Until the emergence of BLACK Lives Matter, even talking about Black unity had fallen out of favor, but the need for such unity now is as great, if not greater than ever.
Black unity is a perquisite for sustainable change, but it has become a dust-covered relic. Bastardized remnants remain, but are frequently in the context of venues that do not advance our collective interests. In general, Blacks continue to emulate whites’ individualistic and materialistic values typically without full access to their benefits. This tends to makes us complicit in our own oppression. Unless we determine our own values and principles, to attack those of the white majority is tantamount to attacking ourselves. Unity is the lynchpin for developing internal group strength and determination crucial for moving forward and being able to work with others as equals.
Discussions concerning the importance of ideology and philosophy are still rare among Blacks these days. During the 1960s, however, America’s foremost Black leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King and Minister Malcolm X, who came from two distinct religions and philosophical orientations, both contributed greatly to Blacks’ understanding and perseverance in the continuing struggle for freedom and justice. Of course, Black Nationalism, identified more with Malcolm than with King was, and remains, a key concept in the ongoing struggle for success and survival. Fundamentally, it is a call for group solidarity.
The consciousness, motivation and activism that fueled the civil rights movement are rare but still sorely needed. In the 1960’s, it wasn’t necessary to define the common purpose; it was a given, “freedom, justice and equality” Now, in addition to an absence of commonality around key issues, more and more, class has become a divisive factor in Black America. The middle class tends to turn their backs on poorer Blacks, even though clearly, both remain prime targets of discrimination. Case in point: Black middle class participation is conspicuously absent in efforts to improve conditions in the inner cities like failing schools, substandard housing, poverty and police brutality, but middle class Blacks tend to rationalize that these things no longer affect them personally. Although poor Blacks are least equipped to challenge the inequities of the prevailing White power structure, they are further disenfranchised now because the chasm between them and their middle class brethren is greater than ever in history. This is not only ironic but sad because the two groups working together is critically important in the ongoing struggle for equity and justice. In short, sustainable change requires involvement of the entire Black community, regardless of social status.
Professor Ron Daniels points out there was always a tension between those who preferred integration into the American body politic as the primary goal of the Black freedom struggle, and nationalists who see integration as at best, only one possibility in the quest for freedom and self-determination. The latter have always advocated maintaining Black institutions as integral for achieving total freedom. Malcolm, despite his early assassination, 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 Pan-African movements that eclipsed the integrationists’ faction within Black struggles after his death.
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 maintained 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. Malcolm’s remarks are as relevant today as they were over 60 years ago, a telling commentary on the snail-like pace of Black 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, i.e., the global solidarity of African people everywhere. He also notes that Black Nationalism led to the formation of Black caucuses in White and Black organizations, e.g., Congressional Black Caucus, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Associations of Black Psychologists, teachers, engineers, etc.
It is essential for us to reaffirm racial consciousness and solidarity as a means of attaining unity to secure and perpetuate Black interests. It is also important to debunk the hypocritical and diversionary “post-racial” rhetoric that followed Barack Obama’s election. Blacks must continue to address ongoing issues first, ,among themselves, then on disparities between them, whites, and other groups in areas such as employment, education, housing, income and health- all persistent indicators of barriers to Blacks controlling their own destiny. Talk of race-neutral, color-blind public policy mocks the depth of problems that still plague Blacks in this country and we must take strategic action to eradicate this myth as a barrier to full freedom and equality. We must never minimize the fundamental importance of being unified especially since Blacks have not been unified on key social, political, economic and ethical issues for many years.
Empowerment is the capacity to chart one’s own destiny. For Blacks, this means moving from accustomed debilitating disunity to sustainable unity which must again become as entrenched as the many racist barriers we still face every-day of our lives.