The current Presidential election process is as interesting as it is as important to the determination of Black political interests in America as any that I have experienced. This is not because the times are more challenging, but it is because the “Black Community” is probably more confused, less invested and more poorly organized than I have ever seen it before. The same may arguably said for the political electorate in general; however, my focus here is on the critical dimensions and consequences of this election for Black America.
Too many members of our community do not know the names of those who propose to represent our interests. Most cannot name the leadership of the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus or any Black national organization. Too many members of our community cannot name their local, state or national elected representatives. This is a critical collective failure on the part of our community and our cadre of political, religious and movement leaders. One half century after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we are still focusing on our “participation in the political process”; our politics have not matured to the point where we can develop an agenda for “empowerment as a consequence of our participation” in the political process.
While some establishment Black leaders are scampering to insure a victory for Hillary, and another set of establishment Black leaders strain to convince America that Trump and the Republican Party is the answer to the Nation’s ills, other important developments are taking place. Black “citizens” are being shot and in many cases murdered, by civilians and by police, in our churches and in the streets. This occurs without sufficient accountability or protection.
The law enforcement community, perhaps with the exception a few years in the reconstruction era, has never made the protection of Black people a matter of importance when Black interests were deemed to be in competition with the interest of “white America”. In spite of this fact, “the police” are now being defined as the newest victim in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. The right to vote and other civil rights gains that were secured as a consequence of life and death struggles are now being proudly and publicly eroded in a majority of states, without major objection from anyone.
The United States Justice Department, under Black leadership, is busy studying and reviewing facts and circumstances that are historically documented and well known. Our first Black President is holding press conferences wherein he decisively describes the shooting of policemen by PTSD suffering Black United States Military combat veterans as being racially motivated , but he cannot find similar decisively clear language to describe the systematic killing of unarmed “Black citizens” by policemen. That conversation has been framed with respect to the racial climate in the State of Louisiana without any mention of the notorious Louisiana prison system or the national prison industrial complex which warehouses Black and poor people in this rich country as a profit making enterprise.
While our focus is on Hillary or Donald for President and while we ignore their past transgressions against the rights and interests of Black people, the Mayor of Chicago is found to be sitting on evidence of probable police impropriety in the killing of a young Black person, Black and poor people are being physically poisoned in Michigan by poison water and an equally poisoning series of political decisions. Once again, no one is held responsible. Black colleges and universities are continuing to be treated as second class citizens in most of the states in which they are struggling to survive and US Department of Education policies has been more hurtful than helpful to this challenge as well. The ravages of American poverty continue to destroy the lives of Black children at alarming rates that no longer raise eyebrows.
We could continue with the list, but perhaps what is the most menacing to the construction of a healthy and empowering future for Black America, and consequently for America as well, is the fact that young Black non-establishment leadership is once again under attack. America is capable of many things, but it cannot seem to understand what “Black Lives Matter” means. How is it to be translated? The confusion over languages expressed here, is greater perhaps than anything in the language arena regarding the equal gender movement or rocket science. In reality it is not confusing, the understanding is clear: America is incapable of understanding that which it cannot control.
Some will remember how confused the nation became over the term “Black Power”. It is the very same and enduring affliction and it will not be cured by a prescription of discussion or debate alone.
Black America cannot remain idle and ignore the systematic efforts to demean, dismantle and marginalize the sincere efforts of young “Black citizens” who are seeking to insure the existence of a legitimate opportunity structure and future for themselves and their children. Black leadership must eagerly assume the responsibility to tear down “the Silos” that serve to make us competitors for favor as opposed to collaborators for our collective empowerment. Short of our addressing this “cooperation gap” there is no victory to be gained, there will only be more of the same and our children will be the losers in the long term.
It has been recently reported in the Black Press that the National News Paper Publishers Association has called on President Obama and US attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a Special Federal Prosecutor to address the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. This is a significant and important request expressed by the Black Press community. The National Medical Association has also published a powerful statement addressing the social and medical pathology reflected in the spate of police killings of unarmed Black people. The stance taken by these two national organizations is a call acknowledging major problems impacting Black lives in America. Their call is important, comprehensive and deserving of the serious attention and support of Black leadership.
We must make our publics aware of these two initiatives that have been independently launched by these two major Black professional organizations- for the collective well- being and health of Black people. As it is with our young leadership, here again, we cannot permit their words, recommendations and efforts to simply fade in the wind. This is a time for the Silos to fold and for other Black and Progressive organizations to lend their voices in support of such logical and timely recommendations to improve societal conditions and the lives of “Black citizens”.
The current condition of Black America and the absence of a coherent strategy accents the need for a broader pattern of interactive communication and support among our leadership.
With the stance taken by these two national organizations, we can start to address that “communications gap”. The primary investment for an individual or an organization in this effort would simply be a letter. Ideally it would be a personal letter, written on individual or organizational stationary. A letter that reflects an interest sufficiently deep to occasion the intentional framing of a statement in support of the position that these two organizations have proposed. Black professional organizations should be expected to eagerly participate in the campaign.
Fraternal orders, sororities, Black bar associations, educators, parents, law enforcement and religious organizations should all be expected to participate. The reparations community should lend their voice to this conversation in that these issues reflect the continuing pattern of injury and insult that accompanies the Black experience- even until this day. Everyone who dares to dream of a better future for Black people in America should have a “forever stamp” to invest in the initiative. In that the NNPA is one of the initiators of the recommendation, the Black Press should have no difficulty taking a leadership role in helping to build the initiative.
If Black leadership, in this season of heightened threat and oppression, can only appeal to the “establishment” for relief to be provided at the discretion of that “establishment”, maybe it is already too late. If we cannot support our young leaders in their quest to insure dignity and opportunity for themselves and their future, maybe it is already too late. If we cannot cease to be competitors for the selective distribution of political crumbs received in exchange for our labor and political loyalty, then we have not really advanced much. If those conditions are true, we have just exchanged “the chains” of our ancestors for a more comfortable set of modern constraints.
If we and our organizations cannot even write a letter to support the obvious need to develop a 21st century agenda for Black empowerment; then perhaps what we need is another prayer vigil, another chorus of Amazing Grace, another march and sit in, a town hall beer summit and a deeper understanding of the age old mantras that “change takes time” and “we need more prisons”.
We cannot be eternally patient with injustice and be a spiritually rewarded, self-respecting or respected people. I thank the creator for our people who have not yet lived long enough or well enough to abandon “the yearning to be free”.
Dr. William Small, Jr., is a retired educator and former trustee and Board chairman at South Carolina State University.