The Blacks TV Doesn't Show You

CAL THOMAS

August 24, 1993|By CAL THOMAS

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- If you are white, what image comes to mind when you think about young black males?

For many it is that of a criminal. When some whites see a young black male on the street, they react by clutching their purse, increasing their walking speed or telegraphing their discomfort in other ways.

Each night in most major cities, local TV news flashes pictures of young black males who have committed criminal acts or are the victims of crime. Handcuffed with head down, or shot dead in the gutter or in body bags, this negative image of young black America is tragically a part of the nation's consciousness.

Then there are the grievance police, those so-called ''civil-rights leaders'' who have made prosperous livings for themselves raging against the slave past and modern Republican presidents and demanding more from the taxpayers to ''cure'' poverty's never-ending story.

The other day I was invited to an event in Washington that exploded those negative images of black America -- and I was at once thrilled by the experience and angered that the press virtually ignored it. It was called Black Expo USA, and it honored black entrepreneurs who have made a name and a living for themselves by refusing to accept the negatives, focusing instead on positives.

These aggressive, affirmative-thinking men and women own companies that produce everything from potato chips with anti-drug messages on the bag (and a great-tasting chip inside) to sneakers, toys and other products and services.

Theirs were stories that demanded to be told, but were not. The press seems to prefer pictures of dead blacks in the street, not prosperous blacks on their feet. By largely ignoring success stories, the press perpetuates an attitude of failure, dependency and fear.

At Black Expo USA there was no talk of politics from the dais, no bashing of Republicans or conservatives. This was an occasion to honor achievement. It was not about subsidizing failure and furthering despair.

Though the political affiliation of most in the room was likely Democratic, Black Expo USA invited conservative Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, -- a former businessman -- to be the keynote speaker, and one of the apostles of supply-side economics, Jude Wanniski, to introduce him. Senator Bennett spoke of the four essentials that make an entrepreneur successful: optimism, the ability to sell, accurately predicting the future market for a product and the ability to deliver on promises.

What happens in a nation that does not see this positive image of black America? It creates a fearful white class afraid to encounter a black man on the street, and it helps to perpetuate a black underclass largely resigned to life the way it is.

Jerry Roebuck, the chairman and founder of Black Expo USA, told me, ''I may have a suit on, but I feel whites are uncomfortable when I get near them. I am even more conscious of their fears when I am dressed casually and wearing sneakers.''

Mr. Roebuck also notes that while most young blacks have heard of Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, few know about the pioneering work of Ebony magazine publisher John Johnson or other blacks who have succeeded in business. He says the chance of their becoming like either Michael is ''a million to one,'' but they are far more likely to succeed if they follow the principles of successful black businessmen and women. But how will they find these role models to emulate if the press largely ignores them and focuses on failed and failing blacks or superstars in sports and music?

There are profound economic and political implications involved in successful black businesses. Mr. Roebuck says black Americans will spend in excess of $300 billion this year.

If they were a separate nation, that would be equivalent to the world's ninth largest economy. But, he says, less than 8 percent of that money is spent to support black-owned businesses, which produce jobs for blacks. How will people know about the businesses unless they are publicized?

Politically, Mr. Roebuck says he is tired of hearing the same negative messages every year from the Urban League and NAACP. He prefers to overcome not by intimidation and the verbal bludgeoning of whites, but through hard work and risk-taking.

Recently, Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., asserted a connection between violence on television and crime. Could not the reverse also be true? What would happen if television and newspapers overwhelmed the negative images of black America with positive, uplifting stories? Would this produce hope and desire, dreams and goals among black youth, along with a renewed purpose for living? It would be an interesting experiment. It would also be responsible journalism.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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