When I was a kid, maybe 13 years of age, my sister and I spent a day with my slightly-younger cousins at their home.
My aunt Debbie — the mom of my cousins — figured it would be smart to keep us occupied, so she took us to a nearby game store and rented a couple of video games for us to play. One of them was a hockey game.
This was a time when I was a dedicated video game player, and I was good at picking up the details of games that I hadn’t even played before. Being the only dedicated video game player amongst the kids present (me, my sister and two cousins), I was kicking everyone’s asses.
(These days were the genesis of my computer/internet nerdiness.)
I was playing the hockey game against my cousin Laura, who was maybe 10 years old, and beating her handily. Aunt Debbie sat nearby watching us with growing discomfort. She didn’t like seeing her daughter frustrated and growing more upset as the beating got worse.
My pre-teen cockiness wasn’t helping the situation either.
I’d never played a hockey video game before that day, and never played one after. But, fighting is allowed in hockey — so the video game featured on-ice fighting.
My player and Laura’s player got into a fight. Laura didn’t know how to work the fighting mechanism, so my player beat her player to a pulp. It should be noted that winning a fight in hockey has no effect on the outcome of the game; both fighters are penalized for fighting when the fight ends.
Laura though, being a 10-year-old kid getting beat on her home turf, complained to her mom.
“Mom! He didn’t tell me how to fight!!” She cried out.
Aunt Debbie quickly intervened, with a solution she’d been itching to use.
“Well, let’s start the game over, then,” she said matter-of-factly. She pressed the Reset button on the Nintendo while glaring at me.
In the hockey game, I’d continually chosen the Toronto team to play with — just out of habit. Toronto was not better than any of the other teams; I was simply better than the other humans at the game and kept choosing the same team out of superstition.
Aunt Debbie and Laura must have assumed the Toronto team had magical powers, though. Upon resetting the game, aunt Debbie declared that Laura would get to choose her team first this time.
“Who will you pick, Laura?”
“Go for it!”
I kicked Laura’s ass again in the next game.
Imagine there’s a Korean fried chicken spot in the hood you’re from. Maybe you don’t have to imagine, depending on where you live. You go there 2-3 times per week. You spend $8-13 each trip, ordering your favorite wings, spring rolls and fried rice combos. You don’t think much about the place in general. The food is good enough, given the conditioning of your palate to this point in life.
But then months or years later, you get turned on to an eloquent social justice activist who has appointed themselves as spokesperson for disenfranchised / underrepresented people. This person, an articulate and forceful speaker, focuses on the financial imbalance and wealth gap between races.
The next day, you walk by the fried chicken place and come to the following conclusion: these Korean mofos are goddamn RICH!!
They’ve been running their business and making money off of US, in OUR neighborhood, for damn near a DECADE!!
They need to give back to the HOOD!! They’re only rich BECAUSE of us, anyway!! It’s OUR MONEY they’re living off of!! Plus, look at us: we’re struggling out here, while they’re sending their kids to college with OUR MONEY!! It’s only right they be forced to GIVE BACK!!
Maybe you’ve heard such an argument. Shit, maybe you’re the one making it and enticing others to agree. I grew up in a neighborhood that had a similar setup: all Black residents; stores owned by mostly non-Black people.
Those __________ (insert non-Black race) mofos owed you/us nothing.
I shouldn’t have to explain why, but being that this is the point of the article, I will.
When you go into a business, an exchange occurs: you get something (say, the shrimp fried rice), and they get something (money). Everyone wins. Even the government, taking taxes out of the transaction, gets something out of it. Win-win-win.
Over the years, with enough such transactions and assuming the owners of the business manage their operation wisely, the Koreans put money away, make upgrades to their business, buy homes and cars, and take care of their families from their business.
Now, in the same ten years it takes for them to do that, one of their loyal neighborhood customers is doing a whole lot of nothing. Or maybe they are working hard too — just in a different way. But after ten years, those Korean entrepreneurs are a lot further ahead, financially, than that loyal customer.
Is this injustice?
Can the root of this truth be traced back to slavery?
Imbalance ≠ Injustice.
Imbalance is a real thing. Life itself is imbalanced. The results we see — the sometimes-large differences between groups of people — is merely a reflection of life.
The wealth gap.
Standardized test scores.
The race of people in prison.
Beating your cousin in a hockey video game.
Humans are all created equal. But, from the moment we’re born, we are shaped and conditioned to become unequal. We have different home environments. We’re raised by different people. Once we’re old enough to notice stark differences in the values, mindsets and habits of our peers, we can appreciate how much of a role upbringing plays in how people turn out. But we don’t control the hand we’re dealt.
