When I was a young man, my grandfather, my father, and my uncles all at some time or another pulled me aside and informed me of the secret of success as a black man. Perhaps, my mother’s youngest brother, my Uncle Teddie, put it most succinctly. He simply told me that if I planned to be successful, whatever setting I found myself in, I should find the white boy out front, and then perform as well as he did plus ten. He called it the 110% rule; if a black man was to be successful, he had to give 110%. Any thing less was not sufficient.
And he went on: If it was a foot race, I should finish at least ten paces in front just to assure my victory. If it was in the classroom, long after the white boy went to bed, I should remain up studying just to assure I got a better mark. In anything and everything, as a black man, I would have to work that much harder, I would need do at least ten percent better, if I was to succeed.
They repeated it often enough and emphatically enough that I had no choice but to believe and internalize this dictum. And its effects were both good and bad. For one, it indelibly shaped my work ethic. I knew going into any given situation, any new setting, what I was in for, what was expected of me. I knew that there was no margin for error and excuses were not acceptable; I had to give my very best and then some. I was always driven to succeed, to finish out front, in everything I did.
However, on the downside, there were some negative consequences as well. First of all, to believe you are carrying the weight of a race on your back, to believe that the future of a race is somehow dependent on your success or failure, is a terrible onus indeed. And I abused my body badly. Often I pushed myself well past exhaustion, as I sometime do to this day. There have been times when sickness or injury should have logically forced me to slow down or, at the very least, stop for a minute to allow my body to heal; however, I did not.
And much of my life I have had problems sleeping through the night; I always seem to remember something I left undone or unfinished and sleep will not come until I am either too tired to carry on, or the task is close enough to completion to assuage my conscience.
But looking back, I agree with those men in my life who taught me the 110% rule. Implicit in that rule is the notion that to succeed at anything, you must give your very best. I thank them whole-heartedly for taking the time out to impart that kernel of wisdom. However, is that rule still valid? And if so, is it still even being taught?
I have spoken to a number of men who have told me that they were taught differing versions of the same rule. If fact, it seems that at one time this rule was generally understood within the black community. However, when I go out into inner city communities now, the governing rule, the guiding mentality, seems to be to do as little as possible in expectation of as big a payoff as possible.
Ironically, I have witnessed individuals seemingly work twice as hard simply trying to keep from doing anything at all. I have witnessed individuals devise absolutely brilliant schemes to make a little money illegally when if those schemes and energy were directed toward a more legitimate end, the individual would perhaps end up richer than their wildest dreams.
But this seemingly has become ethos of the inner city; the hustla’ lifestyle is celebrated in deed and song, but the what strikes me as strange is that it appears from where I am sitting that it takes more time and energy and frustration getting out of work, than it would to simply put your nose to the grindstone and push forward.
However, I do understand that escaping the inner city is not easy feat. I do understand that there are numerous obstacles and roadblocks strewn along the pathway out. And I do realize that sometimes despite all the effort in the world, you can still fall short of your goals, but if you are trying, if you are giving your all then some, even if you fall short of your goal, you’ll still find yourself in the end way out front.
Now if we can only find enough men willing to go into the inner city and sit with one or two young men and pass this lesson along, repeating it often enough and emphatically enough that the hearer has not choice but to believe it and internalize it.