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Gloria Jackson, the founder of the Booker T. Washington Inspirational Network, believes that most of the problems facing Blacks today have little to do with racism, slavery, or civil rights. And while this doesn't exactly endear her to the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, it does place her squarely in the camp of her great-grandfather, Booker T. Washington.
Just as Washington did, Jackson has devoted her life to the social and economic progress of Blacks, but also like Washington, she insists that the key to such progress can be found in Blacks themselves—in their collective commitment to morality, character development, and personal responsibility. Here she explains her unconventional (and largely unpopular) take on the state of black America.
How did you come to know so much about Booker T. Washington?
As you know, I am his great-granddaughter, and from the time I was born, my parents had nothing but good things to say about him. When I went to college in the sixties, however, my professors and fellow students portrayed him as a traitor to Blacks. He was the sellout, the Uncle Tom—the one who had caused everything that was wrong with Blacks to happen. I was confused, to say the least, and embarked on a personal search to understand who my great-grandfather really was. The Library of Congress has an exhaustive collection of Washington's papers, and I completely immersed myself in them.
Why did you start The Booker T. Washington Inspirational Network?
About five or six years ago I read a book about Washington that was much more accurate than anything I had read previously. I contacted the author, and he invited me to participate in a panel of black conservatives speaking in Washington, D.C. I accepted and used the opportunity to share with the attendees the principles and values of my great-grandfather. The response was amazing, and I subsequently received a ton of email messages requesting more information.
In the audience that day was a man named Eddie Huff, and he encouraged me to start a nonprofit for people who had been likewise inspired by Washington. The two of us began loosely connecting individuals who were interested in expressing my great-grandfather's philosophy in their professional pursuits, and that's how the network was founded.
What were the principles and values of Booker T. Washington?
Everything started with his Christian faith. While working in the homes of white missionaries, he was exposed to the Bible and learned from it that physical freedom wasn't actually true freedom. Thus, one of his primary goals was to teach Blacks such as himself, who had been born into slavery, how to live in a fully free society. Washington knew that it would take work to be free—that Blacks needed to develop psychologically, economically, and spiritually to ever truly own their freedom. He knew that progress had to come from the inside out—that it was fundamentally a work of the spirit—and from the bottom up.
His fellow former slaves wanted to start at the top. They were frustrated and tired and didn't want to work another day in their lives, but my great-grandfather knew better. His vision was to reconstruct the thinking of Blacks, to convince them that freedom would result from hard work, education, personal responsibility, and patience.
How is the Inspirational Network different from, say, the NAACP?
Our principles run completely counter to the principles of today's NAACP. Socialists founded the NAACP. They were do-gooders, if you will, but they did not believe in God. My great-grandfather believed that God was the giver of life and the maker of freedom. If he were alive today, he would cringe at the actions of the NAACP—all of its race-baiting and its connections to tangential issues that have more to do with power and control than the betterment of people. The NAACP is committed to the power of man, not to the power of God.
Your website states that the life and legacy of Booker T. Washington have often been misrepresented. How so?
My great-grandfather died in 1915 at the age of 59. Our country was a far different place at that time. Those in power—whether you're talking politics, business, or even academia—generally believed in God and exhibited traditional values. For two generations after he passed, people thus revered Washington. They respected his work, and they modeled his principles of educational excellence, hard work, intact families, and faith in God.
In the 1960s, however, various organizations began challenging everything that my great-grandfather had stood for. Black nationalists and others wanted to move the country in a more socialist or Marxist direction, and because this did not fit with my great-grandfather's belief in capitalism and personal responsibility, they decided to completely negate Washington by claiming that he sold out to Whites.
It's a ridiculous assertion, of course, but progressives had to destroy my great-grandfather's influence before they could successfully lure Blacks into an attitude of entitlement and victimhood. You still hear this sort of thing today—that black people would be far better off had Washington not betrayed them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I notice that you never use the term "African-American." Why?
