by William P. Muhammad
In the raucous nature of national debate, the exclusion of racial and ethnic issues from mainstream discussion appears driven by fear. More often than not, those directing America’s political discourse dismiss Black grievances through either active opposition or passive denial. In light of this fact, it is difficult, if not impossible, to solve America’s racial gap without a strong commitment to Black unity, economic self-sufficiency and independence oriented goals.
Regarding history’s unpleasant truths, among the worst to be found is the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Undoubtedly ranking high as one of America’s original sins, to this day, questions abound over what to do about its lingering effects. Although formally abolished in the United States by 1865 (except as punishment for crime), the psychology American slavery produced, among Blacks and Whites alike, is perhaps one of the most obstructive roadblocks to solving issues of race today.
For instance, when examining the poverty and social dysfunction running rampant in so many of America’s urban and rural settings, left out of the equation is the sophisticated opposition that has undermined Black efforts to produce viable solutions. Historically speaking, while social integration was the official means for addressing racial discrimination and exclusion, it likewise discouraged the building of an economic infrastructure, which led to the draining of wealth, political capital and brain power from Black communities throughout the United States.
Nevertheless, while some resisted this tendency and openly worked to build independent economic and political systems, fears of an autonomous Black polity led those claiming to be allies, some in Black leadership and the government itself to destabilize such progress as a means to manage the so-called “negro problem.” As the concept of total integration replaced the idea of economic and political independence, the lack of a national vision eventually led to apathy, disunity and the community dysfunction we witness today.
For years, American mythology advanced an institutionalized caricature of Black people as the boogeyman. In popular culture, images of the savage or buffoon reinforced mindsets of fear and contempt as the Black male was made an object for scorn and ridicule. Through overtly racist films such as W.D. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and symbolically racist films such as Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong, the myth of “the White man’s burden” was sold as fact as Blacks labored under the weight of prejudice, oppression and misrepresentation.
Psychologically speaking, famed psychiatrist, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, whose research identified fear of “genetic annihilation” as the root cause for white racism, postulated that white supremacy was a survival mechanism among those who constitute a global minority. As fear appears to have dictated the nature of White opposition to Black liberation, “preventing the rise of a Black messiah” appears to have been the primary focus and objective of the social engineers and policy-makers.
With the crisis of Black men filling prisons cells faster than college dormitories, it is clear that the policies of the last 46 years have failed to deliver to the masses the fruits of the Promised Land. Furthermore, as out of wedlock births coupled with high unemployment rates imply a vicious cycle of poverty and dependence, the need for a radical change of thinking is more than self-evident.
Although the effort to depict strong Black leadership as subversive is designed to prevent the emergence autonomous views, questions must be asked as to whether or not society truly desires a solution for Black suffering. From the time of slavery through today, advocates for freedom, justice and equality have labored under an imposed yet false premise that to struggle for Black people is to struggle against America. While nothing could be further from the truth, it is this suggestion that drives hatred and animosity against those who offer meaningful solutions in times of uncertainty and confusion.
In the meantime, as society’s upper tier continues to play upon the fear and ignorance of White people, many Black leaders have been maneuvered into a compromise position that hampers their willingness and ability to speak and act freely. As many Black organizations are dependent upon grants and philanthropic dollars, they have become more reactive than proactive regarding programs and solutions to poverty, injustice and the lack of representation.
With all that has been said, Black leadership is in the valley of decision with paths leading either to freedom or to social, economic and political death. While amalgamation with other interests and causes may weaken organizational aim and purpose, seeking resolution in areas of difference should not mean the wholesale dismissal of self-interests for the sake of inclusion.
In America, other racial and ethnic groups have prospered by pooling their resources and advancing their own unique agendas. Affording them leverage for the good of themselves, their families and their people, this has allowed relative newcomers to build institutions, vibrant communities and enter into international trade and commerce. Creating respect, jobs and opportunity, the “do-for-self” model, that proved effective for Black people once before, must now be reexamined and implemented to save a community that is clearly in distress.