I was having a lively discussion with two really good friends over dinner tonight, and I want to share some of my points. Although I have a 6 a.m. flight, this is the kind of heavy topic that prevents me from sleeping soundly.
I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the way Black Americans are educated from one generation to the next. The analogy I’d like to use, a timely one I believe, is that of a game of baseball. Black Americans are taught – self-taught, primarily - to bunt and hit singles, but then our only options are to stand on the base waiting to be driven home or to steal our way across the bases. We have an outsized need of help from others, or we take what hasn't been given. Government or prison.
You're considered "special" if you make it to 2nd base in life: white-collar work. Seriously, do you realize how many runners reach 2nd base that never score runs? Second base is nothing. It's just a stat. If people want to get credit for stats, then they should go play in the minor leagues. The big leagues are for winners, through and through.
This isn’t an analogy I use lightly. I know this may rub some people the wrong way, because it will seem like a gross generalization and maybe Black self-hate or something else that is customarily lobbed onto anything critical of the standard m.o. in America. So be it. This here is a diatribe.
Us Black Americans need to learn how to move across the bases ourselves. I believe in agency, and my life to this point has been my best attempt to be the best agent for my own level of success in this world. Sure, I've had help from plenty of people, Black and White, but I can't credit anyone other than myself for getting my where I am today outside of my mother for birthing me and my father for leaving me.
White Americans have dominated baseball for decades, centuries even. I’m not talking about the Yankees. I’m talking about the Waltons, the Romneys, the Kennedys, the Zuckerbergs. This is a game as old as any we’ve played in America. It's a game of bases, four total, that take a generational - team - effort.
The first base/generation has a sole purpose. That is to reach base. Bunting with zero outs is not ideal. Preferably, you have a good leadoff hitter to reach first base on a single. This is a speedy, hard working guy who doesn’t hit for power but hustles extremely hard. These are many of our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents if you're lucky (for those HBCU legacies).
Blue-collar work is the duty of a first generation. Scoring opportunities are significantly increased with a runner on base. You no longer have to hope for a home run, the rarest feat for a generation, to score. The lottery, the get-rich-quick-tips...these are home runs as rare as no-hitters.
The next step is advance the runner. You can do this in one of four ways:
1) A stolen base. This goes back to the hustle. You have to have that in order to be able to move yourself ahead in the game. Whenever people mention things like “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” they’re talking about stealing bases. Some people can do this, but it’s not common. Less common today, in fact, than ever. The gap is widening, stolen base kings no longer as prolific as the days of Rickey Henderson.
2) A sacrifice play. This is far more common. Far too common, actually. One generation making countless sacrifices for another. The common perception is that single Black women make these types of sacrifices to raise their young children. This is true, but I don’t think this is a female-only fact. Men make sacrifices, perhaps of their professional ambitions and dreams, to provide for their families. Advancing their children’s ceilings from blue-collar to white-collar work.
3) A base hit. A good team may have a batting average in the area of .280, meaning out of 100 opportunities to reach base with a hit, 28 are successful. Does anyone like that average for young Black America? One hundred students walking into a classroom and 28 walking across a stage? I don’t think so. We need better hitting coaches in America’s classrooms and, in many cases, home settings.
4) Luckily, there’s a fourth way: walks. Walks require lots of patience. Often times there is an intimidation factor as well; the pitcher has to feel you’re a threat to get a hit at the plate. So that patience, coupled with skill as a hitter, make for a stronger case to walk the batter. Walks aren’t extremely common, but they are common enough to indicate there is some discipline involved in generation advancement. My mother didn’t graduate from college, but I did. She’s been a secretary or assistant for many years of her career, and I’m probably in need of one of my own.
Third base is hard. Stealing third base is really difficult. Double steals (where runners on both first and second base advance to second and third, respectively) happen, but very rarely. If the previous batter reached on a walk, a consecutive walk allowed is highly unlikely. Another sacrifice play is possible, but the field of play becomes smaller to achieve the intended goal of advancing the runner without risking giving up a double play. Ground balls are not your friends, either.
Long story short, you need a decent bat on the ball, there needs to be some power and loft with any contact. This is where a lot of generations get hung up. The right contact is never made. They leave too many runners on base and don’t bring enough runs home. Generation after generation, runners are left on first and second, blue-collar and white-collar work alike, yet never reach home.
Whether your paycheck is for $7.25 an hour at McDonald’s or $75,000 a year as an accountant, you may not have scored a single run yet. You haven’t won anything. Sure, you’ve shown signs of success…you have potential…but your scoreboard still shows zero.
Too many people confuse base hits, stolen bases, walks and sacrifices as runs. They are not. If you can’t get the runner over to third, you’ll never make it to the home plate. So what is third base if first is blue collar and second is white collar? Third base is creative professionalism.
It doesn’t mean you’re in Richard Florida’s “Creative Class” necessarily. You don’t have to be a web designer or writer or musician, no this creative professionalism is about how you utilize the hustle that got you to first base and the education that got you to second.
The combination of those skills and experiences is what has fueled a generation of tinkerers and thinkers whom are now creating their own jobs. Zuckerberg is a famous example, but there are millions of White Americans who've been able to do this for the last couple of decades. Sure, some of these jobs exist within corporations or organizations, but their existence is a result of the collective effort of many creative professionals. The pressure was applied to the pitchers so often that a pitch was met with a live bat.
Unless you’re doing something you love, something you’ve been trained to do and trained yourself to master, and can make a living doing it, you’re not on third base. There are not many Black Americans on third base. I'm not saying there aren't any, I know quite a few actually like Johnica Reed and James Andrews and Coltrane Curtis, but they have thousands of Twitter followers and fans of their work because they are anamolies.
Black people: don’t lie to yourself if you’re on second. You’ll know deep down if the love and skill is there. No one else will tell you, but you should be honest with yourself and work harder.
Who knows, though, some people are happy with the stats of having reached base, gotten a steal or walk. But those stats fanatics aren’t the people winning the titles all the time. Sometimes, but not always. Why do you think Derek Jeter – and not A-Rod – is considered the Yankees great of today?
So reaching home is the pantheon of success.
You’ve hustled, you’ve been educated and worked hard, and you’ve been creative in paving your own way across life’s bases.
You want to score in this game? Score your run, congratulate yourself, then pick up the bat and hand it to a young Black American. They need us to help them learn how to run the bases too. My book “Real Role Models” and the numerous public speeches I give in classrooms and to youth organizations is my initial attempt to do just that, but I’m getting the itch to do a little bit more.
I can’t sleep on this one.