Sunday, October 19, 2008

Win or Lose, the Game Remains the Same

by Bro. William P. Muhammad

Whether Senator Barak Obama wins the upcoming Presidential elections or loses them, the bottom line is the world has now seen that a Black man is both willing and able to occupy the highest office in the United States and as such to sit in the world’s most powerful seat. While many in the African-American community are proud of the Illinois Senator’s achievements, and would be elated with an Obama victory in November, a question nevertheless remains: How would the day after the elections be any different from the day before?

From the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements to now a Black man who has become the Democratic Party’s nominee for President, Black people have always risen to the occasion no matter how high the bar and how difficult the challenge. But as all things come with plusses and minuses, the African-American drive to succeed has many times been stunted by a mindset that rests upon the laurels of another which stifles the struggle for excellence, self-sufficiency and self-determination.

Without doubt, Black people have benefited from the sacrifices, struggles and aspirations of those known and unknown heroes and heroines within our community, and credit should be given where credit is due, but standing next to another’s greatness and watching their greatness from the sidelines does not necessarily give the observer any points on the scoreboard.

For instance, during Reconstruction there were Black politicians who, under federal protection, rose into prominence in former Confederate States, but their successes were short-lived as resentment and hostility among whites led to the emergence of night riders, the Ku Klux Klan, unjust Supreme Court decisions and what would later become state sanctioned Jim Crow Laws. Effectively suppressing African-Americans through mob terrorism on one hand and state enforced apartheid on the other, Black leaders continued to emerge in spite of the seemingly all encompassing attacks in both Northern and Southern states.

Inspiring others to succeed in their wakes, however, and regardless of the consequences, many of our people sacrificed their lives to force social, political and economic change. Those who didn’t either cheered from the sidelines or quietly reaped the benefits of their sacrifices. During the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, it was the same paradigm once again, and this time the backlash manifested itself in the “Law and Order” rhetoric of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” the “War on Drugs,” a seemingly euphemistic code word for a war on Black youth and a general flight of whites from the Democratic party into the Republican party - particularly in the South.

Today, however, for those observing his political ascension, the candidacy of Senator Barak Obama signals a paradigm shift in that for the first time a Black man has secured the nomination of a major political party and a good chance of winning the White House.

Like the resentment Southern whites had to the rise of Blacks during the Post-Reconstruction period and the political backlash toward the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the success and rise of Senator Obama is likewise fostering resentment and hostility, but this time in a more nuanced and sophisticated manner among politicians, their handlers and conservative interest groups.

Whipping up fear for an America with a Black president, stereotypes of lazy and shiftless Black constituents and outright hatred for the idea of a Black man leading a campaign against the best the right wing has to offer, it is clear that a yet-to-be-seen reaction is in the making should Obama win the Presidency in November.

With Machiavellian adeptness, conservative interest groups are stirring the pot of racial confrontation through white nationalist rhetoric and patriotic zeal as a means to determine who is truly American. These efforts should tell those paying close enough attention that the racial fault lines in American society are closer to the surface than many would like to admit, and those hidden hands manipulating the general public, to energize their partisan interests, are responsible for any negative fallout.

Those Blacks hoping to ride Barak Obama’s coattails to the “new day in America” will be sorely disappointed if they do not take inspiration from his candidacy and pursue excellence for themselves. Those who sit on the sidelines hoping to gain from his struggle will likewise be disillusioned if they fail to roll up their sleeves and reach for their piece of the American pie through perseverance, hard work and sacrifice.

Whether Senator Obama wins or loses the election, the African-American community will benefit from his candidacy only in proportion to its love for self and kind and through an awareness of what is in its best interests. We can admire and draw inspiration from the Senator, but we cannot look to him to do for us what we are capable of doing for ourselves. Win or lose, the game remains the same, and its time that Black folk understand that the solution to our problems lies within each man and woman willing to sacrifice for change.

Bro. William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Surviving Disaster requires wide-awake leadership

By Bro William P. Muhammad


By now, we’ve all heard, or to some degree felt, stories about the tanking economy and how another “Great Depression” may be in the making. As the President, the Congress and the American people all debate over the long and short term implications of the $700 billion “bailout package,” (now called a rescue package) it is only reasonable and fitting for African-Americans to prepare themselves for the uncomfortable changes that seem to be coming. While it is true we as a people have been relatively well off since the 1930s and the uncertain days of World War II, under best case and worst case scenarios, Black people have always been America’s proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine.’

With that said, it is always in Black people’s interests to work for the best while preparing for the worst, considering strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities in both individual homes and in the community as a whole. Without going into details regarding the various contingency plans federal and state governments are making in the event of a national emergency, Black organizations, religious institutions and individual families should plan for how they can best serve themselves and their communities should the unthinkable happen and the need arise.

According to a September 30 article in the Army Times newspaper (Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1), the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the US Army 3rd Infantry Division will be assigned to domestic duty and “…may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control.”

While the article claims the soldiers will train with non-lethal weapons for the purpose of controlling traffic and for subduing dangerous individuals, it emphasizes their package of non-lethal weapons will only be used in overseas war zones.

Be that as it may, one need only look to Hurricane Katrina and the fleeing Blacks gunned down by the authorities, accusations of Black people looting while actually salvaging for food and water and initial abandonment by FEMA for African-Americans to be suspicious of this US Army homeland assignment. That coupled with “armed to the teeth Blackwater contractors” patrolling the streets of New Orleans, the neglect and abuse suffered by many storm victims and the reneged upon promises to survivors, Black people have more than just cause for concern.

In the event of a major earthquake, another Katrina, a major flood or even the much touted economic collapse the government is trying to prevent, is the Black community truly prepared for the various scenarios that may take place under such conditions?

