“Young Gifted and Black”—so what? Root Hog or Die.

“Young Gifted and Black”—so what? Root Hog or Die.
by L. Arthalia Cravin


L. Arthalia Cravin - blogLast weekend I attended a very informative and worthwhile conference at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The third conference of its kind, sponsored by the College of Education, was entitled, “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Counseling Symposium: Quality Matters in Equity, Access, and Advocacy.” The keynote speakers were two dynamic African American men, one of whom was a Dr. Richard G. Majors. Dr. Majors lives in Great Britain, having gone there almost thirteen years ago for a six month visit to study the problems associated with low educational attainment of young black boys in England. He pointed out a strange parallel with the same problems facing young black boys here in the United States. During his introductory remarks, Dr. Majors showed a MP3 presentation of a montage of black faces with Nina Simone singing “Young, Gifted and Black” in the background. The song first appeared in 1970 on one of Simone’s album and has been performed by numerous artists, including Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, and Elton John. The song also became something of an anthem for the 1970’s Civil Rights movement. “To Be Young Gifted and Black” was also the name of a play, based on Lorraine Hansberry’s writings, which appeared off Broadway in the late 1960s. To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words was also a book. Lorraine Hansberry, who died in 1965 at the age of 34, was also the author of the award-winning play, “A Raisin in the Sun” that first appeared on Broadway in 1959. The play was based on the first lines of Langston’s Hughes poem entitled “Harlem, ”What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”


These are the lyrics to “Young Gifted and Black.”


“Young Gifted And Black”


Young, gifted and black
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and black
Open your heart to what I mean


In the whole world you know
There’s a million boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and black
And that’s a fact


Young, gifted and black
We must begin to tell our young
There’s a world waiting for you
This is a quest that’s just begun


When you feel really low
Yeah, there’s a great truth you should know
When you’re young, gifted and black
Your soul’s intact


Young, gifted and black
How I long to know the truth
There are times when I look back
And I am haunted by my youth


Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted and black
Is where it’s at


As I sat watching the montage and listening to Simone singing, I glanced around the room at the audience of young and old, black, white, Latino, males and females, thinking about the recent study entitled “Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008.” The study reported that African Americans will loose between $71 and $92 billion dollars of wealth because of the subprime mortgage mess. The reports makes this statement: “A deeper look into the crisis reveals that the subprime lending debacle has caused the greatest loss of wealth to people of color in modern U. S. history.” The report concludes that, based on currents rates of improvement that it will take 5423 years for people of color to achieve homeownership parity with whites. The report then states that the data shows that “subprime lending is evidence of systematic and prejudicial institutional racism.”


To be “young gifted and black?” How did the combined so-called influence and “gifts” of black folks like Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Creflo Dollar and T. D. Jakes prevent what happened to black folks before they were scammed and deliberately placed in loans that made hundreds of white lenders, and others in the real estate industry, richer than they already were? More specifically, how did Stanley O’Neal, the “gifted and black” former chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch brokerage help to avoid the crisis of wealth loss to peoples of color? He resigned taking with him a $160 million severance and retirement package. How did he use his “black gifts” to warn uninformed peoples of color about the type of high-risk, shady loans that they were deliberately given, in spite of the fact that many qualified for regular fixed-rate loans?


To be “young gifted and black” what does it really mean, anymore? I am the offspring of slaves and sharecroppers. I have first-hand experience with the second-class treatment of my parents and grandparents. I also have first-hand experience with the second-class treatment of myself—as a woman and as an African American. I have worked in corporate environments where I was paid less and presumed to know less. It is because of these experiences that I have a “discernment about things.” I have a “sixth sense” about “the times.” And, as the song goes, “the times, they are a changing.” They are “a changing” especially for African Americans. We are being pushed backward in ways that too few of us perceive.


I have entitled this column precisely as I have because being “young gifted and black” in America confers no special standing to privilege or protection from discrimination of any sort whatsoever. If the mostly white subprime mortgage lenders deliberately targeted peoples of color, and in the process made billions in fees and commission as a direct result of their deliberate racism, then this one modern-day wholesale scam is proof positive that African Americans cannot look to any institution within this society for protection. It is as if we are still back on the plantations making money for our masters. To keep singing the song “Young Gifted and Black” is tantamount to a joke when no amount of black intelligence saved us from one of the greatest class/race-based scams in modern history. That a gifted black man, who headed a firm that participated in the debacle, would later resign with a $160 million cash buyout is telling of the relevance of “gifted blacks,” in America. Did all of O’Neal’s intelligence and rise to the top of white corporate America prevent the crisis? We are in a “dog eat dog” world and African Americans are now left with the old cautionary survival warning: “Root Hog or Die” However harsh this advice may seem it is true, and no amount of singing “young gifted and black” will alter our circumstances. It should instead prompt us to reassess our precarious predicament as peoples of color and to find strategies and solutions to alter our downward spiral.


© Copyright 2008 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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  1. avatar L. Cravin says:

    Correction to column. The above column states that it was during the presentation of Dr. Richard Majors, of the UK, that the montage and song “Young, Gifted and Black were shown. It was during the introductory presentation of the morning keynote speaker, Dr. Ronald Rochon, Dean of the College of Education, Buffalo State College that the montage and song were played. I apologize for this error. L. Cravin