Lately, my friends have been very excited that I’m a non-white conservative. They want me to answer the grievances of BLM people, and explain from my own experiences what Christianity and conservative policies have to say about making the lives of non-whites better. My friend Wes recommended “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington to help me focus my thoughts.
Here’s a summary of the book:
Dignity through Labor
Over the course of Up From Slavery, Washington develops the idea and ideal of dignity through labor. For Washington, the gravest aspect of the institution of slavery is the denigration of labor for both blacks and whites. Because the enslaved had no personal investment or return on their labor, they did not complete their work with an attitude toward improvement. Likewise, whites, largely deprived of meaningful labor, were robbed of the ability to achieve self-sufficiency. In both races, this produced personalities and characters that seek to escape labor. Washington emphasizes labor as the only way to make oneself useful in an interdependent, modern society. Throughout the whole of Up From Slavery, Washington searches for and obtains work. Further, once he obtains it, Washington completes all labor to best of his ability, no matter how lowly the task. At the Tuskegee Institute, Washington makes this idea and ideal a foundational ethos. All students who study at the Tuskegee Institute must learn a trade or industry alongside their more traditional academic pursuits. In addition, many of the buildings, most of the furniture, the wagons, and the materials used at the school are produced by students. This level of practical skill and diligence also acts as the foundation of Washington’s theory and program for racial uplift.
Selflessness, Desire to Be Useful to One’s Community
The people that Washington most admires and models himself after are those he labels selfless. Washington defines this as the willingness to work on the behalf of others. For Washington, this is not only about duty or labor, but also about the willingness to do one’s best for the benefit of the collective good. Washington believes that racial prejudice can be overcome if black people make themselves indispensable to their communities and their nation. The brick-making episode provides an example. Though the brick-making enterprise at Tuskegee felled three kilns before successfully producing bricks, the venture eventually proved successful and the school began to sell its bricks on the open market. Washington describes how whites who were unsympathetic or apathetic to the education of blacks and the overall project of the Tuskegee Institute were willing to purchase Tuskegee bricks due to their quality and convenience. Washington suggests that if black race can find their niche in society by fulfilling a need, then they can co-exist peacefully and productively with whites.
Impracticality of Political Agitation
Throughout Up From Slavery, Washington defends his ideas about racial advancement and uplift by subtly undermining the proposals of his critics. Though Washington does not explicitly state his objection to the strategies of specific thinkers like W.E.B. Dubois or even his predecessor, Frederick Douglass, he nevertheless highlights the wastefulness of political agitation for equal rights at every chance he gets. To do this, Washington shows that political agitation results in worse relations and outcomes than those that existed before. For example, when he goes home to Malden after his second year at the Hampton Institute, Washington finds that both the salt-furnace and the coal-mine are not in operation due to worker’s strikes. In Chapter IV, Washington describes how strikers usually spent all their savings during the strikes and returned to work in debt, but at the same wages. He raises the impracticality of political agitation again after his controversial Atlanta Exposition speech. After the success of his speech, he hypothetically asks if a black man would have been invited to give a speech had people agitated to put a black person on the program. He answers in the negative, saying that such opportunities can only arise through merit.
And here’s a summary of his most famous speech:
On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington was selected to give a speech that would open the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. The speech, which is often referred to as the “Atlanta Compromise,” was the first speech given by an African American to a racially-mixed audience in the South. In it, Washington suggested that African Americans should not agitate for political and social equality, but should instead work hard, earn respect and acquire vocational training in order to participate in the economic development of the South. By doing so, eventually, he stated, African Americans would gain the respect of white society and be granted the rights of full citizenship.
There’s a free full audio version of the book, and the full text is online. I recommend this book to people of all races, because as the sexual anarchy brought on by feminism becomes widespread, the majority of the children of tomorrow will face the same kinds of challenges.
I see Washington’s ideas as consistent with a Christian worldview, where we don’t expect to be treated fairly. We expect sinful people to treat us badly. What Christianity says is to be patient, and focus on your relationship with God and loving your neighbor. And one way to love your neighbor is to sell them something valuable that you made through your labor. Another way is to work and save, and give to charity.