Once we grow old enough, though, we get to make our own choices — of associates, where to go, what to do, how to think. Some of us take advantage of these choices, pivot and create completely different outcomes from what would be expected given our backgrounds; some do not. What someone does or doesn’t do with their power of choice is not the fault of the system.
I opened with the story of playing video games and how my cousin — and by extension her mother, my aunt — saw injustice in my cousin’s defeat. Debbie reset the game, Laura chose the team that I had been using, and she lost again. Clearly, the results of the game were an imbalance of skills, not an injustice of the system.
You probably can agree with that, even laugh at the story, because it’s just some kids playing a video game. Nobody’s angry about it and I’m probably the only one who even remembers that it happened. When that same imbalance turns racial, though, faces tighten and people are easily offended.
I, like you, have seen all the civil unrest going on in America since late May 2020. The unrest is mainly about race. There’s a presidential election every four years (though Trump presents a unique case). Police have killed uncooperative suspects, of all races, before. Those aren’t new. What’s new is the power and viral capability of social media content, combined with the fact that social media is now bigger than television when it comes to getting a message out.
The message that I’ve seen is: Blacks in America have been on the short end of imbalance for a long time. So long, in fact, that it’s smelling like injustice. Blacks are behind in America because the system is set up for it to happen that way. How else could this imbalance have prevailed for so long? Anyone who doesn’t agree is either racist (if you’re White) or blind to the truth (if you’re Black).
There are compelling arguments to support this belief, arguments made by articulate and passionate people who are experts at preaching to the choir. Social media is a home game for these activists. When you see and hear enough of the right material, you’d be convinced of the alleged injustice too. I get it.
I’m not here to change any minds. I’ve been publishing for long enough to know that it either doesn’t work (especially on race, politics or religion) or that I’m just not good at it.
Here’s what I’ll suggest: go and see things from another angle.
Read, talk to and listen to people who have a different opinion from those you’ve been listening to. Find out why they feel how they feel. Understand the arguments they’re making. Question your own beliefs and how you acquired them. Were they passed down to you from a prior generation? Forced onto you by your peer group? Indoctrinated into you by your web-browsing decisions? Required of you based on where you work and live?
I, for one, don’t like equating imbalance with injustice. We don’t all have the same options. But we all have a right to choose our actions. The wrong action at the wrong time and place can lead to an unwanted outcome.
Are people of certain backgrounds in the wrong place at the wrong time more often than others? Yes. This does not excuse choice.
I’ve been in some wrong places, with some wrong people, and at some bad times. Luckily, I never hit the jackpot of all three at once. If I had, you wouldn’t be reading this article. I’ve been racially profiled, faced injustice, unfairness and plain bad luck. And, regardless of your color, so have you! If you consider yourself successful, I’d bet that you can say you’ve made it here despite those elements, rather than because of them.
If you’re an adult, how much of your life would you attribute to decision versus circumstance? I don’t know many adults who say circumstance has controlled their lives more than choice. Very few would admit to that, as you’d sound like an asshole who has no personal power or self-determinism. Yet, advocates of the social justice movements I see insist on arguing that circumstance — not choice — is exactly why the imbalance exists.
I get it when I see it from non-Blacks. People want to be “on the right side of history,” feel as if they’re fighting for the greater good, and — let’s be honest — don’t want to face the wrath of a mob who doesn’t tolerate dissenting opinions from fair-skinned individuals.
What I don’t get is when Blacks — successful Blacks at that, those who couldn’t have become successful without making a specific set of choices — make the same “injustice” claims. I mean, why not share a framework of the decisions YOU made to reach success? Why give people a reason to feel weak and powerless, like victims of the system? What do you gain in doing so?
Then I realized: It keeps the weak in a state of dependency.
As long as your problems are outside of your control, and cannot be impacted by your choices, you are dependent on the person who is self-appointed as the one who can solve those problems for you. And, as long as you have those problems, you will always need that help.
There’s a business coach named Rich Litvin. I watched his video where he interviewed one of his coach-the-coaches students. The student told the story of how, while in a personal crisis, she phoned Rich, her coach, for help.
Rich didn’t answer. He didn’t call back. He ignored all her text messages. She was in crisis. Rich was the coach she had paid for help in building her coaching business. And here he was, the coach not responding to his own client’s messages.
The student concluded the story by thanking Rich. By ignoring me, she revealed, you indirectly helped me become stronger. I had no choice but to figure it out.
This analogy is shared not to say that we should ignore each other and play every-man-for-himself. What we do need is to hold each other accountable for our decisions more often than we offer excuses for those decisions. And stop offering “help” in the form of absolving people of personal accountability.
In aggregate, imbalances experienced between fully-functioning adults are the result of cumulative decisions made by said adults over time.
It’s perfect justice.
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