The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Raising Cultural Pride

With February being Black History Month, it begs the question to call attention to the successes Blacks have made in various professions and ways they have proved themselves notable. This year a little more thought went into how to bring attention to the career inroads made by pioneering Blacks.

For a person involved in diversity issues, it's prudent to do comparisons and take note of how each ethnic group draws attention to its positive traits. For example, some ethnicities have successfully gained empathy for their situations and grown from a position of underlings. One group are Jews especially because of the atrocities their ancestors suffered in the Holocaust. Mexicans distinguish themselves through their developments various forms of art. The Chinese and Japanese (Buddhists) gain distinction in two ways: their reputation for having a quiet disposition and their skills in mastery of martial arts, one feeding on the other.

However, it doesn't seem to make a difference into what age we've advanced because Blacks still suffer from the negative stereotypes developed in the 18th and 19th Centuries. They still need to make huge efforts to overcome being judged by the color of their skin. (Mind you, Arabs and Muslims are now suffering similar discriminations but the bases are tied to fear of having a terrorist in the house.)

Compounding the state of affairs for Blacks was the rise of Jim Crow laws and practices in the Reconstruction South, cultural practices of the Antebellum South, and an attitude toward those with darker skins tones that grew out of quite surprising roots. As we learned from's "Who Do You Think You Are?" series, coloreds and Negroes were not considered to be people; they were not even thought of as humans.

Research shows time and time again that people of this race were routinely treated as children would be. Someone else, usually the slave owner, would make decisions for them or become their mentor in some business dealings or endeavors. Many had the opinion that the people were poorly educated, if at all (a throwback to the practice of not allowing slaves to be educated nor learn to read) and therefore had poor comprehension skills. It didn't matter that there were Negroes who had attended some of the most distinguished Ivy League universities and graduated with honors in their disciplines. Their names and accomplishments faded into the background until some stalwart seekers researched the matters.

Time moved forward but the equitable treatment of Blacks did not. Enter the Civil Rights Era when Martin Luther King, Jr., basing his steps toward full integration for Negroes and others on the principles of non-aggression (adopted from Ghandi's teachings), the "proper," conservative coloreds made herculean efforts to not be seen as violent savages in order to win their point. On the other hand were the radical Blacks, such as the Black Panthers and members of the early stages of American Islam, who fomented hate for hate and wore Afro hairdos, in part a statement of defiance and in part a statement of self acceptance and pride.

Throughtout the years there have been stories of the persecutions suffered by slaves and the race. In some cases, these stories paralleled those of the Jews during many of their histories. But Blacks appeared to throw these atrocities into the faces of their audiences without the benefit of lessons about their strengths and accomplishments.

As I said at the beginning of this article, this state of looking at other races and ethnicities and how they've fashioned their cultural accomplishments of one type and another into acceptance and celebration, it made me want to look at how similar stories could be told about the Black (Mother) race. I remembered the research that I did last year in order to bring snippets of Black history to a retirement community throughout the month of February, Black History Month, in order to fulfill the request to do so.

That research brought out some little-known information about American Negroes. Initially it was difficult to understand why some of the history and accomplishments have slipped into oblivion. However, celebrating these accomplishments and showing that they were the means to creating a platform for success would do two things. First, it would reveal the secret to attainment and thus carve out a means of subterfuge and destruction. Second, it would develop a way of thinking that people who are part of the race have no other natural talents. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Women in the field of early science used their traditional roles as hairdressers for the mistress to gain traction in creating cosmetics, formulating chemicals for makeup, hairdressing products, better ways to put curls in or straighten them out. Others were seamstresses who not only cut the cloth and sewed, adding the small touches to give the clothing style and flair, but also the ones to work the fine details. They were the ones who listened as the mistress mused or complained or bragged and responded accordingly. Black women were in the kitchen making some of the family traditional dishes as well as creating masterpieces that sated guests at balls and grand dinners.

These were the nannies who tended the babies and children. To the extent allowed, they taught the children obedience, respect, customs and essentially became tutors who spontaneously adapted their teaching styles to the situation at hand.

The men were noted most for being barbers, preachers, and educators. Again, not only communication but listening skills were paramount to being successful. It was very important to be good at negotiation in order to work out various types of matters. And diligence in all matters showed the grist of a good worker no matter what or where the labor. In all cases, one's discretion was the key to moving forward.

We now have large numbers of legislators, judges, scientists, and other professions with more than exceptional members of the Black race (from some part of the African diaspora). I have not taken the time to try to research their climbs to success and the stumbling blocks that were part of their path. I don't doubt that those impediments only made each person the better warrior and representative of their industry's expertise. They quietly do their work and excel at it without making waves.

Is that the example, then, that we need to learn this year during Black History Month? Just be good at what you do. Do it quietly and do it with distinction for the quality that's delivered. The trouble with that version of the lesson is that having something done quietly means no one will lift the ivy wreath of success to press it onto the head of the one who deserves it; it will fade into the shadows and few will be aware of the magnitude.

In the alternative, do the work to the nth degree of integrity and expertise. Do it to the best of your ability. Then improve upon that. Make it an example of something done in a workmanlike manner. The rest will speak for itself as others repeat the story in the right places and word spreads.

NOTE: My sincerest gratitude to Geoff Boxell, fellow writer and history aficionado, for the history of Blacks in Britain.