The following excerpts are from Robert Woodson's book, The Triumphs of Joseph, in which he details the heroic work of "neighborhood healers"--people he compares to the biblical Joseph. Today's Josephs are needed due mainly to a fraternity of powerful interest groups and career "experts," who support and are supported by a horde of crafty politicians. This inner circle, which is dominated by well-to-do blacks, creates obstacles for the grassroots mentors who could bring concrete solutions to the problems of the poor. Woodson equates this self-interested clique with the ancient Pharaoh's court of schemers.
From its inception, the struggle for civil rights was fraught with certain moral inconsistencies that would limit its success. As early as the mid-1960s, the foundation on which the movement was built began to exhibit cracks, and warning lights were flashing regarding the potential for growing bifurcation within the black community. The needs of those who were suffering the most critical problems were overlooked as leaders of the movement continued to pursue remedies that were based on racial preference rather than actual economic or social disadvantage. . . .
The split between the demands of the leaders of the civil rights establishment and the concerns of their purported constituents has widened throughout the last thirty years. On a number of issues that would primarily impact conditions in low-income communities, grassroots blacks have registered opinions that are sharply at odds with the positions taken by the civil rights cadres. In one survey, 83% of black respondents who knew about school vouchers said they were in favor of choice programs "where parents can send their children to any public or private school that will accept them." Yet in a floor vote at the 1993 NAACP convention, delegates passed a resolution opposing voucher programs that would provide low-income children with the means to attend private schools.
When Washington Post pollsters asked whether minorities should receive preferential treatment to make up for past discrimination, 77% of blacks leaders said yes, while 77% of the black public said no. In addition, a majority of the black populace disapproved of forced school busing, while 68% of black leaders supported busing. In another poll, when asked to cite the issue of greatest importance to the black community, 54% of blacks polled said "increased economic opportunity" and 33% said "stronger black-run institutions," while only 8% replied "greater racial integration." Yet the purported spokespersons of the black community, the civil rights leaders, continue to pursue their agenda of the sixties: mandated integration and recompense for past discrimination. . . .
Those whose careers or celebrity status rest on the premise that the greatest single obstacle to black achievement is racism have enforced a gag rule on others who say that self-help and personal responsibility are the keys to progress. This censorship has noteworthy precedents. At the turn of the century, Booker T. Washington warned against the agenda of those "problem profiteers," proclaiming:
There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs--partly because they want sympathy, and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.
Robert Woodson is director of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and the author of "The Triumphs ofJoseph."
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