Racism is as real as ever and Black lives have always mattered. However, most people, including many Blacks, deny or minimize the devastating effect of racism and tend to act as though somehow, Black lives are less valuable, even less sacred than White lives. The Black Lives Matter movement has the potential for strengthening sustainable unified Black leadership which would distinguish it from the many failed attempts to build a Black united front since the civil rights era. Hopefully, it will succeed, but remaining unapologetically Black is a daunting challenge and time will tell.
This column, (November 20, 2008) shortly after President Barack Obama’s election, dealt with the implications of racism’s broad tentacles and his reluctance to even use the words “Black” or “African American” for fear of alienating his supporters, and White voters.
That column is revisited today to re-emphasize racism’s continuing significance. Readers should also take note of President Obama’s later more honest and straightforward statements regarding the need to deal with race-based inequities that still plague Black Americans: “The problem is not defining racism but doing something about it; its pernicious tentacles still infect all of our lives. And even though contemporary scholars like Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West address the magnitude of racism’s negative byproducts, they too are unavoidably and snarled in its jaundiced web.
Barack Obama’s campaign and aftermath of the election further attest to racism’s deep roots. His steadfast avoidance of the words “Black” and “African American” for example, was politically correct and obviously intended not to alienate either his supporters or potential white voters. Remember, not once during their respective speeches at the Democratic National Convention did either Barack or Michelle utter those two words. (McCain’s many racial innuendoes were especially evident when he pitched to “Joe the plumbers.”)
Post-election vandalism in South Torrance, an L.A. suburb, was a blatant manifestation of continuing racism: homes with Obama lawn signs and cars with his stickers were painted with “nigger,” Hitler,” and “Go back to Africa.”
After the election, George W. Bush’s top advisor, Carl Rove, and Bill Cosby’s pal, Alvin Poussaint, agreed that the Cosby Show about an upwardly mobile Black family had succeeded in changing racial attitudes enough to make Obama’s candidacy possible. Really?
Obama lost votes because of his race, but this was offset somewhat by the landmark financial meltdown that caused many white voters to reluctantly switch towards the end of the campaign. The popular vote was extremely close and, arguably, but for the meltdown, McCain might have won the election. Many Republican voters abandoned McCain because, like countless others, they were hurting financially and came to see McCain as an extension of Bush’s failed policies and his election probably would not benefit them.
This column regularly addresses the harms of institutional racism and bemoans the fact that many Blacks tend to deny or minimize its existence. Such thinking is a convoluted, self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces practices and conditions inimical to their own best interests.
Effective leadership is crucial if Blacks are to challenge the status quo. Even more important, both poorer and middle-class Blacks must regain hope and mutual respect, and bring their collective strength to bear by demanding new political and economic solutions. This means actually holding elected officials and other Black leadership accountable. But first, ordinary people must be sufficiently dissatisfied to behave differently, willing to assume risks and take action likely to result in real change. As Cornel West intones, “Blacks must shed the twin burden of victimization and futile dependence on others….” Transformative behavior also requires a reaffirmation of racial pride.
Racism’s crippling impact on the minds of children is rarely discussed. Yet, solely based on color, Black children suffer conditioned inferiority. Tragically, coupled with urban blight and gross systemic neglect their plight has become a sad, unattended norm. Schools, especially, do a serious disservice to these children by failing to properly deal with their special needs, even though they occupy the lowest levels of academic achievement. This requires additional not fewer resources.
Blacks should take note of recent, highly organized large white demonstrations where the demonstrators felt they were wronged and did something about it. The last time Blacks acted that way with sustained unity was during the 1960s. The point is, unified action is indispensable for advancing successful Black-oriented group agendas.
Barack Obama’s momentous victory did not mean the Calvary had arrived, Blacks would be his top priority, or that his presidency would positively impact them in the near term. Despite an almost iconic affinity with Obama, in order to get and keep his attention, Blacks, like all other special interest groups, needed to give him cogent proposals and recommendations, and hold him accountable for responding. This was a change made more difficult because of the paucity of unapologetic Black oriented endeavors in recent decades.
Tackling racism and race-based issues is especially difficult for Blacks, because many have internalized values that are not in their best interests and are reluctant to challenge the “system.” Of course, our resources are scarce and we still have relatively meager political clout. But remember, we are a proud people with unsurpassed pride, resilience and defiance. The price of servitude has always been unacceptable.
For Blacks, whether racism is indelible depends not only on Whites, but in equal measure, on us. With renewed strength and determination, we will again determine our own destiny.