By Dr. William Small, Jr.
There is no question mark at the conclusion of the title to this essay. Although the title will hopefully raise a question, it is instead intended to remind Black people in America and throughout the Diaspora of the importance of a statement that I often heard recited while growing up: “all motion ain’t progress”.
Thankfully, there is something in the human spirit which causes us to “seek better” and to responsibly and legitimately desire more. Better schools, safer communities, more political power, a reverence for ancestors and a greater capacity to self- determine our individual and collective destinies. That is human nature. However, if the struggle to attain and secure those improved circumstances is not grounded in an understanding of the reasons and causes why they do not exist in the first place, the probability of being on the right track for the attainment of the desired outcome is likely to be substantially diminished.
Taking Black Americans as an example, I argue that it is not enough to simply want to be affirmed and included equally into the political and social fabric of America. We must first understand and come to grips with the depth and intensity of the historical conditions that created and continues to guarantee our marginalization and exclusion. For Black people, qualifications have never been the key to insure legitimate entry.
There exists in the Black struggle for freedom, justice and equality, innumerable examples and displays of talent, intelligence, creativity and genius. Individual and to some degree collective successes reflecting the “symbolic destruction” of racial barriers and economic obstacles are a part of the inherited legacy and tapestry of Black success. In spite of these successes and the litany of “a million firsts” our relative position to power, oppression and marginalization has fundamentally not changed.
It is clear beyond the point of argument that “integration has not delivered the goods” or the opportunity; primarily because “integration” has never taken place. The fundamental premise recited in the “Kernner Commission” report still holds true.
There are two Americas: one that is white and rich and one that is Black and poor. This description holds from the inception of this nation up to the present moment. It has not been changed by the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Right Act of 1964, or The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Neither has it been changed by the work, struggles, contributions and sacrifices of all of the Blyden’s, Garvey’s, Washington’s, Cesaire’s DuBois’s, Wells’s, Hamer’s, Robinson’s, Nkrumah’s, King’s, Malcolm’s, Powell’s or by the first African American President of the United States. The scope and breadth of the political philosophies espoused by these and other advocates for Black Freedom Justice and Equality, in America, or anywhere else in the Diaspora, has failed to produce the desired, sustainable transformative difference in the lives of the Black masses.
When chattel slavery is “replaced” by systems which guarantee and predict the mass incarceration of Black people, and when the lynching practices “of the past” morph into a system of legally supported lynching’s performed by the law enforcement community, and when any Black man, evidence and circumstances aside, is presumed guilty when charges of rape are filed by any white woman, and when the integrity of Black female voices and interests only become audible when they speak in chorus with the voices of white women, we must be reminded of that old saying: “all motion ain’t progress”.
The current conversation regarding the construction and removal of monuments embellishing various aspects of America’s racial and social history has forced me to revisit our strategies to secure our rightful place in America. Be they correct or incorrect, I have drawn certain conclusions. Foremost among them is the fact that racism, although a global phenomenon, is also a deeply rooted and deeply entrenched pseudoscientific psychological illness which supports the values and permeates the institutional infrastructure of virtually all modern American institutions. These values are therefore supported and consistently reinforced on all levels of social interaction by government policies and decisions.
Even government actions that are ostensibly designed “to correct “the problem” will predictably create a “seething backlash” which in the long-term generally outlasts and outweighs the short term gain.
The national agenda to desegregate American public institutions is full of examples which make this point. Fair Housing programs, public school integration, affirmative action, fair employment practices etc. have all been responded to in a way which has reinforced white supremacy and reinforced hostility against Black aspirations and racial justice.
After centuries of Black people accepting the unending call for patience with racial injustice in America, “the White power establishment” is now demonstrating in ugly and shameless ways that they have had enough and “they want their country back”. The war cry “Make America Great Again” breathes life into and gives new credibility to the words of Dr. Frances Cress Welsing as expressed in the “Isis Papers” to wit: the very thought of racial justice is a radically disturbing and unsettling threat to the psyche of “White Authority”.
The aftermath of election of Barak Hussein Obama, as the first African American President of the United States, immediately destroyed the illusion of an American political system that respected bipartisan political engagement and respect for individual differences and civility. The backlash to the election of President Obama, I recognize as the single most important factor contributing to the election of Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States of America. Donald Trump and his consistently erratic behaviors and unvarnished racism resonate with the soul and underpinnings of America’s values as reflected in America’s conduct and history. President Trump’s “Base” is America. It is the America that shutters and panics at the thought of racial equality while desperately clinging to a day long past and the illusion of global white supremacy.
This factual picture poses an ideological challenge to Black leaders of all stripes. If the strategies of the past have not produced the desired solutions to address the problems of yesterday, then what must the strategies be to insure that the problems of today do not endure to become the problems of tomorrow? We know for certain that patience is not the answer, we should also be equally certain that silence is no better solution.
What new strategies will have to be conceived and developed to confront an order of social and political resistance where the rule of law has no currency and government responds to the force of personality instead of order, policies and principles? How will Black leadership negotiate within the context of a political system that has become a de facto one party system because of the “bipartisan” allegiance of that system to the ideology of white supremacy? What must Black leaders do when confronted with the stark reality of the President’s “red faced tirades” which identifies them as people from “s—hole” countries and suggest that NFL players who wish to constitutionally protest police brutality and racial injustice should perhaps be sent out of the country? What must Black leadership do when the FBI is visibly reframing and operationalizing critical aspects of the old Counter Intelligence Program agenda?
The fact of the matter is that in spite of all of the progress that we have allegedly made over the past 150 years, the reality continues to find that Black people are still overrepresented in our jails and prisons and underrepresented in virtually every other segment of responsible public engagement. The admirable successes of the few of us should not be an excuse, or even a reason, to tolerate the diminished opportunity structure that continues to confront the majority of us.
The circumstance, in which “Black America” finds itself today is exceptionally menacing. It demands the reevaluation of existing strategies in order to protect the gains and victories won. As important, the threat to Black life and prosperity that exist today, demands the adoption of new strategies to insure success in the fights that are yet to be fought.
The fallacy of over-relying on conventional political institutions as “the pathway” to political and economic empowerment in America has now been revealed as the farce that it is. We should never forget that the greatest political gains made by Black people in America were secured before we had the right to full civil and political participation in America.
Black leaders, when operating individually or in concert with one another, must never forget “that all motion ain’t progress” and as the rest of the statement goes: before we go backwards, let’s just stand still.
Dr. William Small, Jr., is a retired educator and former Trustee and Board Chairman at South Carolina State University