I annoyed a few people a week or so ago when I proposed that blacks, "just for the hell of it," should pretend that racism explains very little of their plight and, on that basis, look for other explanations of the problems that confront them.
The idea was to shift the debate from the easy fingering of culprits to the far trickier problem of finding solutions. But since I don't like to annoy anyone needlessly, I thought I might just turn my little game on its head. Let us assume that racism is a critical impediment to black progress. Let us assume that, by devoting all our efforts and resources to its removal, we are finally able to lay racism to rest.
Then what? Obviously we'd have to do something else. Simply removing racism would put most of black America in exactly the same situation that low-income whites are in today. In other words, the end of racism wouldn't solve black problems; it would only make the solutions possible.
So, assuming success in the elimination of racism, the immediate question would be: What is the next step in order to turn this new opportunity into practical gain? There are a thousand answers to that question, many of them worthy of serious national debate. But I have another question: Why don't we just move directly to the next step right now? And what might some of those next steps be?
For some, the next step might consist of helping people to overcome the deleterious effects of past racism: cultural, attitudinal, educational and otherwise. For others, it might be to help the jobless find work, perhaps by fashioning tax programs and other incentives for the private sector to hire more of the hard-core unemployed; perhaps by rewarding employers who give enthusiastic youngsters a chance to show what they can do, even if their potential doesn't reveal itself in written tests. For still others, it might be to prepare young blacks to take advantage of the post-racism opportunities: by encouraging them to take their education seriously, by remodeling their behavior, by postponing short-term pleasure in the interests of longer-term goals.
For some, the logical next step might be to address the black economic situation. Blacks might, for instance, be encouraged to pool their resources to launch their entrepreneurially minded brothers and sisters into businesses that would make it possible to retain some of the considerable economic muscle of the black community in the black community, thereby creating both wealth and jobs.
Or they might, more conservatively, consider enhancing black economic leverage by concentrating their capital -- including the Sunday-morning collections of black churches -- in specific institutions, perhaps black-owned institutions, which could then be the source of business and mortgage loans for blacks.
The possibilities of "next steps" are subject only to the limits of imagination. The point is: Why not take those next steps now, without waiting for the problematical demise of racism?
The model I have in mind is that of West Coast Asian- Americans, who, if they had waited for the end of anti- Oriental prejudice, might still be living in poverty, rather than outstripping white Americans in education and income, as they in fact are. They still suffer from race prejudice, but they suffer in relative comfort.
Unfortunately, the current model seems closer to that of the Indian reservation, with the emphasis on the level of funding of, and the degree of sympathy manifested by, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The truth -- far easier to see on the reservations than in the ghettos -- is that even if you could ensure that every Indian on the reservation were given the most nutritional food, warm clothing freely supplied and permanent, centrlly heated and cooled housing, the result would be not salvation but cultural, spiritual and economic genocide.