Looks Can Be Deceiving

Educator and orator Booker T. Washington once said, “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”

As a youngster, I didn’t agree much with Washington, but now as a grown man I understand his practicality when it comes to choosing a profession in life.

African-American parents and grandparents should begin encouraging their children to consider trade schools as much as they do colleges because blue-collar jobs might change the financial fortunes of the community because the jobs are in the blue-collar sector.

My grandparents did not enjoy the freedoms and luxuries that I did, or my parents, sister and cousins did.

They grew up in a different era for African-Americans, one filled with discrimination, lack of opportunities and a lack of resources.

My maternal grandfather never went to school a day in his life and my maternal grandmother had to drop out of high school in 10th grade to help my great-grandmother financially after my great-grandfather died.

Although my maternal grandmother had a sharp mind and lots of intelligence, she had to settle on a job in housekeeping and taking in laundry to make ends meet throughout her life.

My maternal grandfather had to take a job for the city of Abbeville, La. to provide for his wife and six children.

On my father’s side of the family, the story sounds the same.

My paternal grandmother also had the intelligence and drive to go far in life, but had to drop out of school after the seventh grade to work in the fields and work as a housekeeper as well.

Her husband went to the third grade, but schooling for Black kids in rural Louisiana only lasted two or three months out of the year, so in total he probably went to school for less than a calendar year his entire life.

Because of a lack of opportunities for higher education both of my grandmothers wanted their children to attend college and at least finish high school.

My mother always wanted to become a schoolteacher.

The family knew that she would become a schoolteacher so early on, that my great uncle would call her “schoolteacher” even as a child.

My mother went on to work as a teacher and librarian for 34 years.

However, my mother’s second eldest sister did not want to attend college.

My aunt wanted to become a hairstylist.

Partly because my grandmother thought college would be a greater route to success for my aunt and partly because Abbeville, La. already had its share of “colored” beauticians at the time, my grandmother insisted that my aunt go to college, first to what became University of Louisiana-Lafayette and then to Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. with my mother.

She spent several years in college but never graduated.

My aunt ended up becoming a housekeeper like both of my grandmothers.

While there is nothing wrong with making an honest living, I often wonder how different my aunt’s life would have turned out if she earned beautician money versus housekeeper money.

Her economic fortunes would probably have ended up drastically different.

But because many considered a college education the passport for African-Americans to enter the middle class, many parents probably erred in sending their children to four-year colleges instead of two-year trade or professional schools.

And to be honest, for African-Americans forced to work menial jobs all of their life because of systemic racism, oppression and discrimination, it became a sense of pride to have a child or grandchild studying to become a doctor, lawyer or college professor even if their child or grandchild did not have a love for or ability to succeed in the field of study chosen for him or her.

That fact became an even bigger reality for African-Americans who had elevated to bourgeoisie status.

How can an affluent African-American family brag about their son becoming a welder when their friends’ daughter just become a professor (adjunct at that) at a respected historically Black college, even if the welder earned much more money per year than the professor?

I personally know someone who works at a chemical plant and makes more than twice as much as his educator wife.

However, the wife comes from an elite family who cannot brag about their blue-collar son-in-law at the events they attend, which only allow the best socialites in the city to attend.

But the job market has a plethora of blue-collar job openings paying good money while those with college degrees often struggle to find jobs and make ends meet upon completing school.

Many leave college with a liberal arts degree and no discernible skills, which leads them into the catch-22 of having too much education for some jobs and not enough skill for other jobs.

More African-Americans should include blue-collar jobs and skill sets in their mentorship of young African-Americans.

Finding high paying jobs, as opposed to having to pay high interest student loans, might go a long way to increasing money in the Black community as well as home and property ownership, which will lead to more wealth in the African-American community.

Fifty years after the Kerner Commission in 1968 concluded that White racism caused pervasive discrimination and unrest in the African-American community, nothing much has changed.

In 2017, the African-American unemployment rate totaled 7.5 percent.

Forty-nine years earlier in 1968, the African-American unemployment rate totaled 6.7 percent.

African-American unemployment remains twice as high as White unemployment.

Economists have long said that homeownership remains a key to building wealth.

African-American home ownership has remained basically the same as in 1968, with a little more than 40 percent of African-Americans owning their home, falling 30 percent behind the White homeownership rates.

Many experts say that poor African-Americans and poor people across the country resort to crime to make ends meet because of a lack of job opportunities.

While we know that the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution and the prison industrial complex aims to incarcerate African-Americans to re-enslave them and strip them of their rights, the prison numbers still remain exorbitantly high in the African-American community.

The number of imprisoned African-Americans virtually tripled from 1968 to 2016.

African-Americans get jailed or imprisoned 6.4 times more than their White counterparts in recent years, compared to 5.4 times more in 1968.

With that information, it is clear that with all of the college education, scholastic achievement, landmark civil rights legislation, and a former African-American commander-in-chief in President Barack Obama, the African-American community is often worse off now than it saw itself 50 years ago.

Obviously, we need to reassess our methods of achieving the American dream.

The dream of our grandparents and great-grandparents might have been to attend college and work in corporate America.

However, the dreams of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren might be to become an auto mechanic, hair stylist or construction worker.

And often those aforementioned careers earn more money than their white-collar counterparts.

Making money and building wealth is the key to upward mobility for the African-American community.

Unfortunately, one cannot build wealth just because they have a piece of paper from a well-respected and revered university.

Every child is born with a gift and a purpose and it is up to parents, educators and mentors to discover that gift, foster that gift and guide that gift.

But that gift and purpose might not guide them to Morehouse College, Howard University or Harvard University.

It might guide them to Lone Star College or Acres Home Barber College in Houston and we need people who have skill sets that those institutions produce.

Undoubtedly, if a child desires a profession that requires a college degree or graduate degree, we should encourage them to go after their dreams and passions.

Furthermore, we have to teach them college might allow more upward mobility and possibilities but we do not need to limit their choices in any way.

The purpose of education is to provide the skills to build wealth, buy a home and provide for one’s family without having to resort to illegal means.

If the African-American community keeps that in mind, maybe we can close the wealth and homeownership gap.

Those blue-collar jobs might not sound as prestigious as those white-collar professions, but looks can be deceiving.

What is not deceiving is that we as a community have not made much progress in 50 years, so maybe we need to flip the script and try something new.

When push comes to shove, our parents, grandparents and great-parents will be proud to see their descendants happy, prosperous and moving the family forward.

But being stagnant as a community or moving backwards was probably not their intention when they fought for the equality and opportunities that they never really got to enjoy.

As Washington stated, “Political activity cannot alone make a man free. Back of the ballot, he must have property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence and character.”

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