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12/11/2017 "The Black Economy 50 Years After The March On Washington"


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Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: Exclusive Q & A With Steven Silbiger, Author Of The Jewish Phenomenon (Part II)


Today we continue with our two-part interview with Steven Silbiger, author of the book,The Jewish Phenomenon, the book that some within the media and Jewish political establishment have deemed as "too hot to handle". BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad and Steven Silbiger move into a discussion of sports, Hollywood, banking, Africa, Jewish market-making, and the future of Black-Jewish relations in America.


Cedric Muhammad: Steven, one of the most fascinating parts of the book for me is what you wrote about sports.

Steven Silbiger: Right!

Cedric Muhammad: I mean, if anyone ever wanted to look at where the Jewish and Black communities are on two opposite ends of the spectrum; it is on that subject.

Steven Silbiger: Right.

Cedric Muhamamd: In the Black community you have our heroes and heroines the most celebrated individuals who earn millions from very manual forms of human capital. Physical labor. And in the Jewish community sports is looked as well, you know, not necessarily anything that you want to aspire to...

Steven Silbiger: Not you personally, correct. You can be very interested in sports...

Cedric Muhammad: Right, you can like it in the Jewish community, you can like athletes but you aren't...

Steven Silbiger: going to aspire to be one.

Cedric Muhammad: Right.

Steven Silbiger: It's all about percentages and where you want to end up. And if it was by design or what have you...There are about 5,000 highly-paid professional athletes in this country. So, if your community is focused on getting your boys and girls to be one of those 5,000 - there are very few slots. When the musical chairs end, mostly everybody is not in a chair. In the Jewish community the probability of becoming a successful doctor, lawyer or businessperson is not like one one-eighth of one percent. It is much, much higher. So the outcome for a lot more people in life, by being highly educated and being a professional or entrepreneur, is creating a wider array of opportunity that is much greater for Jewish people than the African-American community. So if you said, 'oh would you like a chance at the lotto or would you like a chance picking out of this fishbowl with twenty tickets', I would like to be dealing with the twenty tickets as opposed to the lottery. And that is the economic outcome. It is just the facts. Jewish people, at the turn of the century, when they were in New York, a lot of them were in professional sports, in baseball, in boxing and what have you. But obviously, as other people pursued it in greater numbers it became less important for the Jewish community. For the Jewish community sports is a great pastime to watch and to own the teams! But not to go send your kids to go do this stuff.


Cedric Muhammad: Well how do you feel when you see the Black community doing this? Obviously you have made a scientific study that the law of probability is not in our favor with sports...

Steven Silbiger: Right...

Cedric Muhammad:...But where do you think that stems from?

Steven Silbiger: By not following the principles that are in my book; by following a limited set of models and options in what is displayed as what is possible for a youth to become. Very little gets a lot of attention and limelight. Either you can go in a negative direction, or you could pursue sports, or you can get an education and join a company or something like that. Obviously, the Jewish experience has been to emphasize going and getting the education...

Cedric Muhammad: The Jewish culture values skill sets and a way of life but would not emphasize honor and celebrity in being an athlete, but there is appreciation...

Steven Silbiger: But the greatest appreciation revolves around whether or not you are highly educated; are you well-prepared to take advantage of opportunity or create your own today? Are you a contributor to your community? The celebrity stuff is good and there are celebrity Jewish people. I mean, the four major television networks were started, founded and owned by Jewish people. If you go into the radio areas - wherever you go in the media there are Jewish celebrities but when it gets down to who owns the means of getting to the people, it is going to be Jewish people. Yes, there are going to be Jewish comedians and a lot of actors but that's a very small slice of it! The list of Jewish comedians pales when compared to the number of Jewish scientists or Jewish entrepreneurs. Certainly in terms of what is celebrated within the community and family. So when I wrote the book it wasn't like I was going looking for a little pocket of Jewish success. It didn't matter where I turned, in whatever walk of life, lawyers, businesspersons, scientists, musicians, creative people, there were Jewish people because they were allowed to pursue their dreams to the nth degree and it was ok to be different, and to stand out. And that is where real wealth is created. And that is where the real wealth has been created in the African-American community, whether it was Jet magazine or others. When you go Chicago you see it. There is a great building, a monument of sorts, you know - a great foundation for the Johnson (John H. Johnson - Publisher And Chairman Of Johnson Publishing Company which owns Jet and Ebony magazine) business, but why aren't there more businesses like that in the Black community? Why aren't there more African-American designers working for more African-American garment manufacturers? I don't know. They should be in touch with it. Why aren't the music companies that are operated by many different people, run by African-Americans? I don't know. It is a mystery to me.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, clearly you would be of the opinion that it is a violation of the seven keys you have identified.

