(Editor’s Note: I wrote this editorial 12 years ago and recently re-discovered it. It is just as relevant today as it was a decade ago.)
As African-Americans, we often spend an inordinate amount of time talking about our shortcomings. But recently, I read an editorial that discussed our shortcomings from an outside perspective. It was painful to read – and hit us right between the eyes.
The article, entitled “Blacks: Take a Lesson From the Jews,” was written by former 20/20 news correspondent Aliza Davidovit. (Do a Google search on the article’s title). In the article, Davidovit makes a simple argument, Jews are far more successful than Blacks because they hold their leaders accountable and will not hesitate to criticize them when they do something wrong.
Davidovit wrote: “From Moses to Netanyahu the Jewish flock has always believed it knew better than its shepherds – and it never beat around the burning bush to criticize, to opine, or to dissent. Herein lies one of the greatest secrets of their success as a nation and a people: Jews have a generous ability to look at their own kind and find fault ... Indeed, Jews are the most persecuted people in history, but it has not resulted in a blind allegiance toward one another.”
Contrast this to our approach with our “leaders.” We will forgive almost any of our leaders’ transgressions. Marion Barry can be caught on video smoking crack, and get re-elected. William Jefferson can be caught with nearly $100,000 in cash in his freezer, commandeer a National Guard unit searching for victims of Hurricane Katrina to go get it, and get re-elected. Henry Lyons can be convicted of stealing money from the Baptist Church, using it to buy a mansion for his mistress, and still have people arguing that he should be re-instated as the leader of America’s Black Baptists when he got out of jail.
In March, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents over 200 Black newspapers nationwide, held a meeting with President Obama. The NNPA had a simple message to Obama “We’ve got your back.” So criticizing Obama is off-limits.
Davidovit argues that is the wrong approach. “Are African- Americans doing themselves a favor by blindly supporting Obama simply because he is America’s first black president? If their aim is to have great success as a people, they should be doing the opposite and unabashedly criticizing and questioning his policies. Through scrutiny and close vigilance of their leaders, Jews have helped foster success and personal growth both on an individual basis and as a people. Similarly, African- Americans should be harder on Obama than anyone else because just as they hold him in high regard as an icon of success – as they should – his responsibility toward them cuts both ways ... African-Americans can’t expect the world to be colorblind while at the same time they support Obama blindly. A scaffold built of sycophants will never build true success.”
Davidovit noted that you don’t do anybody any favors by covering up mistakes; otherwise people tend to repeat those mistakes. She concluded by saying: “A people’s potential is much like a muscle. If you offer it no resistance, it will never grow or strengthen into greatness. Indeed, there was a time when both Jews and blacks cried, ‘Let my people go.’ But now is the time to let their people ‘grow.’”
We were really nailed in this editorial. But unfortunately, this lack of standards and not holding people accountable hurts all aspects of our community. It shows up in our 70% single mother birth rate. It shows up in the epidemic of Black-on- Black murders. It shows up when a child gets in trouble and we blame the authorities. It shows up when one of our “leaders” get caught, blames white people and gets the hero treatment from the Black community.
Davidovit is right. We have stopped growing as a people because we don’t hold ourselves or our leaders accountable. And now, more than ever, we need accountability. We need to start growing again.