Government solutions to problems like racism and poverty aren’t a top priority for Christians. Most of all, we need the freedom to be good, and to do good. That’s priority one. You may not make your life better by being moral and diligent, but it’s rare that doing so causes you to harm yourself. It’s very important that you not harm yourself.
So, this dovetails nicely with my own story. My married non-white parents were not smart enough or willing enough to monitor my education, but they were clear that they wanted me to do well in order to find good-paying work. So I completed my BS and MS in a STEM field, and went to work right away, and I’ve been at it continuously for 22 years now. I save most of what I earn for charity and early retirement.
I’ve never experienced any of the racism or police brutality that American blacks complain about. And that’s because I follow what Washington is teaching. I dress in a clean way that doesn’t communicate danger to others. I’m careful to spend my time reading apologetics, economics and military history. I don’t listen to popular music or watch popular TV or movies. I don’t hang out with people who blame other people for their lack of success.
I got my first job by volunteering to do it for free on Saturdays for 7 months. My first full-time job salary after college was $50,000. Then I got a raise of $6,000 and then a raise of $9,000. I used to work 70 hour weeks in my 20s. I graduated college with $9,000 dollars in the black, because I went to a small local college and lived at home, and never spent any money on alcohol. My net worth is now about $1.35 million. By the way, the secret to becoming wealthy is to not spend money on showing off. You can be very generous to your friends and still get rich. Just never buy anything that is designed to communicate “status” to anyone. And never spend money on alcohol or chasing sex outside of marriage.
At no time did I accept that the problems defined by the secular left were my real problems. And at no time did I accept their “solutions” as real solutions to anything. As black economist Thomas Sowell writes, the “solutions” of the left are not effective at helping people like me. The “solutions” of the left are designed to make leftists feel better, and look more virtuous to others. You are much better off reading the Bible, Christian apologetics, free market economics, American military history, etc., and then respecting what you learn from that in your decision-making. I think that reading the right stuff is even more important than having good parents or attending church.
4 thoughts on “Why you should read “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington”
I like your story, man. It’s very encouraging to hear. One of the things that saddens me about black culture is how stories like yours…not just yours but also the likes of Larry Elder and Thomas Sowell isn’t pushed more in the mainstream to encourage other young blacks to grow up and aspire to be like y’all.
While I don’t complain about the racism most blacks seem to gripe about…part of me does wonder if there’s a concerted effort to keep mentalities like yours out of the mainstream, out of TV, out of music, and out of movies…and instead, they promote, celebrate, and give air time to the black personalities and cultures that really do keep a lot of black people down and encourage our youth to go down destructive paths. That’s why when some people are confronted with bad things they’ve done, they often start their justifications with, “First off, you gotta understand what I’ve been through…”
One more question, in your opinion…on the point about Dignity through Labor…for my generation, this seems lost on a lot of my peers. One of the main reasons why I don’t go out to bars or hang out with a large group of friends outside of work is because we have a different mentality about life and how we spend our time. I get shamed with people telling me that I need to find a balance between fun and work because I’d rather spend my free time doing something productive (which is fun to me). So my question is, how do you deal with that? Have you been able to find people who understand and appreciate your mentality without trying to chop you down to their level?
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The “solutions” of the Left for Black people are the Welfare Plantation (Ghetto) or the Abortion Plantation (Planned Murder in Da Hood). The Left has always wanted dependency of Black people on them. You cannot control a successful minority like WK.
“Everybody has asked the question. . .”What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!”
― Fredrick Douglass
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I appreciate so much that you are highlighting the work of Booker T. Washington. His perspective is sorely needed today, yet ironically his take on black upward mobility and success is hated more today than it ever was. And it wasn’t loved by many even back when was alive.
Another of his books that I believe is worth reading and showcasing is Character Building. It is full of good, practical counsel for daily living; the small decisions that build upon one another with each passing day until one day you find that success has been achieved.
I reviewed it a while back, and you can read it online for free. There’s a link to that in my post, I believe. If you ever get around to reading it (it’s pretty short), I’d love to read your take.
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I’ll read your review of the book first.