Winning Lotto and Overcoming Racism

by William Raspberry

I've just bought a Lotto ticket, and I'm driving to work with thoughts of liberation on my mind. If I'm as lucky as I deserve to be, I will shortly be able to stop worrying about money, pay off the mortgage, do some serious traveling, buy some clothes, do some good in the world, lose some weight and get in shape.

Lose some weight? How did that get on the list?

The more I think about it, the more I think it got on the same way most of the other items got on. Lack of money can be such an important barrier to the things we want to do that we come to consider it the only barrier. It isn't.

I certainly could use some more money; I've got three children in college, and plenty of family and friends in need. But then I think of the things I really want to do--ought to do--and I'm surprised at how little they have to do with money.

I don't travel as much as I'd like because I'm too busy, or it's too hard to get family vacation times coordinated, or I've made commitments that get in the way. I don't buy clothes because (1) I hate shopping and (2) I refuse to invest in a wardrobe until I first lose weight and get in shape. And why don't I lose weight and get in shape? I don't know, but it has nothing to do with money.

Why am I going on about these things? Because they remind me of what I hear so many young African Americans going through.

For them, the culprit isn't lack of money but racial disadvantage, and the dream-of cure is not a lucky Lotto ticket but the defeat of racism.

If it weren't for racism, I'd have better grades and I'd be able to get into the graduate school of my choice--and also have the money to pay the tuition there. If it weren't for racism, I would have had my promotion by now. I wouldn't have been stopped for speeding, and if I had I certainly wouldn't have been given that big a ticket. You think that cop would have arrested me for what I said if I'd been white?

I hear the recitals--the excuses--and I find them as fanciful as my dreams of winning the lottery and getting in shape. Most of the things complained of would be considerably eased by some combination of exertion, self-discipline and mouth control. Racism serves as a sort of generalized rationalization for not trying.

Sometimes it's subtle, as when students seek to write papers that are merely passable, convinced that their strivings for excellence will be ignored by a white professor. Sometimes it's overt. Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard a young man on Black Entertainment Television's For Black Men Only say words very close to these: "There's no point in trying, you know, because they are not going to let a black man succeed."

I hear versions of that thought with dismaying frequency--and not just from the despairing underclass. College students will tell you that ll your exhortations to excellence and ethical hard work are worthless because "the Black Man doesn't stand a chance." Law-enforcement officers, judges, test administrators and the media are all members of a giant conspiracy to keep black people down.

Point to those black people who have not been kept down, and they'll turn the tables on you. "Oh, they'll let a few get through, just to make the system look good. But it's always a carefully chosen few."

These chosen ones, it goes without saying, never include outspoken, tell-it-like-it-is folk like themselves--only those who are willing to "go along with The Man's program."

And what does going along with the program mean? Don't be surprised if it turns out to mean something as simple as trying.

My lottery-ticket musings don't obviate the fact that I could put a windfall of money to good use.

Similarly, my criticism of the "no hope" rhetoric of many young blacks does not disprove their sense of pervasive racism. It's out there, and it does, in fact, put unnecessary and unfair limits on them. They'd love to see an end to racism, believing that when that day finally comes, they'll shed their anger, spread their wings and soar.

But the truth is that most of the things I say I'd do if I had the money are things I could at least begin doing right now. And for many of them (like getting in shape) money is an utter irrelevancy.

And so it is with my young friends. Most of what they imagine they'd do but for racism they could at least begin to do now. And for much of it, racism might prove an irrelevancy.

It's all right if I keep dreaming of Lotto and if they keep dreaming of some magical evaporation of racism--as long as we both accept the necessity of doing what we can right now.

William Raspberry writes for The Washington Post.
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