The Illusion of Delusion

By Barney Blakeney

Often I’ll read stuff I already know which distresses me nonetheless. That happened last week while reading a report on a study written by NNPA reporter Stacy Brown. The study was about the economic and financial progress made by African Americans over the past five years. You hear it said some Black people think they have “arrived” – well the report offered some empirical data proving they have not.

Researchers at Lending Tree, a website connecting borrowers and lenders, found that in several critical financial areas Blacks were worse off in 2018 than they were in 2013. While some numbers superficially would indicate progress has been made, the financial gaps between Blacks and their economic counterparts did not change, and in some cases, became ever greater.

It’s easy to fall victim the illusion of prosperity. We see more of our people with more stuff. We have more stuff, or appear to have more stuff, than those who came before us. We tell ourselves the old folks just did more than us with less. And I guess that‘s probably true in some ways, but the Lending Tree study lays out how we’ve actually lost ground despite the increased prosperity.

For example the study showed that while the median household income for Blacks grew in the past five years, it remains some 33 percent below the national average and some $20,000 less than that of Americans as a whole. I recently got some numbers for our tri-county region. In Charleston County’s approximately 156,000 households, the national stats hold true. The median household income is about $61,000 – for whites about $76,000 compared to a median income of about $32,000 for Blacks. For Asians the median household income is about $67,000. I’m guessing it probably took my parents, with a family of six, five or six years to earn $32,000 back in the day.

For most Americans their home represents their single greatest financial asset. The Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments reported in 2018 the average income earner needed to make at least $45 per hour to afford to buy a home in the region. According to a June 2018 report the average worker in Charleston earned about $1,000 weekly. That, despite a decrease in pay! The study also revealed that while the median individual income for Blacks grew by about seven percent between 2013 and 2018 it remained some 16 percent below that of Americans as a whole which grew almost 10 percent over the five-year period. The farther we go, the behinder we get.

There was one part of the report that got me! The report noted that while Blacks are closing the education gap, that’s not translating into greater economic wealth or empowerment. One of the researchers found that revelation “striking, disheartening and frightening”. I’ve done my own survey on that subject, but there is more than enough empirical data to support anything I might think. “We’d really hope that education would create a more even playing field,” she said articulating what most Blacks believe.

Our forbearers fought and died for us to get a quality education. I think those who seek to keep us subservient have turned that against us. We fought for integrated schools, but integrated schools aren’t educating our children. I’m all for integrated schools, but we must insure that schools do what they are supposed to!

In another recent column I wrote, about former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice saying at the Reagan Foundation’s first summit on education held in Washington, D.C., “We can’t have any more third graders who can’t read, we can’t have any more 18 or 19 year olds who go to college and come out without any skills …”

In South Carolina less than a third of Black 3rd thru 8th graders are meeting the standards in English, Reading and Math. Black folks fell for the flim flam that is integration in public education. We took our eyes off the prize. The goal of integration wasn’t about going to schools with white kids, getting what white folks have or the ability to go where they just left. I believe the goal was about equality. Black folks always have been able to get what white folks have, even during slavery! There always have been rich Black folks in America. There never has been equality for Black folks in America.

So we go back to Carter G. Woodson and “The Mis-Education of the Negro”. Woodson believed that Blacks of his day were being culturally indoctrinated, rather than taught, in American schools. I dare say history is repeating itself. Because more of us have been allowed to get stuff, we’re being indoctrinated to think that the disparities have disappeared. Arrested Development said it in their song entitled “Mr. Wendell” we spend all that money going to college and still come back confused.

The reports and studies tell us what many of us already know – ain’t nothing changed but the numbers. Does that mean there has been no progress? Of course not! But I think it means the fight ain’t over and that we must keep our eyes on the prize. We can’t succumb to the illusion of delusion.

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