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Did the Black community receive one too many handouts?

October 12, 2010

There is no denying, the period of Reconstruction (1867-late 1870’s) was the most progressive time for American Blacks. Though we still faced the obstacles as newly freed Blacks and what Jim Crow had to offer, we thrived as a nation within a nation. I am not discussing financially, I am focusing on ingenuity. We built, we collaborated, and were resourceful. This was because we had no choice. We built businesses in our communities and established goods and services detrimental to our survival. Even through the mid 1950’s Blacks continued to display analytical skills through inventions and innovation. These were also the years the “Madame CJ Walker” empire was born. She invented the hair straightening comb and went on to develop many other hair care products. She became the first black female self-made millionaire. There are countless stories like hers! However, what happened after 1950’s and 1960’s? What did integration do to us? Are real Black self-made millionaires still possible?

I strongly believe that the Black community got one too many social programs and handouts that created a generational chain reaction. This led to the crippling of us. We now have children that expect results overnight but that is not that easily attained unless you take your talents to existing empires, which we know the Black community has few; hence, another rippling effect. One of the missions I am on is travelling the country teaching people how to enter into the beauty supply industry. I developed a chain of stores in Atlanta, Georgia before becoming a business and economics professor. It saddens me when I encounter people that have the desire to be successful entrepreneurs but seek the handout route to get in. Here’s where we suffer. If we ever expect to be successful in business, we must get acquainted with “costs and investments.” It is dangerous to assume that all a business does is “take” from the community and sadly that is the conditioning we have developed. Business owners incur expenses that lead to profits. If you own a store, whatever you want to sell, you will have to buy. So many of us want to be millionaires but don’t realize that millionaires carry million dollar loans, human resource headaches, and other risks.

This reminds me of the “Stone Soup” fable. The story goes like this. A lady bragged about making stone soup in a small village. Other villagers became intrigued by the dish. They ask about the ingredients in it. However, the ingredients were nothing; she had no ingredients to make the dish. She only had the fire, the water and the pot. Yet, after villagers witnessed her joyfully stirring the water, they wanted to be a part of the “harvest” and decided to each bring an ingredient that would make the dish better. Next thing you know, there was a complete meal for everyone to partake in.

The philosophical moral to this fable is that “everyone can easily benefit when everyone contributes.” The breakdown for us is we got to many handouts from charities and governments giving Blacks the mindset that there is little risk, investment or work needed on our part in order to get something in return. We fail to realize when we contribute to the success of those around us, we are building a social group of successful people we actually “know” that we can benefit from. When we allow people in our space to fail, or become a spectator of their efforts yet expect to “get” when they become successful, we find ourselves complaining that the person changed. Actually, they don’t change, they simply “remember.” They remember who contributed to their success. I know I am stepping on plenty of toes with this column but it is desperately important that we understand the dynamics of those individuals and groups that are successful. They give (whether to their intellectual development, a cause, or a business they know), SO they are able to take!

Devin Robinson is a business and economics professor and author of Rebuilding in the Black Infrastructure: Making America a Colorless Nation and Blacks: From the Plantation to the Prison.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2010 3:43 pm

    WOW! What an important and much needed article. I agree with you 100%. I believe that when you continue to give a person a fish instead of teaching them to fish you create dependent people. Because we teach what we know we then create children who depend on handouts to survive. Wonderful article, I need to give copies to the Mayor of my town and the head of Social Services.

    Lucille Tyler Baldwin
    Author of “Sick and Tired of Being Broke”

  2. October 12, 2010 4:33 pm

    Great article as I think the topic applies to all of us as Americans.

    Out of need comes inspiration. Thus, if you remove a person’s needs through artificial means like extended social programs, a dependency often occurs over time and worse yet is that we learn to live within the confines of that box. Ironically, we actually thrive as a species when we have slightly less resources than we think we need. We’ll innovate under those conditions.

    I think the long term solution is for us to learn to be comfortable without, wherein constructive self-denial can actually create more tangible wealth and mental health than placating every whim. Self-esteem begins here and is the genesis of transcending from short term thinking to long term goals.

    Aaron Houser
    Concerned Citizen and Entrepreneur

  3. October 12, 2010 7:49 pm

    As always.
    I agree. I must forward this article to others.
    I might add that what you are saying is also biblical.
    Sowing and reaping.

  4. Rich Waugh permalink
    October 12, 2010 8:10 pm

    Your point is right on the mark, though there is an unfortunate “typo” in the sixth sentence of the first ‘graph. The word “detrimental” appears where I know you intended the word “instrumental.” No big deal, but I know you prefer to be accurate so I mention it.

    This syndrome of crippling with kindness applies to people of all races, creeds and nationalities. You can see it in the welfare programs, recovery incentives, foreign aid and right on down the line. When people have no stake in the their own progress the progress promptly grinds to a halt. We all grow stronger and better when we work for ourselves and with others, and we grow weaker and more dependent when we take handouts.

    Just look at wild animals that are taken in and nurtured – they can almost never be returned to the wild because the handouts have left them unequipped to fend for themselves in the wild. We know this to be true of animals, so why do we think the human animal should be any different? The phrase, “Don’t give a handout – give a hand up” needs to be taken to heart and put into practice. If you’re unsure of the validity of this approach just look at the success rate of the micro-lending programs in African and other places. A tiny bit of seed money to launch a budding entrepreneur in business and things take off. The success rate of those micro loans is amazing and the recipients repay them, too.

    What makes these programs work is that they are administered on an individual basis to encourage enterprise rather than being wholesale handouts spread around to garner votes or recognition. It is easy to appropriate a billion or two to handout indiscriminately bu tit takes far more care and thought to disburse a million dollars a mere hundred or two at a time to deserving individuals and track repayment, return on investment, etc. Savings aside, it is definitely worth the extra trouble to do it this way. People are made stronger instead of weaker, value is added to the community, and continued growth spreads like ripples in a pond. None of which can be said for handouts.

    Rich Waugh

  5. October 13, 2010 3:09 am

    Thank You Mr. Robinson once again for bringing this most Awesome and Wonderful post. Many of us new and upcoming businesses need to know some of the history behind some of the most powerful people in our time and world. I have shared the story of Madame CJ Walker with some of my beauty networks and it was great that you have posted this information about her and many others. Being a business owner myself in the natural product business and sharing these great products with my customers. Gives me a joyful feeling to help my families take care of their hair and skin. I have posted this link to share with others to learn more about Madame CJ Walker and encourage others to learn the history of these great self-made millionaires of our time. I pray that one day our Black communities will come together and give back to our communities and rebuild our lives…

  6. Brandie permalink
    July 30, 2014 7:52 pm

    Wonderful article.

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