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My Black Perspective #19: Aspirations

We are on the 19th day of this series and we’ve covered things like identity, belonging, and available resources. There have been context clues dropped throughout, but today we’ll directly discuss the aspirations (and desires/wants) of Black People. I will begin broadly and then narrow down to my perspective.

What I Think Black People Ultimately Want

Starting this off with a loaded phrase: I think Black People ultimately want to feel like the majority of other Americans. When you cut past surface-level material and career aspirations, I think Black People just aspire to feel free and fully-realized (like everyone else). And we don’t just want that for ourselves – we want that for our families and others who look like us, too.

That isn’t anything radical, and what I mean by that is Black People want the same chances of being able to get a good job. Black People want the same opportunities in education. Black People want not only the same treatment but also the same protections from law enforcement (meaning that if Black People are harassed/policed, fine – so long as EVERYONE is equally harassed/policed; get conviction rates to line up, etc.). Basic stuff.

Just think of what YOU want if you’re non-Black and apply that to Black People.

Hope Concept. Black Young Woman Praying God Holding Hands In Prayer Gesture Smiling With Eyes Closed Over Yellow Background.

Believe it or not, I actually did a bit of research for this one, and a lot of the things I read just sounded eerily akin to, “I want sameness.” And I know that some people THINK Black People are treated the same, but as many Black People (including myself) have pointed out – it doesn’t feel that way; as I’ve shown in survey results from other races – non-Black People don’t feel that way; as objective History and Census data have shown – Black resources don’t add up that way.

Something about all of it doesn’t FEEL the same. Are we all wrong? Like, collectively? Because Black People aren’t the only ones noticing this about the Black Experience in America at the moment. It is a problem no one seems willing to fix, but it feels like more and more people are acknowledging that there IS a problem… We just don’t care much for talking about it, and definitely don’t act on it.

“In other generations it was accepted that the playing field was not level [for Black People]. The generation schooled in the 1970s, 80s and 90s were repeatedly told by parents and other adults that the only safe course was to assume that there was no equality of opportunity. Work twice as hard, was the standard advice.”

Hugh Muir
From: “Why it’s critical that we boost the aspirations of black children” (The Guardian)

There was an acceptance of this lack of “sameness” in the past, but that doesn’t seem to be as in vogue these days.

Others outside of Black Culture seem to understand a bit more now that there has been a long played game in America where Black People participated under the same set of rules somehow applied differently. This next quote is long, but it gets the point across very well (and come from a somewhat fascinating read).

“‘A person worries about the things that he can control. If I’m watching a basketball game in which the officials are systematically favoring one team over another … the officiating bias may be my central concern. But if I’m coaching Team A, I’d tell my players to ignore the biased officiating. Indeed, I’d be concerned the bias would either discourage them or make them lash out, and would urge them to overcome it. That’s not the same as denying bias. It’s a sensible practice of encouraging people to concentrate on the things they can control.

A team on the receiving end of biased officiating loses more often, period. And, at some point, it quite reasonably begins to lose faith in the entire enterprise. To believe that my family history represents anything more than the confluence of hard work and an even greater degree of good luck would be to concede that a third-grade Jim Crow education represents a reasonable starting point from which to produce high-achieving children. And to do that would be to lend support, however unintentionally, to the belief that the implications of racism have been overstated.”

Jelani Cobb
From: “The Politics of Black Aspiration” (The New Yorker)

That whole section illustrates the sense that something has been happening with the game that Black People have been playing in… only now we’re a little more hip to how things have been called in the game. All that we’re asking for is a game that is called fairly with no handicaps in place. Think of it as a resetting of the clock under more fair conditions (if that helps).

How Does This Get Addressed?

If you let newspapers and relevant surveys tell it, there seems to be a hope (if not an expectation) that there are policy changes made to alleviate some of the handicaps at play, and to remedy the damage already done.

As Tracy Jan says in her “in a nutshell”-style opening to a recent article for The Washington Post, “Black Americans want President Biden to narrow systemic racial inequalities that have left them trailing Whites on every economic measure…”

Do I think that’s going to happen? No.

I think I’ve fallen into the category expressed in the quote above. I have lost faith in the entire enterprise of the U.S. when it comes to the plight of Black People. I still like living here, and I still strive to make my way – but America’s leaders won’t be bailing out Black People anytime soon.

Relevant Studies Land In Similar Places

I reviewed the results of two recent studies on the topics of “Black Wants” in preparation for this, and they both landed in similar territories (somewhat supporting the validity of each study, I suppose).

Third Way

In the first one published by Third Way, a self described “national think tank that champions modern center-left ideas” (no coincidence considering the topic), “Third Way and the Joint Center [for Political and Economic Studies] commissioned nine focus groups in and around Atlanta, GA, Detroit, MI, and Philadelphia, PA. We followed up on this qualitative research with a national survey of Black Americans that included both registered voters and non-voters.”

While much of the study was focused on political questions – it was still interesting to read overall. And in that study, they found that Black America’s primary concerns were about “Kitchen-Table Economic Issues”.

Results from a 2019 study showing what Black People prioritized as their key concerns.

And this held across the board no matter how they sliced up their group of participants…

A visual showing priorities among different segments of people in a study.

It was interesting to me that the number one concern was “Housing affordability” considering what I wrote about in yesterday’s post on Money & Ownership. There was also a great deal of emphasis placed on costs and money in those concerns. Just saying, I felt validated.

Black Census

After that, I read through the 2019 Black Census report. “Launched by Black Futures Lab in early 2018, the Black Census Project is the largest survey of Black people conducted in the United States since Reconstruction. Over 30,000 Black people from across the country participated in the Black Census Project, providing their views, political beliefs, concerns, and aspirations.”

Their results are broken out into 3 different reports which can all be reviewed by clicking the link in the previous paragraph. Their “Beyond Kings and Queens” report found that the major problems in the Black Community were very in-line with the findings from Third Way across all gender identities.

A chart showing the top concerns for Black People by gender identity.

And the key points from their “More Black than Blue” write-up rang a similar tone.

Key Findings on what Black People are concerned about from the 2019 Black Census.

Sameness

Both of these studies landed in the similar places, which all had an underlying theme of “sameness” as I described it above earlier in this post. If the question is what do Black People aspire to or want in the United States, I think the majority of things I’m reading on the subject in the last few years all point to a desire for equality across the board.

My Personal Aspirations

Speaking for my experience now, I’m personally a little past the desire for “sameness” at this point. I would like that very much, but I’m tired of waiting for it and no longer expect it.

I’m not completely dejected or anything like that, I’m just motivated to find my own peace (and that could also be read as “piece”) and happiness in the American Dream (whatever that is these days) on my own terms.

I aspire to not stall out (yet). And once I do land comfortably where I’d like to be in Life (because, being very honest, I don’t know where that is yet) – I’d like to be treated as a person first before I’m seen as a threat or something to be managed/tolerated.

I aspire to be up to the challenge. I know that we ALL (non-Black People included) face challenges each day, I just think Black Americans have a little “something extra” sprinkled on top of their daily condition.

businessman in front of two roads crossing fingers hoping for best taking chance.

I know those things sound simple, but if my Black Experience has taught me anything so far, it’s that the simplest things can be the hardest to come by for Black People in this country.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

 

The soundtrack for this post provided by…

Image Credits:
– Cover Image © vectorfusionart (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 1 © Prostock-studio (Shutterstock)
– Body Images 2 & 3 © Third Way / Joint Center
– Body Images 4 & 5 © The Black Census Project
– Body Image 6 © ESB Professional (Shutterstock)

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