Steven Silbiger: Right, it is in violation. And a lot of people think it is "innate intelligence" - no. That doesn't account for this at all. And there have been people who have been thinking that I.Q. has something to do with this. But it really does not. These principles can be lived and led by anybody. And a lot of the people who have been extremely successful have only been at the right place, at the right time with the right education pursuing their dreams and possibilities.

Cedric Muhammad: Let's get to a subject that is near and dear to my heart and probably the most misunderstood as to whether there is a conspiracy or pure excellence involved in the Jewish community's power, and that is banking. You have a very interesting section in your book that deals with the development of banking, and the role of the Jewish community in it. This is primarily European history more than American. What is the summary and what is your conclusion as to not just what the cause of success in banking has been for Jewish people but also, what does that mean for today when so many people lack financial capital?

Steven Silbiger: Sure. Ok, well in Europe Jews weren't able to own property. They weren't part of the mainstream. So there were different areas where opportunities availed themselves. And one area where Jews have had those portable skills have been in the banking industry and loaning money, because that was an area that the church said Christians could not participate in. The Catholic Church said they could not participate in it. So, where there was this void and need, these Jewish people filled that need. When, in the United States there was need for capital, not from banks, but to build railroads and to finance companies; the whole area of investment banking developed because there was a need, there was a vacuum and these Jewish entrepreneurs found a way to link the capital with the people who need it. And so there is nothing innately Jewish about the banking industry. It is about capital. I would say that if Jews were not kept on the fringes of these businesses because of discrimination; they would be working normal banking jobs just like anybody else and we would not even hear about it. But since these skills were developed and pursued within the community, these areas of expertise became Jewish areas of expertise. And now, obviously 50 years later or 75 years later in American history, it is no longer a Jewish industry, everybody is in it. But the founding, obviously involved Jews.

Cedric Muhammad: You are right today to say that it isn't a "Jewish" industry. But if you do look at pg. 79 in your book you see this impressive list of Jews in the securities industry and of course you have the major banks...

Steven Silbiger:...but you've got to remember the major banks are not Jewish at all. You have J.P. Morgan and Chase. These are all very Christian banks that kept these people (the Jews in the securities business) out of the banking business. So when it comes to Salomon Brothers and Goldman Sachs these are investment bankers all started by entrepreneurs. Now we look at them as huge! And these investment banking firms dwarf the traditional banks today because of all of the deregulation. But if you would have been a young Jewish person looking for a job in the banking industry in the 30s,40s,50s and even in the 60s, those avenues weren't open. It was open in these other financial avenues - in investment banking. The supply of capital in this country has been facilitated by this (investment banking) industry to support large industry. And a lot of money has been made in the process.

Cedric Muhammad: You are saying that there is nothing stopping a Black or Latino from starting an investment house. And if they did, you are saying, they would be a natural competition between a Jewish-owned investment bank and a Black-owned one, but the industry wouldn't be inherently biased against Blacks?

Steven Silbiger: Correct.

Cedric Muhammad: What do you think of Michael Milken? In the Black community many people like him, including people like Rev. Jesse Jackson, for the risk-taking and investment capital he helped foster in the Black community - when banks denied capital to Black business; and for helping people like Reginald Lewis. And on the other hand you have Blacks who feel that he was part of the whole fleecing of America...

