Blacks And Opportunity

Everything Is Always Someone Else's Fault. Ours.

Date

I believe that if I hear one more black politician hollering about how the United States is no damn good, and nobody in it is any damn good, and everyone discriminates against blacks, and denies them opportunity, and represses them, and doesn't do everything they want, and expects them to behave, I'm going to start bellowing.

It won't do any good. But I'll feel better.

Now, I don't want to associate promiscuously with facts, or state what we all know to be true. I'm a journalist, and I respect the traditions of my trade. But if I didn't, I think I might wonder why, if there is no opportunity in this country, everyone else has managed to flourish like kudzu on a Georgia road cut. No opportunity? A rock could succeed in America. Half the earth wants to come here because there's opportunity. Why do you think Mexicans swim the Rio Grande every night with their lives contained in plastic bags? ("Eet ees because we want to be repressed and have no opportunity.")

Gimme a break.

Remember the Jews on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the Twenties? I guess they came because they were tired of all that opportunity in Poland. Anyway, they had it rough. The times were ugly and so was the place. There were fewer violins and more crime than is generally recognized now. They, and for that matter the Italians and Irish, didn't have the advantages blacks now have: the welfare, or subsidized housing, or free breakfasts for the kids, or Medicaid. Nor did they have a vast array of laws aimed at letting them advance regardless of merit. Most places wanted to keep Jews (and the Irish and Italians) out.

But they worked like sled dogs, went to school at night, saved pennies to put the oldest boy through school. Then he sent money back from the law practice and put the other kids through. It worked. People moved up. They did it the hard way, because that was the only way available, but they did it.

The opportunity was there, and they took it.

Opportunity has grown since then, grown mightily. Success has gotten steadily easier in America. In 1975 the Vietnamese appeared. The predictions were that they would go to the slums to be pickpockets and prostitutes. I guess their English wasn't too good at first, so they didn't get the word. They went to the suburbs instead and started restaurants. The closest they got to sweatshops was McDonald's which, by world standards in sweatshops, is pretty lame. Soon they were spitting out valedictorians and showing up in droves in the better universities. (You've heard the joke about Asian SATs? Yeah, 800 math and 200 verbal.)

One year, so help me, a Viet kid was valedictorian at the Naval Academy. That's discrimination, no doubt about it. What better way to oppress a kid than to give him a free education and command of an aircraft carrier? I do it all the time.

We're a racist country? U. Cal Berkely is heavily Asian. The United States is 1% Asian. Man, ain't that some ineffectual, didn't-work, pathetic, just plain sorry-ass discrimination? I could discriminate better than that, any morning before breakfast, and I'm from West Virginia.

Why do the Viets succeed? Because they are smart, courteous, ambitious, studious, and have a work ethic that would frighten Calvin. Their parents tell them to come home with As or don't come home. They never miss supper.

Last year I went to a favorite restaurant in Little Saigon, here in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. When it opened in the mid-Seventies, the kids in the family waited tables, keeping labor costs down, and the parents cooked. Some of the same kids, now women, still wait tables. I asked one of them what she did in the daytime.

"I'm an electrical engineer," she said. "I do wide-area networks."

Oh.

I reckon if we racist Americans tried to oppress her, it didn't work.

How about the Hispanic hordes? They aren't doing as well as did the Vietnamese. Nonetheless, I notice Hispanic restaurants popping up everywhere, like ticks on a hound dog. Hereabouts, Hispanics have taken over the market for unskilled labor. Why? Because if you work hard, show up, and do a good job, people hire you. (The foregoing is a blinding insight. Copyright me. Patent applied for.) The young ones speak Standard English after a few years in the US, not Hisbonics after two centuries. They're rising.

I have to wonder where the dearth of opportunity hides. I can't find it.

Blacks today have advantages that would have turned the Irish and Italian immigrants bright purple with envy. Education is compulsory. Libraries abound. Welfare provides a breathing space for study. Blacks get affirmative action in just about everything. If American universities bent farther over backwards to accommodate blacks who didn't measure up, much less any who might, they'd be limbo dancers.

Are we Americans the cause of the ills of blacks? Think about this: In Washington we have a black mayor, a predominantly black city council, school board, teachers, parents, and students, and a very high per-pupil budget. (Now, when I want to discriminate against people, my first step is to give them political control of the national capital. Isn't that how you do it?) Oh, the heart-rending unfairness of it all. My soul curdles.

The schools are among the worst in the nation.

Oppression? Check to see what blacks need to get into universities, and what whites need. Oh yeah, we're discriminating out the gills. The United States regularly lowers its standards for blacks, offers special programs, recruits blacks who don't come close to qualifications required of whites, does everything but kidnap blacks and stuff them bodily into classrooms and jobs. Ask what proportion of black officers in the military would get in without special waivers.

If that's discrimination, I could use some of it.

Blacks, sez me, don't suffer from a lack of opportunity, but from an unwillingness, or inability, to take advantage of it. If the Vietnamese can rise from rice farmer to electrical engineer in a generation, then so can anyone who has the brains and chooses to work. This country is awash in opportunity. Fish or cut bait.