Any of you who are politicians, please sit down. Standing up for something is your job. Unless you are a member of the Trump cabinet where on the first day of Black History Month it was announced that Dr Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing, after being warned by his department’s legal and ethics offices of breaching several regulations not yet erased by the President, allowed his daughter-in-law’s consulting company to be awarded a half a million dollar NO BID consulting contract. He’s an Evangelical what now?
I’m talking here about about the desperate need in the black community for people whose job is not speaking up to speak up, even if, especially if, it can hurt them. The days of such actions getting one killed are not over, but few have to fear, like Medgar Evers or Dr. King, not if they would be shot, but when. Given that reality, it is time for the black household names of America to stand up and speak out. Some have; some haven’t.
The lesson was taught by Muhammed Ali. Men like Joe Louis, Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson thought they could show the way, by being great at what they did. Just by being great black men somehow opinions would change, progress would be made. Ali knew that was hopeless. His most glorious fight was to stay in the face of white America. It cost him, but he was so good, even too good, to shy away or back away. Like a magnet on a piece of steel, he was on evil-sayers and evil-doers like white on rice. He created a wet mold for those who followed to be able to, each to their own, remold it to fit their ability, style, personality without losing the message imprinted on it–speak up!
Black Lives Matter seems to have become more of a slogan than an action. Ever since Charlottesville, where it appeared they had been infiltrated by ne’er do wells, they have dramatically lowered their profile. While “Me Too’ers” have African-American representation, it is not a black movement. So where do we look?
I would look at Black Athletes, their leaders, and their bank accounts.
Then I would look at film makers–and their bank accounts.
FInally, only because I’m making a point and not writing a book, let’s look at entertainers–and their bank accounts.
Let’s begin by following the money. Here’s what the minimum guaranteed pay is for professional athletes. Baseball ref.com tells us its $507.000 and that the average player brings home $4.4 mil. Hoop Hype says the guaranteed minimum for the NBA is $520,000 and the average player brings in 6.2 million dollars a year. Stunningly enough in the NFL according to Business Insider the numbers are $450,000 and $1.9 million. Man, those guys must love getting their brains bashed in. Atlantic Magazine points out that on the other side of it, the average Joe or Jane making minimum wage, in order to earn the NBA minimum would have to work four years and 71 days–24 hours a day! Concussions or not, short careers or not, it’s a lot of money and the point is that we’re talking bottom of the ladder and averages, not Brady or Lebron or other stratospheric salaries.
To bring us to where we are going lets look at diversity. According to a 2016 piece in “The Atlantic’s” Chris Bodener points out that 74% of NBA players are black and a bit more than 60% of NFL players are. Baseball is by far the most diverse of the 3 major sports. So—-
This is not an article about what talent is worth. It is an article about what one does with one’s money when the boss decides your talent is worth a lot of it. Two points are worth considering. The first is economic, the second is activism. From an economic perspective we see that a great many Black young men are making spectacular amounts of money. Some give a lot of time and some money to community charitable work. Some form foundations. Some of those foundations give away money through scholarships, some provide education and job training as well as scholarships. Many focus on the home town of the player (nothing wrong with that), some have a regional or national scope.
In spite of the recent State of the Union hoo-ha’s about the great state of black wages, it is fair to say, and accurate, that they are well below white wages and much of the rise comes from rising minimum wage laws going into effect. But if minority athletes were to form a Central Coordinating Council of Foundations, let’s say, run similarly to philanthropy in Jewish life think, as Dr. Suess’ famous book says, “The Places You Will Go!”And who is going to teach this to these young men? Why the older men of course, some even white. The leagues should put charitable work into contracts. The great and respected names of sports should run financial camps for those who are their next generation.
Will they go? Will they give? It is a maxim in philanthropy that when you want a lot of money you send someone to whom it is very hard to say no. That person has studied the economic story of the prospect and knows all the answers before the questions are asked. On top of that they too are givers, big givers. Guilt, embarrassment, professional intimidation–all part of successful fund-raising. Who will say “no” to Bill Russell, to Shaq, to Kareem?
Then there’s community organization and politics. Is giving money enough? No. Someone has to lead the followers towards community goals. It’s great that MJ and Magic are rich and are black owners of professional franchises. But they don’t have much to say about much of anything. It is better that Lebron is rich, owns lots of businesses and still states his mind, urges others to state theirs, even criticizes those who don’t.
Switching to entertainers, long term, which is the better model? Bill Cosby who in his professional life created images that showed black people living like anyone else, Americans who happened to be black, or is it Richard Pryor and Chris Rock? I need not say more than their names. Black men, and women, have become powerful voices when they used comedy to lance and lash out at black problems. The monetary rewards? Tremendous. Risks? Plenty. But with their wealth they know comes power. Their entertainment legacy will sustain itself. More than knowing they can afford the risk, literally and figuratively, they take it. Somewhere along the line, success and its ego-hit becomes less rewarding than helping to create positive change.
And in film making let’s wrap it up with one role model: Spike Lee. He’s the whole story about role modeling.
It isn’t enough to be able to have the levers of power or even to know how they work. They must be used. Then things change. “The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to say nothing.”
COMING SOON: A SHORT SERIES ON AMERICAN GULLIBILITY OR IF WHAT’S ON THE SPOON LOOKS TASTY ENOUGH, WHY NOT JUST EAT IT?
Bill Gralnick writes this kind of stuff every week at http://www.atleastfrommyperspectiveblog.wordpress.com
You can read more of his work in his two books:
Mirth, Wind and Ire http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/692523
More Mirth Wind and Ire http://www.smashwords.com/books.view/758411
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