By Larry Elder
In his book Discrimination and Disparities economist Thomas Sowell notes that a disproportionate percentage of first-born siblings become National Merit scholars compared to siblings born later presumably because the first-born starts life with no sibling competition for parental attention. This says Sowell illustrates the absurdities of expecting equal results when equal results do not even occur within the same family among siblings raised under the same roof with the same parents.
When I was growing up in South Central Los Angeles one of my closest friends was Paul. We met in the second grade and attended the same elementary school middle school and high school. Not only did we take many of the same courses with the same teachers our houses were identical.
When I first invited Paul to my home about a half-mile from his he was astonished. Whoever built your house he said built mine too. He was right. When I visited his house I found that the only difference was that my house had one tiny additional window that his did not. Same schools. Same teacher. Same neighborhood. Same house design.
Paul was a gifted athlete. Name the sport he excelled. He was a starting pitcher for the baseball team the starting shooting guard for the basketball team and the starting quarterback for the football team. He picked up a tennis racquet hit balls against a backboard for a few weeks and then made the tennis team.
His parents were divorced making Paul one of the few kids in the neighborhood at that time to come from what my parents called a broken home. Paul saw his dad infrequently. He rarely spoke about him. When he did it was not positive.
Paul had a problem with anger. For the smallest offense he could tell someone off friend or foe sometimes even his basketball coach. One time after Paul came late to practice again his basketball coach threatened to bench him the following game. Paul barked back Either I play or we lose. He played. They won.
When the coaches from major colleges came to see Paul play basketball his best sport they were impressed. But then they asked the high school coach about Pauls character whether he was coachable. Pauls coach concerned about maintaining his reputation with college coaches told the truth. Paul he said was a coach killer. Bye-bye Notre Dame. Bye-bye Duke. Bye-bye UCLA.
Paul ended up going to a small local college not known for basketball. Did he double down get better in hopes of transferring to a powerhouse basketball school? Hardly. Paul sulked blamed racism and spent his first year of college playing basketball halfheartedly -- that is when he wasnt smoking dope and opining on the oppression of the black man in America.
I went off to college in the East. When I returned during the summer I visited Paul who by then had changed his name to Jamal to distance himself from the slave religion of Christianity. When I informed him that Arab slavers took more blacks out of Africa and transported them to the Middle East and to South America than Europeans slavers took out of Africa and transported to North America he told me to stop reading the white mans history. He insisted racism had wrecked his basketball career a career he argued that but for the racism he encountered was destined for the NBA. Paul I said you and I lived in the same neighborhood in houses designed by the same builder went to the same schools took the same classes had the same teachers. Why didnt racism stop me?
When I was in law school in Michigan I visited my aunt who lived in a suburb of Detroit. During one visit a friend of hers stopped by. He was a black man about 40 years old. He sat near my aunt and me as we discussed my law school classes. Suddenly the man began to cry. I could not imagine what Id said that couldve caused such a reaction. Sorry I said did I say something to offend you? He gathered himself. No he said. I wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer. But I got sidetracked with jackassery hung around with a bunch of knuckleheads and just wasted my time.
It doesnt have to be like this. My father always told my brothers and me the following: Hard work wins. You get out of life what you put into it. You cannot control the outcome but you are 100 in control of the effort. And before you complain about what somebody did to you go to the nearest mirror and say to yourself What could I have done to change the outcome?
And finally my dad said: No matter how good you are bad things will happen. How you respond to those bad things will tell your mother and me whether or not we raised a man.