Black unity, a prerequisite for sustainable change, has become a dust covered relic; only bastardized remnants of Black solidarity remain and are found mostly in non-Black venues like the Democratic Party, where Blacks’ allegiance yields little in return. They continue to emulate whites’ individualistic and materialistic values without commensurate benefits, and the need to work together in order to effectively work with others seems to escape them.
Discussions about ideology and philosophy are rare these days. During the 1960s, the foremost Black leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X came from two distinct religions and philosophical orientations. However, both clearly contributed greatly to Blacks’ struggle for freedom and justice. Nationalism, identified more with Malcolm than with King, was, and remains, a viable construct in the ongoing struggle for survival and development. Fundamentally, it is a call for group unity or solidarity.
The consciousness, motivation and activism that fueled the civil rights movement no longer exist but are sorely needed. Then, commonality of purpose was a given. Now, in addition to rare commonality around key issues, class has also become a factor dividing Black America. The middle class tends to turn their backs on poor Blacks, even though they continue to be targets of racial discrimination themselves. Conspicuously absent in efforts to improve conditions in the inner city like failing schools, substandard housing, poverty and police brutality, they rationalize that these thing no longer affect them. Poor Blacks are least equipped to challenge the prevailing power structure and are further hampered since the middle-class no longer sees itself in the struggle for equity and fairness; actual change requires broad-based participation of Blacks in every socioeconomic level.
Black nationalism still has the most potential for challenging obstacles to Blacks’ progress. It calls for group solidarity and stresses the significance of culture and racial pride as essential to the community-building process.
Professor Ron Daniels points out in a recent essay that there was always a tension between those who preferred to use racial solidarity to integrate in the American body politic as the primary goal of the Black freedom struggle and nationalists, who see integration as one possibility in the quest for self-determination and have always advocated maintaining Black institutions as Integral to achieving total freedom.
Malcolm X was the most influential proponent of Black Nationalism in the latter part of the 20th century. He strongly influenced the leaders of Black consciousness, Black power and the Pan African movements that eclipsed the integrationist’s faction within Black struggles of the 1970s and 1980s.
In Malcolm’s words, “The political philosophy of Black nationalism means that Blacks should control the politics and politicians in their own community. We should control the economy of our community….its social philosophy only means that we have to get together and remove the evils, vices, alcoholism, drug addiction and other evils that are destroying the moral fabric of our community.” (The Ballot or the Bullet, 1964) He also said, “The purpose of racial solidarity is to build internal capacity for self-development-to enhance the social, economic and political well-being of Black people.” His remarks are as relevant today as they were almost fifty-years ago and are a telling commentary on the difficulty and spotted pace of progress.
Dr. Daniels reminds us that the call for Black empowerment generated a renewed interest in reconnecting with African roots and working for Pan Africanism-the global solidarity of African people everywhere. He points out that Black Nationalism also led to the formation of Black caucuses in white and Black organizations, e.g., the Congressional Black Caucus, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Association of Black Psychologists, etc.
It is essential to reaffirm racial consciousness and solidarity as means of securing Black interests. It is also important to debunk the “post-racial” hypocrisy since Barack Obama’s election. Blacks themselves must attack ongoing disparities between themselves, whites and others in employment, education, housing, income and health-all persistent indicators that they are still a long way from controlling their own destiny. Race-neutral/color-blind public policy mocks the depth of the problems that still plague Blacks in this country Blacks must take strategic action to eradicate barriers to full freedom and equality. This requires unity not evident in many years.
Empowerment is the capacity of a person or group to define and control their own destiny. For Blacks, the prerequisite for empowerment is unaccustomed unity that must become as familiar as the race- based challenges they face every day of their lives.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org