In the event of prolonged power outages, having extra canned goods in the pantry makes the difference between going without and having food for your family. Access to clean water, a resource we often take for granted for cooking, drinking and hygiene, is likewise to make a difference should potable water become an issue; and extra blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes and kerosene heaters would also make a difference should disaster strike in winter. Owning a generator, a camping stove or a gas grill can all make the difference between going with or without during emergencies, as will keeping a full tank of gasoline in your automobile.

On a community level, churches can maintain food and clothing banks, promote community vegetable gardens and offer places of refuge should the need arise; but how many African-American churches are in the position to keep the lights on, offer shelter and feed the public in the event of a local crisis or national emergency?

There is a fable by Aesop (which you probably read as a child) about an ant and a grasshopper. Without going into all of the story’s details, one summer day, a frolicking grasshopper questioned a hard working ant why it was dragging an ear of corn. While the ant replied it was working to store food for the winter, the grasshopper failed to see the need as food was plenteous and in abundance under the summer sun.

Needless to say, when the winter finally arrived, the ant and his brethren ate well while the grasshopper starved outside in the bitter cold. Those familiar with Aesop’s fables know the moral of the story: “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”

We need wide-awake Black leadership today that will not apologize for its actions and concerns. We need leadership that knows how to anticipate change and to prepare for it. We need leadership that understands humility is strength and that service to others is the root of organizational longevity and effectiveness.

Most important, however, is the fact that Black leadership, which sees the handwriting on the wall, be able to articulate its concerns, plan for how to minimize the impact of change and implement solutions to future challenges as they arise. Anything less than decisive action is idle bluster and for the sake of our future and our children’s future, we cannot afford to engage in empty rhetoric, rest upon our laurels or posture for praise. Only wide-awake leadership will do the job and the time for action is now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Are you 'fiddling' while the 'hood is burning?

By William P. Muhammad

Students of classical history are familiar with the old axiom of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, and for those who are not, it simply means that leadership preoccupied with the frivolous often preside over a declining state of affairs. Today this term has a likewise axiomatic meaning, as some in Black leadership posture for an illusionary sense of power and indulge in self-congratulatory praise.

In the meantime, Black youth, particularly our boys, are in danger of self-nullification by: 1) failing to take education seriously because of a lack of guidance, 2) filling jails and prisons because of anti-social behaviors fed by self-hatred and 3) jeopardizing their future with unhealthy practices leading to fatal diseases such as HIV and AIDS.

With this said it should be of no surprise that policy-makers - recognizing the coming 2050 demographic shift where people of color will become the majority population in the United States - have been both shrewd and pragmatic in their approach in dealing with the so-called unmentionable “Black problem.” Manifesting this reality in everything from long-term urban planning and “gentrification” to eminent domain and selective code enforcements, it has become clear that “urban renewal” is a euphemism for “Negro removal.”

When inner-city properties are reclaimed by the more affluent, causing property values to increase, African-American leaders may find their traditional constituents increasingly relocating to more affordable areas. As a result, Black influence dwindles in proportion to their declining numbers in urban areas.

While on the surface some may claim diversity as the motivating factor behind the trends leading to such demographic shifts, across the country Black leadership should nevertheless remain mindful that the buzzword “post-racial politics” may in fact be a code phrase for the political neutering of African-American communities.

The late Democratic Representative Tip O’Neill once said: “All politics is local.” If this is the case, when African-Americans find themselves politically out maneuvered, Black people and Black issues become of little or no importance in the formulation of national public policy. Therefore, as the 1960s and 1970s trends of Black people moving in as white people moved out reverses itself, Blacks are losing politically important locations in the cities, and with it their ability to influence local policy.

The gains made by African-Americans during the civil rights movement and the legislation that passed as a result, created greater mobility allowing Blacks greater access to inner-city factories and residences. However, with the “white flight” that followed and the moving out of jobs to the suburbs and other outlying areas, to quote the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan: “politics without economics” started becoming “symbol without substance.”

Today, as downtown and inner-city properties are bought up and redeveloped for a more “upscale clientele,” effected African-Americans will either scatter to various other locations, thereby diluting their political influence, or they may once again concentrate in other less desirable locations starting the process over again.

Since most American cities have urban planning agendas, often stretched out into five, 10 and 15 (or more) year plans, once change has begun, it is difficult to alter course. Also, those who may feel the Black community has been manipulated or out maneuvered through an urban planning agenda may find that it is too late to do anything about it. However, all is not necessarily lost.

Various cultures, groups and families demonstrate examples of their values, customs and norms. As such, whether Black neighborhoods are clean and decent places to live or depressed examples of crime, unemployment and blight a community by nature manifests the physical, social and mental condition of its people.

For instance, when mentioning Chinatown, Greek town or one the various other ethnic districts found throughout the United States, one immediately envisions their unique characteristics. From food and architecture to clothing and entertainment, such communities reflect proud heritages, tangible contributions to society and a general knowledge and love for self.

For the descendants of enslaved Africans, however, it is quite difficult to identify a specific culture beyond the plantations of the old South. With our links to the mother continent cut off, our history and achievements as a civilized people (and yes, I said civilized) were lost while a negative image of Black humanity was taught throughout the Western world.

Through social indoctrination, a Eurocentric educational system and an entertainment industry that for years portrayed Blacks as uncivilized savages, buffoons or menaces to society, Black leadership today has too big a job cut out for itself than to waste its time on deceitful games, false pride, jealous bickering or envious subterfuge.

Is there time to waste as the clock ticks down to the year 2050? How will a Black child born today feel 42 years from now? Will he thank our current generation for its righteous deeds and sacrifices or will he condemn us for our empty rhetoric and posturing while we chased symbols over substance? The choice is now up to us, and the time for proactive solutions is long overdue.


Bro. William P. Muhammad is an author and a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso.