The Talented Tenth


The Black Philosopher and educator, W.E.B Dubois once said that no matter the circumstance or challenge set forth in this country, 10% of the Black population would rise above those obstacles and succeed. He called them the talented tenth. He saw education as the way to an equal playing field amongst races. His adversary at the time, Booker T Washington, countered that such a position was elitist and that Black folks had more pressing problems to solve than studying chemistry.

On occasion I will get an innocent question from one of my friends related to what I did to overcome the challenges of poverty and race followed by why do I think it’s so difficult for so many others. These friends happen to be White and because they know me well, I am able to have an open dialogue with them about race.

I don’t define “getting there” in the same way that those men did. If Booker T Washington was alive he might give me a pound and say “that’s what I am talking about, you made it son” but it would have been made based on an economic picture that is simply beyond reproach for Black America. W.E.B Dubois might comeback with a fist bump and say “yeah my man you did it because you went to college and that education helped you make it”.

I would look at these two great men today if I could and say that we need to come together and define what “making it” means to us. For me, it means not attending a college where some of its student population referred to me and my future wife as Nig****. Or maybe I would say to Mr. Dubois that those degrees and that job didn’t help me when guns were drawn on the side of a road in front of my wife and kids who looked on in terror for the purposes of a “traffic check”.

We have certainly come a long way and I am encouraged by a new generation of young people entering the workforce with more diverse experiences than my generation could have ever imagined. But I am also well aware of the impact that race has on one’s psyche as I watch my 17 year old son cry uncontrollably after watching the movie about Fruitvale Station.

I don’t know what the magic answer is but if I am part of the 10% that Dubois talked about I better make damn sure that I focus on helping the remaining 90% the best way I can because until I can go back to my hometown in Paterson NJ and see progress, I haven’t made anything, I simply escaped from it.

Categories: Motivational