There’s an old saying that there is a “thin line between love and hate.” Well there’s an even thinner line for black people between an explanation of our problems and making excuses for our problems.

An explanation explains why a problem exists. The explanation doesn’t validate the rightness or wrongness, it just explains. But when that explanation is used as a crutch, then it becomes an excuse.

For example, it is one thing to be able to explain that racism has had a profound effect on the black community. It is something else to allow racism to be the excuse for all the problems in our community.

It is one thing to explain that a lack of jobs and job opportunities have led to a very high unemployment rate within the black community. But it is an excuse to use high unemployment as the reason to validate criminal activity in our community.

The fine line between explanations and excuses is one of the largest problems facing the black community today. For every issue in our community, there is an explanation. But when that explanation becomes an excuse, then we are in trouble.

I had been mentally battling the explanation vs. excuse issue when I came across a six DVD set called Black History – From Civil War Through Today. Many of the vintage film clips had been made by different government agencies in the 1940s. Those clips offered a rare glimpse into black America prior to the Civil Rights Movement. They also offered many an explanation of our past without making an excuse for it.

I had expected to see a lot of film clips with the “woe is we” message. But what I found were film clips that promoted triumph over adversity. What I saw were black people taking part in this country-in spite of everything. When Booker T. Washington founded Tuskegee Institute, the majority of the buildings were built by the students themselves. When the Air Force created the Tuskegee Airmen, I saw black men learning to fly even when they knew their actual chances to be able to do so were slim.

I saw two other short film clips that resonated with me. One was called “Henry Browne – Farmer.” It told the story of a black farmer who was planting and maintaining his farm as part of the war effort during WWII. Another short film clip was “Palmour Street,” which took a look at the life of black people in Georgia in 1957. Most interesting is that those films showed a nuclear family-father, mother and children.

I haven’t finished watching the entire set of DVDs, but from the first three discs I’ve seen, whoever compiled the film clips has done a wonderful job of presenting Black History.

Those film clips show the struggles, but they also reflect the gains. And that is the foundation for the difference between an explanation and an excuse. When we understand our history, we are better prepared to learn from it. But when we rely on excuses, then we make no measurable gains. We are stuck in a perpetual cycle of repeating the same things over and over again.

There is a lot of work to be done in the black community because there are a lot of issues in our community. But as we work to resolve the issues, we need to look at the explanation without relying on the excuse. For example, it is acceptable to acknowledge that finding a job isn’t very easy today. But it becomes an excuse when you won’t look for a job because it’s difficult to do so.

The fine line between explanations and excuses is one we must tread carefully. How does one tell the difference? It’s all about action and inaction. If it involves an action, then it’s an explanation. Kind of like your parent whipping you all the while they are telling you why they are doing it. If it involves inaction, then it is an excuse. Just like the parent who always threatens to whip a child and never does.