By Brother William P. Muhammad
According to current demographic trends and statistics, the year 2050 will reveal an America the founders neither realized nor imagined, a nation where people of color may very well become the majority population. Subsequently translating into governorships, congressional seats and, as heralded by the past campaigns of Shirley Chisholm, Jessie Jackson and now Barak Obama, the Oval Office, as a rule rather than the exception, may find people of color routinely occupying its seat.
This potential reality, a dream for some and a nightmare for others, would change current social, political and economic paradigms. Manifesting significant domestic and foreign policy changes, such as wealth distribution at home and abroad, strategic realignments overseas and perhaps more equitable relations with the developing world, the mid 21st century may indeed become the beginning of the non white world’s rise.
Bringing a new meaning to words E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) is such a future realistic, if not overly optimistic? Are the American people, particularly our youth, adequately prepared to inherit such a reality? And as the old saying goes: if “there are two sides to every coin,” with reality often found somewhere in the middle, where will the United States truly stand, and toward which direction will the current facts lead?
On the eve of his 1968 assassination, in what became his final speech, Dr. King referred to reaching the mountain top and seeing the “Promised Land,” a profound if not prophetic statement on America’s future potential. This often misrepresented statement of his, if interpreted properly, should put into context the “Valley of Decision” in which the American people find themselves today. However, Blacks and Latinos who desire to occupy that “Promised Land,” serve themselves and their interests better by taking into account where they fit into the “big picture.
According to US census data, the United States may instead find itself a nation where power rests with an older, wealthier and more educated class among whites and Asians, with an increasingly undereducated, poorer and non-skilled majority consisting primarily of Blacks and Latinos.
Demographic projections for 2050 indicate an America more diverse, with increasingly higher numbers of non-whites, than at any other period in its modern history. As these numbers continue to grow with current socio-economic domestic conditions remaining the same, this new and emerging majority may not have the qualifications necessary to maintain America’s status as a world power.
According to the religious traditions of Jews, Christians and Muslims, the “Promised Land” was a civilization, and as such, a society built and maintained, in part, by a mastery of mathematics, the sciences and law. From a secular perspective, Dr. King’s “Promised Land” is no different and history bears witness that the American civilization was likewise based upon a mastery of these three things. Therefore, in order to enable the eventual emergence of a new socio-economic and political order, people of color must first qualify themselves in order to occupy the future positions awaiting them, requiring much more than the oft repeated mantra of “stay in school.”
Parents, educators and policy-makers must offer a crystal clear vision of how the future will look in order to motivate the coming majority population and academic achievement should carry the same weight, if not more, as athletic achievement.
For instance, how many schools hang banners of conference, regional and state championships in their gymnasiums, how many school hallways prominently display sports trophies and how many schools do the same or better for intellectual exercises such as math, science or debate and which is the priority?
Education and the seeking of knowledge are the keys to success for any generation, and to remain relevant within in a market-oriented global reality requires an intense commitment not only to excellence, but also to a vision relevant to the people involved.
According to educational statistics, by order of race, Asian-Americans leave high school with the highest math and science scores, followed by whites with slightly lower numbers, while Latinos, Blacks and Native Americans score at the very bottom (and this does not take into account those who dropout before graduation).
Coupled with current incarceration rates which find nearly one-in-three African-American men, and increasing numbers of Black women, entangled in the criminal justice system, the disposition and relevance of African-Americans by 2050 appears only open to speculation.
Whether it is false pride, self-sabotage and personal destruction promoted in popular culture; envy, materialism and unnecessary debt promoted through conspicuous consumption or racism, abuse and low expectations promoted in our national priorities, our young men and women are digesting the bitter fruits of social, economic and political irrelevance, and the old saying says: “You are what you eat.”
In 2050, a Black or Latino child born today will be 42-years-old. In a country where they will no longer be a minority, but together the majority, will they be relevant in the onward march of civilization? Today will the elders lead them over the mountaintop and into the “Promised Land” or will we wander in the wilderness another 40 years without vision as our young people continue perish? The time for change is now, and we know what must be done.
Education is more that just showing up in the classroom. It requires a desire among both the teacher and the student to feed from the wellsprings of knowledge which is an ever evolving process. It requires parents to recognize the light of brilliance in their children’s eyes and to stoke the fires of their natural curiosity. It requires limiting the television and reading to or with them, discussion of current events, the physical world around them and how they fit into the big picture.
It requires a vision for the future and how young people will impact and affect that world when it comes, and perhaps more important than anything else, it requires parents, teachers and policy makers to recognize that if Americans wish to maintain their quality of life and status as a world power, together they must value their children more than they value their own personal interests.
Bro. William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.