Ugly past shouldn't overshadow present
By Jackie Cissell
USA TODAY'S Forum - April 18, 2002

Black-owned U.S. businesses once ranked No. 1 among minority-owned enterprises. Now, Hispanics and Asians hold the first and second places, with black businesses coming in third. As usual, Jesse Jackson had something to say about it: "They (Asians) landed on the ground. We (blacks) landed in chains."

Here we go again. Instead of crying about what happened to us 200 years ago, let's try something more constructive.

Slavery was real, and all of the baggage that came with it is real, but we have to move beyond that and focus on how we survive as a community in a changing America. Oh, I admit: It feels good to feel sorry for ourselves; however, we no longer can afford the luxury of self-pity.

It's almost insulting that we still use the slavery issue to excuse everything bad that happens. Black historian Elizabeth Wright hit the nail on the head in her commentary, Keeping the Spotlight on Failure : "Black history as told by the black establishment goes something like this:
Africans uprooted, chained, enslaved; brutal plantation slavery; oppressive Jim Crow and lynchings; then nothing but misery until the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is then that real life began."

If the record of black history were left up to the black establishment, it would read as such: We have been so downtrodden that we certainly made no contributions to America. We stumbled around in utter despair and hopelessness until the government came along with the Civil Rights Act, and then the sun broke through the clouds.

Abolitionist Martin Delany criticized Northern blacks in the 1850s for wasting energy on "examining, complaining, moralizing over" the black condition instead of getting on with the business of black enterprise. His words apply today. A continual diatribe about the horrible condition of black people leaves us immobile and void of creativity.

Lots of groups have faced hard times, but they don't spending their time glamorizing their plight, and neither can we. Oh yes, slavery was real, but we made it - we survived. After those terrible days, our forefathers created businesses and wealth, even when there was no Civil Rights Act to protect them. We have to take the best this country has to offer and use it to our benefit. We have to find the root causes of our problems, such as the failure of public education in black communities' schools, and enact remedies. Blacks have done it before; we can do it now.

Jackie Cissell lives in Indianapolis, where she works in public relations.