Edwin M. Yoder's "Obstacles to Black Success" (op-ed, Aug. 31) is an old anthem with new words but with the same meaning. The message, historically old, is this: Blacks are responsible for their own plight; American racism is dead; we are now in a racial Garden of Eden ("a colorblind society") with no discrimination -- only those who don't want to succeed fail, and most blacks fail because they "lack the zest" and are too lazy to succeed.
Yoder writes, "Why can't the competitive ethos that produces and makes cultural heroes of the Michaels (Jordan and Jackson) and Dwight Gooden produce a few Jordans of algebra, Jacksons of history and Goodens of Tennyson with publicity to match?" The answer, Yoder, is that blacks do produce them and do celebrate their academic achievers publicly. It is the ethos of the nation that makes them invisible, and some of us believe that this is not accidental.
As an example of how blacks give honor and publicity to academic achievers, the NAACP at its national convention, for the last seven years, has celebrated the academic achievements of high school blacks. It has done this through the NAACP's ACTSO Program (Academic, Cultural, Technical, Scientific Olympics) -- the olympics of the mind.
Annually, over 300 black students from all over the country gather from their regional competition to compete in this event. They come with the presence and support of their teachers, parents and NAACP sponsors. They compete in mathematics, chemistry, physics, computer science, the arts, architecture and photography. Some have already competed and been national winners against nonblack competitors. These young people cheer the winners with the noise and enthusiasm of partisans at a football game.
There are three finalists in every category -- bronze, silver and gold medal winners. In one city as this program began, all TV camera persons folded their equipment and left the auditorium, apparently being told by their reporters that this was not newsworthy. None of the local papers the next day reported this event or carried pictures of any of the winners.
Black organizations -- churches, civic groups, fraternities, sororities and social clubs have historically celebrated, given monetary awards and publicly featured their academic achievers. The same is true of the black media (Yoder apparently never reads Ebony and Jet). But it is the nation that makes our black achievers invisible and gives preferential publicity to black athletes, entertainers and comedians. Blacks don't control this public boosting of their non-academics. They wished they did.
In 1986, the NAACP will hold its national convention in Baltimore. I invite Yoder to attend that session where ACTSO will be featured. He will witness a true, black celebration of its academic achievers that will probably not make the 6 o'clock news. Then he will be able to write about how blacks honor academic excellence from what he sees and not from what he wants to believe and feels.