Obviously, I recognize that my ancestors came from some part of Africa, but as I see it, I am simply an American. That's how I was raised. The generation that raised me and my peers made sure that we knew "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Pledge of Allegiance. I was taught patriotism, and I just don't see people as types of Americans. Rather, I see them as Americans—period.
We used to believe that our country was "the great melting pot." We used to believe in e pluribus unum—out of the many, one. Today, however, people clamor to come to the nation of freedom, and then, when they get here, they want to hold onto all of these different distinctions. I just don't understand that.
Your website states that "while it is easy to blame either the white race or our own race, neither is fruitful in the end. Blame and negativity were not the answer then, and they are not the answer today." Why not blame Whites for the hardships experienced by Blacks?
You know, we're not the only people who have ever been oppressed. We're certainly not the only people who have been abused. We're also not the only people for whom racism has been a problem. At least this country did something about slavery, unlike Africa or the Middle East, both of which still harbor slaves. We have come so far as a country when it comes to racism. At some point the price has been paid. American Whites have really gone the extra mile in terms of reparations for slavery, and now Blacks in this country are better off than Blacks in any other country in the world. We really are blessed.
Some in the world of academia insist that by taking advantage of the privilege of whiteness, which they cannot help but do, Whites contribute to racism. To be white, in other words, is to be automatically racist. What do you think about this assertion?
I suppose there is a degree of "white privilege" in this country, primarily because Whites had a head start over Blacks in terms of getting into positions of power, but this is quickly changing. We now have a president who is black, and many in his cabinet are black as well. Today, a lot of CEOs and university presidents are black, and this will be increasingly true in the future. Whatever white privilege remains is being diminished. Things will eventually even out.
In the meantime, however, I think it's ludicrous to say that cashing in on privilege amounts to racism. Racism occurs when someone voluntarily denies someone else their rights based on color or ethnicity, not when someone is born white. It's this sort of thinking that causes some to believe that it's impossible to be a black racist. Ridiculous. People need to be judged as individuals rather than as groups.
What are the biggest problems facing Blacks in America today?
First and foremost is the dismantling of the family—a direct result of our country's welfare program, which rewards unmarried motherhood. In some urban neighborhoods, 90 percent of the children are born to single moms. Too many young boys in urban black communities lack fathers to teach them how to be men, and this situation hinders black progress like no other.
Almost equally as devastating is the rise of moral relativism. This notion that there is no absolute truth as far as behavior goes has permeated the black community, creating a culture of narcissism and entitlement.
And then there's our public education system. We throw billions of dollars at public education, but we won't institute the vouchers that would allow parents to choose where to send their kids to school. Consequently, our kids aren't learning anything. Something like 50 percent of black boys living in urban communities drop out of high school.
What are some possible solutions to these problems?
We could start by owning up to the role we play in our own difficulties. Unless people start speaking truth to the lie that Blacks are victims, things will never change. We need to stop whining. My great-grandfather was fond of saying that "the world may pity a whining race, but the world will never respect a whining race." It's time for us to do the work that we need to do to clean up our own communities.
Bill Cosby tried to address this four or five years ago—to tell the truth that a lot of the problems that Blacks now face are the result of our own bad decisions. They have nothing to do with racism or the government, but rather with getting away from what we once were as a people—trusting God, emphasizing excellence, keeping our families intact, getting married before having children, and so on.
If Booker T. Washington were alive today, would he be pleased with the progress of Blacks in America?
I think he would probably be extremely disappointed. We were on such a good path before social progressives got involved. By 1906, for example, Tuskegee University, the historically black college that my great-grandfather founded, had produced more self-made millionaires than Harvard, Yale, and Princeton combined. And these people were not just making money for money's sake. They used their money to help others. They were successful and they had character. At the turn of the century, Blacks were routinely winning oratory and literary contests. We believed in our abilities then. This is not the case now, unfortunately, and I think it would sadden Washington.
My hope, and I'm sure it would be my great-grandfather's hope as well, is that this era is simply a glitch in our overall progress—that our early principles and ideals still exist and will eventually rise again. Washington was a man of great hope. Even with circumstances as they are, he would still be hopeful for our race. •
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