Steven Silbiger: Well what he found was a way to raise funds for less than star clients. For new businesses he helped raise junk bonds, which are just high-risk bonds. He basically created the junk bond market. He took it to the extreme for himself and for his company but the market that he established is still here today but dominated by other people. So, I think his genius was in creating a market and financing a lot of entrepreneurial companies. Did he break securities laws? Yeah, obviously. He took it too far. When anybody is able to create enormous wealth it is also corrupting. And since his conversion, after having prostate cancer, he has become quite a philanthropist.

Cedric Muhammad: You refer to him as a market-maker which he was. And we can really trace even the discipline of marketing as we define it today, back to Europe where there were the sedentary merchants and many of them were Jews. Would you say that one of the chief areas of expertise in the Jewish community has been market-making?

Steven Silbiger: Yeah, creating a market. This is true regardless to the industry or niche whether in the garment industry as I have already spoken to it, or the whole diet industry - Weight Watchers, Nutri-Systems, Jenny Craig. Who would have thunk it? These are all Jewish businesses. The ice cream market. The major businesses in that area are Jewish. The jewelry market. Diamond-cutting is a Jewish industry. There are different areas where there is this consumer need and they saw it before other people and pursued it. But that is where the genius of America is. Where people talk about Americans being progressive and being inventive and what have you. That is where the values and the rules that make America great, are the same values that American Jews hold dear in their community as well. And because they are both alike that is why there has been such great success. Has there been great Jewish success in the Soviet Union? No. Why? Because the government and the rules there did not allow the Jews to conform to allow for success there. Deliberately so. So here in the United States for the first time, those rules are present and the capital sources have been wide open and they have taken advantage of it.

Cedric Muhammad: Steven are you saying there has really been a fundamental confusion of sorts about the Jewish economy as to what it really is? It is as if , you are saying, that so many people attribute Jewish dominance in certain fields to so many reasons so that by the time the Soviets looked at it, they said, 'look there are certain niches that they excel at and they do so by means that are oppressive or exploitative to the rest of us'. So people attribute the disproportionate impact of Jewish people and excellence in certain areas to sources and causes that they themselves are unsure of or couldn’'t prove? Is that what you are saying?

Steven Silbiger: Correct...

Cedric Muhammad: And then to protect the establishment interests, and their native electorates and indigenous populations these governments engage in a form of monopolistic control and denial of entry for Jews into industries?

Steven Silbiger: Right, and here in America, where there were opportunities; even when there were not the best opportunities, Jews pursued what they could of other opportunities. And that has been the Jewish experience throughout the ages. When one door is closed, the other one is open. So when Jewish lawyers couldn't join the large firms; Jewish lawyers, accountants and others created their own. If you keep them out, guess what? They will build their own. You can't get accepted to Harvard because there is a quota preventing more Jews from going there? Well, we will create our own colleges. And that is the way it is. And fortunately, in the United States, the opportunity, after a door has been shut, has been here. We have been able to go the other way.

Cedric Muhammad: Well next to banking, the most controversial sphere of influence that Jews have had has been precious metals, diamonds etc...This is a sensitive subject as it relates to Africa. What is the summary or the genesis of that relationship or that area of expertise and do you think it in any way was exploitative or set the stage for such, today on the continent of Africa...

Steven Silbiger: Well, I am not familiar that the diamond trade in Africa today is Jewish - the production of diamonds is not a Jewish business...

Cedric Muhammad: ...what I am saying is that there is a perception that there is exploitation in those industries today. I am asking you do you think that the manner in which the diamond industry developed set the stage for what is happening today, or is there no connection in your view?

Steven Silbiger: I don't see the connection. The diamond mining industry isn't a Jewish industry. The diamond cutting industry is a Jewish industry. Jewelry is, because as Jews developed those skills internally and that expertise, they carried it from country to country wherever they were forced to leave. And here in the United States, they have not only been involved in the cutting of the diamonds, the trading of raw diamonds and then the retailing and the making of jewelry.

