This is a very important time. We are all surrounded by unfounded lies and factoids on the right and by irrational, condescending cynicism on the purportedly “progressive” extremes of the left.
The Internet teaches us a lesson our parents told us repeatedly when we were vulnerable children: Life is about proportion. Fire can be our friend if it is there in the right proportion to us. Then it can warm us. But the same indifferent fire can be our enemy when it is out of control.
Life is like that.
It would help us to fully understand this when we think of black Americans, who are always supposedly in need of “self-esteem.” A small industry of academic hustlers and talking heads make a living by speaking endlessly about the evils of American slavery, which supposedly haunts us still. Those evils surely do, but in a more complex way than these academics say. Because too many people with degrees are incapable of seeing life beyond cliches and slogans does not mean the rest of us should lose sight of American complexity.
Those evils, the story goes, were so different from slavery in its African version — even though the Africans sold members of other tribes and never came up with a version of abolition like the one in Europe or America. Part of this shows the evolving greatness of the West, with the United States leading the way, even fighting against itself whenever unfairness held a dominant place.
The hustlers suggest that all evil can be explained, even in post-slavery America, if we are not afraid to face the perpetual bloodsucking nature of capitalism here, there and everywhere.
It’s pervasive cynicism sold at far more than wholesale prices.
Black Americans would do well to remember the hundreds, thousands, millions of people who happen to be black doing their jobs well — and helping their fellow Americans, even often saving their lives — without ever succumbing to these tired tropes of victimization.
Such people are everywhere, doing top-flight jobs from surgery in hospitals to driving ambulances and keeping safety first in crosswalks.
Just two among countless prominent examples:
Security guard Frank Wills found some doors taped, and when he saw them taped a second time, prompted the arrest of the Watergate burglars, and the rest of it eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, torn down by a growing mountain of facts. This is quite easily recognized as one of the most important jobs done well in the history of this nation.
Wills should be remembered like Patrick Henry for bringing up to date the protection of our democracy.
Another forgotten man I wrote about a few years ago is Rudy Washington, one of Rudy Giuliani’s deputy mayors on Sept. 11, 2001.
He rose to the occasion on that fateful day, demonstrating tremendous leadership under crisis. He made crucial calls to federal authorities. He ordered the air to be tested when the first tower came down. And so much more.
The record and the history are clear: Because of Washington’s quick thinking in helping rapidly coordinate a response to the attack, lives were undoubtedly saved.
But, as I wrote, Washington is so rarely recalled because he has not wanted to be seen as a grandstanding opportunist about a day when nearly 3,000 people were killed.
He and Frank Wills are black. But they are not defined by cynicism or plagued by a victim mentality. They knew how to step it up when the moment called for it.
They were simply good men doing their best, which is all we can ask of anyone. That is one of the reasons our country is so inarguably great.
It is not because we do not periodically suffer from misinformation, distortion, lies and a need of swift but insufficient explanations that can reduce themselves to stereotypes. No, but because, from top to bottom and back up, greatness comes from everywhere. Some hauls might be much longer than others, but our people always manage to step up.
Ours is a nation not afraid to face the ongoing fact that sweeping must continue because dust always returns. That is what the founders actually understood from the very beginning.
Stanley Crouch can be reached by email at email@example.com.