Silence is golden but can also be problematic, even crippling. Unfortunately, the latter pertains to Blacks’ silence generally as well as Black leadership and tends to reinforce rather than alleviate an oppressive status quo. (Blacks storied resilience notwithstanding, some see a disturbing parallel between Blacks’ failure to denounce injustice and poor leadership, and the proverbial, “silence of the lambs.”
The damaging implications of Blacks’ pervasive silence are not always evident. For example, Blacks failure to protest police brutality reinforces its occurrence. Current statistics, aside, crime in Los Angeles has not actually decreased but shifted to smaller pockets, especially in South Central Los Angeles. Neighborhoods most affected are usually among the poorest and have the least political clout. And inner city violence also reflects a class issue-a growing chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks. Increasingly, the former consider themselves no longer victims of institutional racism and, therefore, they are less concerned about the struggle for freedom and justice.
Of course, there are many examples of the harmful effects of Blacks’ collective silence. In Los Angeles, far too many Black parents, educators and traditional leaders fail to stand up and denounce the inferior education to which Black children are subjected in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The district’s long history of neglecting Black students and the first phase of the current Public School Choice initiative process are prime examples, not only of LAUSD’s negligence but Black parents’, and concerned others’ silence on an issue of utmost importance. (The initial phase of the Public School Choice process was filled with misinformation, crass staff and union politics and outright fraud. Yet, there was no sustained outrage by Black parents or the broader Black community, whose failure to protest such inequities allows LAUSD to skirt its responsibility to properly educate Black students, with impunity.
Violence among Blacks, poor education, police abuse, etc., is both a systemic and community problem but neither properly meets it responsibility. Clearly, racism and continuing race-based discrimination are causal factors but since many Blacks have internalized America’s individualistic and materialistic values without comparable access to its benefits, they contribute to the problem. Without sound alternatives, for many Blacks, challenging the “system” is tantamount to challenging themselves. Be that as it may, far too many middle class Blacks, fearing the loss of mythic political and economic gains, find it extremely hard to take the risks necessary for actual change and therefore tend to perpetuate a status quo that is inimical to their own best interests.
Black youth’s lower self-concepts are a tragic hallmark of this conundrum. Everyone knows that disproportionately, poor Black children are victims of physical and psychological abuse, neglect and violence that often starts in the home and is reinforced in their communities and schools. Is it any wonder that large numbers of these children find themselves in an inexorable cycle of rejection, violence and failure that culminates in imprisonment or death? The most rebellious and “insufferable” of these youth, Black males in particular, are often the least secure and most severely victimized by profound, negative self-affirming life experiences.
This admittedly bleak scenario is cause for challenge, not despair. But here’s the rub: Many Blacks, armchair experts in pontificating and analyzing social problems, do not actively or collectively, work on solutions. Also, as mentioned earlier, classism has become a major factor, with most middle-class Blacks no longer actively involved in the civil rights struggle.
Silence makes group unity immeasurably more difficult. In the 1960s and prior, Blacks not only considered themselves in the same boat, but more important, acted like it. Today, affecting change is more complex and more daunting task because many Blacks are brainwashed into thinking change is either unnecessary or not possible. And, given their dwindling numbers in some urban areas, Blacks are further disadvantaged in marshaling sufficient political influence to protect their interests. With an increasing Tea Party prone, white political majority throughout the nation, every step towards progressive, positive change triggers heavy conservative push-back. (And yes, his race is a major factor in the unprecedented, vicious attacks on President Obama.)
Most Blacks are silent about the President’s failure to address their specific concerns and his propensity for over-accommodation on issues that affect them. However, they are reluctant to criticize him, not wanting to affiliate with the chorus of white bigots who vigorously condemn him. (Ironically, Blacks’ uncritical support of Obama often does not serve their own best interests.)
Silence by the Black community and its leadership is pervasive and frequently counterproductive. Its silence is based on conditioned non-response that reinforces a status quo inimical to Blacks’ own best interests. Common ground, renewed commitment, and strategic collective demands by Black leadership, are all essential for achieving full justice and equity that Blacks have thus far been denied.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.