Cedric Muhammad: But in the Congo there is still a significant Jewish presence, and there are pockets of it throughout Africa...

Steven Silbiger: Right...

Cedric Muhammad: But there is a view that here you had Africans all over the continent. They were sitting on top of something. And to one degree or another they weren't making an industry out of it and here came these foreigners. Do you think there is anything wrong with one group of people getting their sustenance or an enormous amount of wealth from the land of another group of people who weren't exercising the law of use. Or, is it, in your view, just survival of the fittest?

Steven Silbiger: I don't have a problem with another people exploiting natural resources wealth, oil, diamonds or whatever in another country. But obviously you have to do it in a more humane way. And conditions, when we look through the spectacles of 2003 are different than in the past. Can you possibly imagine making money off of steel today, when to hold an occupation in that field; it was a horrendous job to work - a very dangerous job. Or, we could turn it around today and ask all of us why would you wear clothes that involve slave labor or sweat shops? But obviously today it is a different story, generally speaking where labor conditions are concerned. No, I don't think it was right but the whole idea is that at the time the resources weren't developed by Africans and they were sitting on top of them. But the problems are internal too. Even today a lot of the wealth that is created in Africa through oil drilling has been siphoned off by despots and hasn't benefited the community at all or their countries. So, there are a lot of internal issues in Africa that transcend even modern times. The (trans-Atlantic) slave trade itself was aided by other tribes of competing Africans who sold other competing tribes to White people, which is horrendous. They were so disunited. So that whole idea of being a community and united is a theme that has benefited the Jewish community...


Cedric Muhammad: So you are saying that what happens in the way of exploitation is a byproduct of the disunity of a community...

Steven Silbiger: Disunity brings a problem! And it certainly isn't just happening in one group. I have outlined in this book that there were great divides between people of Jewish-American descent or Eastern Europe descent or Spanish descent. But when the community was attacked from the outside by others the community came together not only morally but financially. Like for instance, you can look at Jews from Argentina and Russian Jews who are fleeing from problems. These Jews that came from Russia were not even practicing Jews. They just happened to be Jewish people by birth but guess what? When they came here they were supported by the federations, the Jewish temples, and what have you because they were Jews. So, if they needed a car to get to work or they needed an education, they were given that because it was important.

Cedric Muhammad: And there is nothing stopping people of African descent from doing the same...

Steven Silbiger: Nothing at all…

Cedric Muhammad: Let's go into this section that you deal with dealing with Jews and African-Americans in your book. And I want to stay as economically-focused as possible. We will conduct another interview that will deal with this relationship from a more political angle.

Steven Silbiger: Right...

Cedric Muhammad: Essentially there has been a tension because of this physical labor to intellectual capital ratio that has existed between the two communities all revolving around financial capital. If you are a Black professional athlete you frequently have a Jewish accountant, a Jewish lawyer and the controlling entity - in terms of the chief employer or owner of the team, business or company is much, much more likely to be Jewish than Black. This has been the case in sports and in music and in drama...

Steven Silbiger: Right...

Cedric Muhammad: In all of the fields where Blacks were permitted to perform and where they excelled. What do you think is the most equitable or most appropriate relationship to exist where you have one community that so visibly exercises its physical attributes – "labor", and another community that disproportionately exercises its intellectual attributes - "capital", when historically dealing with one another in the United States? Do you think it is ok the way it is now or do you think that there is opportunity...

Steven Silbiger: There is huge opportunity! People just need to wise up, basically. What I write in the book is pretty common sense when you read it. But putting it all together in a community is explosive. The whole idea of fencing yourself into certain industries because that is where you have been before doesn't have to happen. Like I outline in the book, it isn't just about Jewish doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople; Jews excel in as many different areas of human endeavor as you can imagine. So, the same success that African-Americans have had in sports or in music or other areas can be enjoyed in other areas. In America it is the dollar that really talks so you have to focus on people like Oprah - a great example. She is a talented individual and she has a great show. But she is not just the figurehead - she owns her own production company. If it was Bill Cosby, he owned his areas. He owned a piece of the action. So while he was sleeping he was earning money. And that is the idea of deriving your income and your capital, not by your physical efforts but by the force of your ideas.

