Black Community Power
I was listening to National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show the other day with John Edgar Wideman as the guest. The seventy plus years old Ms. Rehm was out getting a voice treatment and so her show was being hosted by Frank Sesno of CNN fame in her absence. A caller called asking the guest’s opinion on a strategy to combat racism by not focusing on the things the black community cannot change, such as the dominant culture controlled so well by the white mindset, but to turn our criticism inward towards the black community so that we could learn to adapt to an environment filled with racial disparity. I swear to you that I was listening to the answer, but for the life of me I can’t remember what was said. The question stuck with me and lodged itself into my conscience and kept repeating itself over and over again.
When I heard the caller’s question I immediately thought of a situation where black people simply give up the struggle for racial equality and conform to the fact that we exist in a perpetual condition of racial disparity in the areas where we are relegated. Black people and the non-blacks that support the black community cannot change the mindset of people who are intent to protect the status quo of white privilege. In fact, the message to black people is quit trying to change the conditions that have led to such disparity in the two communities and apply a little personal responsibility to help yourself. There is an attempt to program people in the black community who are able to succeed and who are able to do well to disassociate themselves from the rest of the black community when it comes to racial subjugation. In the black community, you can do well if you lose your sense of social responsibility to the black community.
Compared to the dominant culture the black community is very weak. And all too often when someone from the black community is able to develop a career path and is able to do well, they want to pack their bags and leave the black community behind for the bluer skies and greener pastures in the suburbs or in other more racially diverse areas. However, these areas slowly become more black over the years as the white mindset looks for even bluer skies and even greener pastures with a little less racial diversity. But that’s okay because as soon as black people are financially able, they will follow the white people to those more attractive areas as well.
As more and more black people learn to adapt to an environment of racial disparity the more we allow the racial disparity to keep more black people out of the work environment or the educational system. The dominant culture can point to the handful of black people who made it and say that they succeeded why can’t you? Over forty five million black people in this country and we all are supposed to be Michael Jordan or Will Smith. Forty five million black people are supposed to get a job in the NBA or on the big screen doing Men In Black and Wild, Wild West movies. And black people who do well, or who plan to do well, will support these arguments with the same fervor, if not more, as a house Negro back in the day who would protect the plantation owner’s family and their property as if it was the enslaved person’s very own. Black people with a sense of black community are not welcome.
So why would people in the black community work so hard to change something we could never change? Racism is here to stay. It was here long before the first person of African descent set foot on the Americas. What makes people think that the black community can abolish racism? Then again, what makes people think that black people are trying to abolish racism? If our history with the white mindset has taught us anything it is that there are a lot of people who don’t have a problem with white privilege and black subjugation. It has become the orthodox. Any attempt to change the racial disparity is an attack against the white community’s way of life. Therefore, people have to work harder to justify black subjugation.
If we fall into the routine of trying to convince the dominant culture to do the right thing when these people have time and time again demonstrated their commitment to racial disparity the black community will never gain any ground. The objective of the black community is not to convince racist to see black people as equals and to give up their racist ways. The objective of the black community is to nullify the power of the racists who are so committed to racial disparity from being able to contribute to the despair of the black community. The black community has a history of facing discouraging conditions from the dominant community. Jim Crow laws, the civil rights struggle, the right to vote, the abolishment of slavery, and etcetera. I’m sure we had an abundance of ancestors that were convinced that the black community could never affect change to its advantage. But for some reason or another we don’t remember them. Our collective admiration is for the ancestors who did work to make positive changes for the black community. These ancestors should have taught us that the black community does not have to settle for the crumbs that the dominant culture wants to give us.
But too many black people are way too ready to say that the black community is too weak to bend the ear of the dominant culture. Some black people say that the black community would do better to focus on coping within the parameters established by this culture of racial disparity. We need to just circle the wagons and start conforming to what the dominant culture wants us to be. I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. We don’t have to change people who want to keep us in our role of oppression. We just have to remove their power over us and our insistence of being socially powerless. Power doesn’t come from submitting to people who are perceived to be more powerful. Power comes from resisting the oppressors. Power doesn’t come from listening to people who say shut up, quit complaining, and do what you are told and exercise personal responsibility.
Power comes from fighting the good fight and not from surrender. Power in the black community comes from having a strong sense of social responsibility. Power comes from directly confronting that which keeps us in a state of oppression. Black people have been distracted by the materialism of economic success. But financial success does not directly correlate to happiness or commitment or equality. John White had financial success. But when the mob of drunk white boys showed up at his house and he shot one of them while trying to defend his home and his family, his success evaporated and he became just another black thug in the dominant community’s eyes. Joe Horn comes out his house to shoot a couple of burglars over at his neighbor’s house, people who didn’t have anything to do with him, and he’s hailed as a hero. Mr. White exercised a little personal responsibility and now he’s on his way to jail.
A young white woman with a history of alcohol abuse and sexual abandon goes to Aruba and disappears. Every television news station in America paints her picture on our television sets every night for months. Her picture still comes up every now and then whenever there is breaking news in the investigation of her disappearance. We hear things like the man who last saw her was arrested or that one of her family members had a heart attack. But black women who disappear are lucky to even get an honorable mention from the local news. People are more likely that the black woman who disappeared had a baby a couple of years back. The implication is that the black woman, who was in school earning a degree and is trying to take personal responsibility, is too immoral and too ethically challenged to garner public sympathy.
Regardless of how we take personal responsibility the dominant culture will come down on us like a monsoon rainstorm when we have the audacity to step out of line. Let something happen to one of us where we need help from the dominant community and our history goes under the microscope until someone can find the spec of a reason why the public shouldn’t care about our welfare. This is the environment we are supposed to submit to in order to focus on our personal responsibility.
In all honesty I have to admit that when it comes to changing the perspective of the dominant culture the black community will never succeed. We will be perpetually considered inferior and the lessors. I’m not in this to try and change the minds of the dominants. However, black people need to open our eyes and learn to recognize this disparity enough where we can see that circling our wagons and just submitting to the status quo isn’t going to do anything to alleviate our oppression. Rich or poor we are all seen as inferior.