Issuing a powerful call for constructive social action, the popular radio and television commentator Tavis Smiley has assembled the voices of leading African American artists, intellectuals, and politicians from Chuck D to Cornel West to Maxine Waters. How to Make Black America Better takes a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach that includes Smiley's own ten challenges to the African American community.
Smiley and his contributors stress the family tie, the power of community networks, the promise of education, and the leverage of black economic and political strength in shaping a new vision of America. Encouraging African Americans to realize the potential of their own leadership and to work collectively from the bottom up, the selections offer new ideas for addressing vital issues facing black communities. Featuring original essays by some of our most important thinkers, How to Make Black America Better is an essential book for anyone concerned with the status of African Americans today.
Exhorting black Americans to respect themselves and support their community, BET talk show host Smiley opens with 10 "challenges," focusing on education, health and money. These themes are underscored in the second section of the book, which features a collection of short entries from 28 black movers and shakers, from Maxine Waters to Shaquille O'Neal. While the litany of concerns and lists of remedies may seem repetitious, the net effect is a consensus on the needs of black America: more emphasis on educational excellence, more patronage of black enterprises, more voter registration and political involvement, and more pride in black history and culture. Reform of the prison system is urged by many, as well as a reckoning within the black church with homophobia and sexism. Spokespeople for very different perspectives sometimes offer strikingly similar thoughts: both critic Stanley Crouch and musician Sinbad wonder when it became hip to be dumb. The book ends with transcripts of two discussions with leading black thinkers held at the Democratic convention of 2000. Again, there's much consensus, thanks either to the absence of black Republicans or to a willingness to think inclusively. When educator Jawanza Kunjufu proposes a Ujamaa (cooperative economics) plan for black America, the moderator, attorney Raymond Brown, avoids a response, rather than criticize. Even if they give way to monologues, these two panel talks are longer on substance and shorter on rhetoric than the sometimes tedious earlier sections of the book. (Jan. 9)Forecast: While only the committed will buy and read this cover to cover, there are enough quotable bits to generate interest. Given Smiley's black media connections and the stellar list of contributors, visibility will be high and sales respectable.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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January 01, 2002
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Excerpt from How to Make Black America Better by Tavis Smiley
Challenge #1 Think Black First, 100 Percent of the Time Whenever we engage in business deals, whenever we have work for hire or contracts to be shared, or even if we're doing something as mundane as shopping, we should tell ourselves: "I must find someone Black for this job. I must find some- place Black to spend this money." After all, we cannot blame the white man for our problems if we don't try to solve them ourselves. Our mission should be, first and foremost, to uplift the race. How many times, in the past year alone, can you recall hearing another Black person rail about how we give our dollars to every community but our own? Thinking Black requires more than altering our behavior as consumers or deciding to settle down in Black neighborhoods. It requires us to really part with some ingrained economic habits. We have fine examples in pop culture. Rather than watch top fashion designers, such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, corner the market by appropriating hip-hop styles, Sean "Puffy" Combs and Russell Simmons countered with clothing lines of their own: Sean John and Phat Farm. The same holds true for the line of FUBU gear. FUBU's name stands for "for us, by us." And young Black Americans have responded by making FUBU one of the country's largest-selling design labels. Walter Latham, noticing a paucity of venues for Black comedy, brought together four Black comedians, dubbed them "The Kings of Comedy," and put them out on a national tour that was wildly successful. When Latham was ready to do a movie about the tour, he went with a Black director, Spike Lee. Thinking Black first is an easy commitment to make. But don't be fooled; it is not the easiest commitment to keep. Thinking Black 100 percent of the time, however, doesn't mean we're required to act on our intentions all the time. In fact, getting our intentions translated into action can be a real challenge: At times, a Black alternative may not be available. And many of us have horror stories of being left in a lurch by a fellow Black person who simply failed to deliver. Just prior to the start of the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, for example, I sought out Black videographers to tape the symposium on advocacy I hosted (excerpts of which appear in this book). I hired three who came with good recommendations. To my dismay, they produced footage that was of poor quality and not at all worth the cost. We all have to realize that thinking Black is a two-way street. Our businesses can no longer limp along in the new millennium on the excuse that Black customers will support them. When we, as Black consumers, spend our money, we deserve quality, because by virtue of being Black we had to work harder to get our money. In my experience, this type of problem has been the exception rather than the rule. Just one experience like that can have a chilling effect, however, on the Black consumer; it can make us reluctant to choose Black the next time and leave us braced for substandard treatment when we do. I recognize that there are times when I can't do business with a Black person. But I always think Black first and always try to keep my business in the community. For some areas in our lives, thinking Black is automatic. When we want soul food, a good barber or beauty shop, or place to worship, we know where to go. Plenty of Black people take our cars to a Black mechanic, regardless of whether he has his own shop or is replacing parts beneath a shade tree in his Backyard. But more often than not, we don't take thinking Black to the next level. We don't put diligence into supporting Black stockbrokers, lawyers, agents, doctors, dentists, Web sites. We have ourselves convinced that in those arenas, the white man's ice is colder. We complain all the time about the difficulties of being Black, of being dissed, of being misunderstood in our day-to-day dealings. Yet we