Conversation / Larry Elder : ‘Racism Has Almost No Effect On How a Person Succeeds or Fails’

I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. Never did I ever hear my parents talk about racism or race in any type of disparaging way. So I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere where I thought it was “us against them” or that there were white demons that were going to hunt me down.

What my parents did believe in was hard work. My father turned 80 in May. He had jobs as a shoe shine boy, Pullman porter, valet at a hotel and janitor. At one point, he worked as a janitor during the week and a cook during the weekend, and then attended school at night to get his GED. He saved money until he was able to start a restaurant, which he ran for the next 30 years.

I am so angry at so-called black leaders, like Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, Ben Chavis, and Ben Hooks, who constantly give this refrain of “you owe us; give us a program, bail us out.”

What this actually tells someone who is young is that there is something wrong with you because you are black that you must struggle to overcome. What kind of message is that to give a kid? Everybody is afraid when they’re kids, intimidated. And to add this extra layer of fear is disgraceful.


Jesse Jackson is the product of an unwed black mother, and here he is the president of black America. He became successful because of one reason--and one reason only--and that is he worked hard.

Why is this message OK for him but not everybody else? It’s really quite arrogant. Basically, [he’s saying], “I made it because I am Jesse Jackson. However you have to have a program, you have to have Democrats in office, you need all of the help you can get because you are black or else you are not going to make it like I did.”

This is the greatest country in the world, with endless opportunity. Racism has almost no effect whatsoever on how a person fails or succeeds in life. Racism exists, there is no doubt about that. However, what is important is how you react to it: You can let it inspire you or let it frustrate you.

I have experienced racism, but I am not the type of person to sit around complaining about what happened to me years ago. When people act in a racist fashion, they are really showing their ignorance. They are not worth my getting upset over whatever stupid thing they do or say.


For example, once while practicing law in Ohio, I was standing outside the office talking to my opposing counsel when a carload of young white men drove by and yelled out, “Hey [expletive], it’s sundown. Get the hell out of town.”

My opposing counsel, who was white, was very upset by the remark. He asked me if I was all right. I told him, “I’m the one with the leather briefcase, the RX-7 parked over here and the good job. They drive by in a jalopy, come by and call me names and I am supposed to somehow go home crying, or get a .357 Magnum and blow my brains out? It just doesn’t work that way.”

I didn’t have any expectations when I sold my business in Cleveland [finding lawyers for corporations], quit my television show and moved to Los Angeles last year.

I had no experience in talk radio prior to coming to KABC last May. In fact, I never even listened to talk radio until last year so I didn’t know how listeners would respond to me. [His show is No. 1 in its time slot for talk shows, according to latest figures from Arbitron, the rating agency.] I just knew I wanted to come home. I wanted to be near my parents before they got too old for me to appreciate them and vice versa and I always loved this city. This is the media center of the world.

Also, unlike my television show, which was a pro-and-con show where I refereed the fight, I can now say what I feel about the issues more. I don’t read the newspaper or consider topics for a show thinking, “What can I say that will offend and provoke the greatest number of people?”

I simply give my honest opinions on the issues of the day.