I remember attending a predominantly white church one week as a high school student. This was a rare event. As Fannie Lou Hamer is credited with saying, the most segregated place on earth is America on Sunday morning. While sitting in a completely routine Sunday school class at this particular church, the teacher began talking about how to get the most out of a Roth IRA. Pause. A what? I had no clue what he was talking about. What bothered me most was not my ignorance but my curiosity as to what other things were routinely discussed in that neighborhood that were not in my own.
Knowledge is power. In this life, not knowing will cripple you: not knowing how to access capital for a startup business, how to navigate financial or governmental institutions, who to talk to about a financial problem, the roadmap to getting into and funding a college education. These things, surprisingly to some, are not often discussed or widely known in some neighborhoods. This is, in my judgment, the most damaging manifestation of segregation: the segregation of knowledge.
When you don’t know and no one is pressed about informing you, it’s possible to linger in darkness for a lifetime. I’ve met geniuses in the hood who had no clue on how to apply that genius. I’ve met others who didn’t even know where to apply it. I’ve met many who would make great political consultants but have never heard of that career. I’ve met others who have great ideas on how to reform education but have no clue as to which institutions they should seek entry into to make those changes or that they exist. And while we’re on the subject of jobs, 80% of jobs are filled through knowing someone. That’s another problem in my neighborhood- you don’t know anyone and getting an introduction is very difficult. Ultimately, that makes things harder even if you have a college degree. I went to school with guys no more talented than me who were employed right out of undergrad because of who their parents knew. A luxury I never had, unfortunately.
So we face a knowledge gap. Things commonly known in your neighborhood are almost unheard of in mine. The right people and the right connections for a number of things are not far from some people but nowhere close for others. While you might only be separated by two degrees from some lady in HR, I may be miles apart. So indeed it’s both who you know and what you know that count. Some might say the internet is the great equalizer- one can Google anything. To that I say, Google is not helpful if I don’t know what to look for or that I should even be looking.
Google is very helpful once I have a lead. Reminds me of my high school days when I randomly heard about “joint enrollment” courses from someone. The idea of taking college classes early excited me, something I’d never heard of. I went to my guidance counselor, a white woman incidentally, who told me she’d never heard of it. It was then that I went to work on the internet and eventually I took enough courses in my senior year to enter undergrad as a sophomore. I wasn’t dumb, just ignorant.