronage and polictical influence; or, for that matter, the historic role uniquely played by black lawyers in the imaginative redesign of publicly supported institutions to accomodate new socioeconomic objectives. Rather, ours is an effort at providing light rather than heat on the controlling matters of principle at the foundation of such business development initiatives.
First, let us be clear: capitalism is not only the theory of our economy; it is the substance of our form of government. Political machinery and means of expression follow financial patterns of control.Of course, the King James version of our political theory would have it otherwise, but the facts of life are that candidates, absent strong issues of policy or ideoloogy, tend to be elected through media and organization as byproducts of money. Therefore, the right to vote and the right to run for office realistically have little meaning unless coupled with the right to win as opposed to the mere right to run. Hence, political independence in the black community inherently requires independent means of support in order to be real.
But politics in a society as complex as the United States' cannot and should not be defined as narrowly as the titular elective process alone; it involves more. Political questions are shaped long after elections by the constant interventions from the private sector, most of which originate in the quiet unofficial circles of influence only accessible to fully financial participants. It is in these powerfull circles that black interests lack peer articulation and advocacy.
How can sophisticated public administration lend its support on these concerns? Although many would deny it, the facts speak for themselves. Proprietary government policy is one of the most important arbitars of who gets what and how much. The full implications of this recognition become more dramatic when coupled with the knowledge that public policy is itself unduly influenced by those who already have. Therefore, if "equal protection" and "due process" under the law are to be given any meaning in substance as opposed to form, ways must be found to enable those who have not, in both political and economic terms, to improve sumultaneously their condition in both areas since the two have a symbiotic relation. Seen this way, it is not only the prerogative of those who shape public policy to provide initiatives for equal access to capital in this city; it must be their duty in the pursuit of a community that is open in substance and not just in form. And it is only by virtue of such leverage that the time-honored old-boy network can finally be integrated, since blacks are scardely well positioned to be invited in or to buy in on their own resources.
But this should not in any way be viewed as a unique departure simply for the benefit of blacks. If anything, the difference is that there has only been aboveboard and publicized treatment of the matter with regard to blacks. On the other hand, we have witnessed repeatedly procurement officers of federal and regional public bodies, such as the well-documented case against the Agency for International Development, make millionaires of former employees, friends and crony firms, even in stark violaltion of public policy. Similarly, such agencies have systematically flaunted or perverted the laws requiring affirmative minority business support while creating a media smoke screen of difficulty in making such programs work.
It is ironic in the extreme for the Olympians who own and manage the Post-Newsweek empire, after begrudgingly acknowledging a theoretical value in affirmative public policy toward black entrepreneurship, to then offer, as the preferred means for pursuing it, neighborhood and non-profit vehicles. Such arguments bring us dangerously close to the essence of racism, which must be defined to include not only treating siimilar people differently , but also treating different people the same simply based on their race.
Not before the Greater Washington Board of Trade is to be urged to merge with the United Givers Fund and each of its members is to be exhorted to invite the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to make their corporate decisions can a non-racist argument be made that blacks should do likewise. Let me hasten to warn that this should not in any way be taken as a callous rejection of those legitimate economic and employment interests that are not middle class. On the contrary, my many years of community development experience and those of others unanimously confirm that the best way to ensure job stability and econommic development through minority enterprise is by more rather than less centralized decision-making in the hands of individual decision-makers with a personal stake in success. This is especially significant in light of our recent findings that most minority business employ a work force that is 80 percent comprised of inner-city wage earners anyway.
The gravity of what is written here far exceeds the short-term issues of the moment. It goes to the long-term questions of how our nation must ultimately enable the distant relatives of slaves to share an equal stake in the country's future. This will come, and this will only come, when they can know by example, rather than formal words alone, that their color is no longer a bar to the full range of private power, prestige and prerogative that has always been common to white America. And in that larger sense, what is at stake here for these few much maligned "lucky black lawyers," to recoin the phrase of The Post's Nov. 11 editorial, is not just access to a private piece of the rock, but the only means for accomplishing an ultimate civil right. As such, our local and national strategy search for minority economic parity is reflective of that taking place throughout the Third World, whereby political assets are being translated through creative leadership into economic stability and independence. Here as there, it is not to be wondered at that the beneficiaries of the existing privileged order object; our insisitence is that they not be the only ones to write the rules.