For many years, a formula has been very successfully employed for controlling the thoughts and actions of far too many black Americans. Primarily, the formula focuses on fostering a victim mentality, acting in ways that appear intended to save the victims, creating tension between groups of people and an all-out attack on anyone who challenges employment of this formula. Successful working of this formula explains why Democratic candidates receive nearly total support from black voters.

I have seen this approach used successfully over time, but a work session of the Fayetteville City Council on June 5 was my first experience seeing every element put into play in a single setting with precision and success.

The agenda item was “Discussion Regarding the Fire Department Recruitment Process and Diversity Recruitment and Hiring Strategies.” This item was being addressed because some members of Council, especially Councilman Chalmers McDougald, have contended that there are too few black firefighters in the Fayetteville Fire Department. Fire Chief Ben Major was called on to address the issue and chose to use a PowerPoint presentation. Major started what I thought was a presentation that spoke to the agenda item. The planned presentation addressed the department’s mission, key job duties, training program, steps in the recruitment process and other elements that would set context for discussing the issue at hand. 

A few minutes after Major started his presentation, Mayor Nat Robertson interrupted and explained that some members of Council wanted him to get to the numbers. Major moved to summarize so he could go to the statistics. The mayor cut him off and sternly repeated his direction. Given the comments that were made later in the discussion, I am confident Robertson’s interruptions were the result of pressure from one or more black members of Council. Robertson was in a “no-win” position. Being white, if he had insisted on allowing Major to continue, he would likely have been portrayed as comfortable with the current situation and, therefore, racist. In my estimation, that exchange forced by black members of Council established tension between several Council members and not only Major (who is black), but the Fire Department, along with citizens who support that department.

The shutting down of Major also sent a message to black citizens that what might be perceived as injustice toward them was being forthrightly addressed … they were being “helped.” However, I am comfortable saying that a very different message was received by many non-blacks. That message is one of government needing to make accommodations for black citizens even when a thorough and honest assessment of a situation would likely show making that accommodation to be without foundation. Pursuing this “accommodations course” without thorough and honest examination of facts produces racial tension. That racial tension hinders the productive functioning of society and people suffer. 

This failure, or refusal to thoughtfully and honestly examine facts, shows in how some Council members proceeded after Major shifted, as directed, to the numbers. He put up a chart that showed the results of the most recent hiring process. It tracked, by race and gender, how applicants performed: from review of applications for completeness and applicants meeting minimum requirements, to the written exam AND physical agility test and ending with those who were invited for an interview. 

A critical factor in this process is that applicants must, online, schedule their written exam and physical agility test. The chart showed the following regarding black males: Total applicants, 130; eliminated at review, 20; failed to schedule exam, 40; no show at exam, 17; withdrew after exam, 1; failed exam, 25; did not schedule PAT, 1; did not show at PAT, 3; failed PAT, 2; successfully completed these steps, 21 (out of 163 eligible at this stage). Of this number, applicants with the top 80 test scores were invited for interviews. Six black males were interviewed and passed. No black males were selected for the first Academy class. The second Academy class begins 17 July and will include the next 12 candidates (who pass the background check) on the listing of 70 who passed the interview step. The next 12 includes seven minority candidates.

Council’s discussion of these statistics reflected more of the formula described in the opening paragraph. Councilman Bill Crisp, who is black, wondered aloud if the written test was the problem. He was referring to the contention that standardized tests are often biased against blacks. McDougald, also black, talked about his negative test-taking experiences. Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Colvin, black, asked about the prevalence of self-scheduling in other city departments. There was general concern regarding the amount of effort required on the part of applicants. Comments and questions from Councilman Larry Wright, the fourth black member of Council, followed the same line of thought as described here. 

I contend that focusing, as these members did, on possible causes that place zero responsibility on black males or factors external to the Fire Department feeds the victim mentality that is promoted among black Americans. This focus also stirs up a negative emotional reaction among black citizens and contributes to the fast-growing destructive racial divide in this country.

Honest examination of facts would require drilling down to determine why the black male numbers at every critical step in the hiring process reflect far less than acceptable or reasonably expected performance. For instance, why would 31 percent of black male applicants fail to self-schedule for the written exam? How is it that 48 percent of black males who did take it failed an exam written on a 10th grade level? The discussion among black Council members was that having applicants self-schedule might be a hindrance. Then there was this emphasis on blacks having difficulty with standardized tests. We live in a world of standardized tests. Why not give at least some attention to why blacks might have difficulty with these tests and work to fix those causes? I find it noteworthy that 23 percent of white males who took the exam failed it. That percentage seems high and likely points to causes other than test bias. No Council member expressed interest in thoroughly and honestly examining the facts.

This lack of interest in examining facts showed in an exchange between McDougald and Major. My recent column titled “The Fire Academy: Another Reason For Hope” addressed the Cumberland County Schools Fire Academy at E.E. Smith High School. This academy is different from the Fayetteville Fire Department’s academy but prepares high school students for a career in the Fire Service. McDougald asked Major how long the academy had been in operation. The answer was it started around 2004 or 2005. Then McDougald asked how many graduates had been hired by the Fayetteville Fire Department. Major answered that none had been hired, but attempted to make a statement as to why that was the case. McDougald cut him off and indicated he did not want to hear about reasons. I heard that as “Don’t give me the facts … just let me work
the formula.”

In the end, the fire chief and city manager were directed by Council to go fix the problem. The mayor called for a break. As I was standing in the lobby area talking with some people, McDougald walked up and put his face within inches of mine … definitely in my personal space. He said, “I read your column and you got some things wrong.” He was referring to the column titled “Racial Diversity in the Fayetteville Fire Department: The Rest of the Story.” I asked what I got wrong and he gave a response. However, his response was not in the ballpark of what I wrote. I mentioned that I called him to get his input, but got voicemail. He did call back but missed me. I said I called him back, but got voicemail and asked that he call me again. He did not call back again. 

As he walked away, McDougald shouted back to me in the midst of a crowded lobby, “You are a reporter. You have to get in touch with me.” That was a point of attempted further intimidation. Evidently, the councilman thinks I get paid for writing, and therefore, must chase people like him and put up with insults to earn a living. Alert: Not my situation. I am not paid to write. I am a tax-paying citizen who cares enough about people and this nation to invest time and money to address what I see as important issues. This was a case where the intimidation element of the control formula was of no consequence aside from spurring greater commitment on my part to speaking truth as I understand it.

My hope and prayer are that black Americans will see that this control formula is alive and well. The next step is to honestly, factually and thoughtfully assess the impact it has had, and is having, on us as a people. For me, the answer is that we are being abused, exploited and devastated … not helped. 

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