Cedric Muhammad: Now I would say as a Black person that I hear your message and it resonates, it says, "Cedric, there is nothing stopping you, and you have the book now (laughter by both Cedric Muhammad and Steven Silbiger), and you have access to biographies and business profiles; you can replicate this". I largely accept that. And I think that is a good message and I think the Black community is hearing that more from its own. By the same token, I think that sense of alienation that some Blacks feel derives partly from a recognition of Jews that goes like, 'you knew what was good for you, but you didn't necessarily give it to us'. Steven, we didn't get this book from Michael Eisner, or you can go back to the history of Jews over the centuries and those in America. Jewish leaders often preached or supported integration and government activism for us. And not the principles that made them successful. We didn't get this book that you wrote in the 20th century during the height of the civil rights movement; we get the book from you in the 21st century...

Steven Silbiger: Sure...

Cedric Muhammad: In that light, is it appropriate for, say, as an example, a Hollywood Jewish house, or a director to cast a Black person in the role of a buffoon? Because that Black person wants to play the role of a court jester or a comedian; is that the free-market at work or is that one community not exercising its self-enlightened interest while another community does and exploits the ignorance of another?

Steven Silbiger: I would say...that's a tough question. Is what is portrayed in Hollywood a reflection of the community or is it Hollywood creating the community that is watching the show? Uh, like Spike Lee had the movie, Bamboozeled which was excellent. It just shows you how things can be twisted. One person's discrimination is another person's comedy. And even if you look at some of the great comedy movies that have had an "African-American audience" those same African-Americans and African-American productions have had smart comedies and have had buffoons. It is a matter of creating something intelligent. We've seen that this works in the African-American community - both kinds of humor. There have been plenty of Jewish buffoons in comedy. I provide a whole list of them in the book. But I think it is how you want to look at your self and what type of self-esteem you have and that is where that whole idea of being an individual, to be educated is important. So that no matter what somebody is portraying about you or what somebody is telling you, you know different. You know what's going on. And if at the turn of the century you had those Jewish immigrants - they didn't have any money here, they didn't have any prospects but they made their own prospects. Where there was discrimination and roadblocks they created their own opportunities. Fortunately, they did not have the barrier of being obviously Jewish because of their skin, like African-Americans do, but the opportunities were created because they pursued areas where the discrimination didn't exist.

Cedric Muhammad: So, Blacks could take a page from those early immigrants...

Steven Silbiger: Absolutely.

Cedric Muhammad: Anything you would like to say in closing Steven?

Steven Silbiger: The Jewish Phenomenon is a book that anybody can read. It is written to be read and enjoyed. It is not academic, there are jokes in the book that are funny. There are anecdotes about Jewish-ness. There is a whole area in the back of the book that is an appendix of Yiddish and Hebrew terms. So if you hear some jokes or you hear Jewish-Americans talking you can translate that and know what they are talking about and some of the things you might see. And I think the book gives a better understanding of a community that has been exceptionally misunderstood in the Black community. That is what I think this book really contributes, and it is a good read.

Cedric Muhammad: One last question. Where does reconciliation take place? I know that it can take place at the individual level through discussion and dialogue. But is there some grand brokering or meeting between Black leaders and Jewish leaders that you think could be helpful? What is the scenario that may bring it all together?

Steven Silbiger: I never really thought about it on a grand scale because usually the way things work in America, those grand things never work out anyway. I think it is on a person-to-person basis.

Cedric Muhammad: Very good. Thank You very much.

Steven Silbiger: Thank You.


















Wednesday, February 5, 2003

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