Print, electronic, and social media reveled in the hype of the myriad fifty year commemorations of the 1963 March on Washington. But the hype, only a salve on an unhealed massive wound, blurred the unsettling fact that full civil and legal rights was still not a reality for Black people in America. Will we still be marching on the hundred year commemoration of that march?
The reasons for the March in 2013 were many, but discernible. We know racism, individualism and materialism permeate all of American society and that white privilege does everything necessary to maintain a status quo that ensures continuation of its power. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that unfortunately, Black people, mostly by their silence, contribute to the inevitability of such marches in the future-unless they change their thinking and behavior.
Barriers to Black progress in the 1960s and 2017 are substantially the same but how those barriers are perceived differs significantly. The civil rights movement was a turning point after 400 years of struggle and Blacks were sufficiently dissatisfied to demand change. The movement’s spirit resonated throughout the Black community. “Freedom” was more than rhetoric; people were fed up and willing to do something about it. In 1963, the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who descended on Washington were protesting the denial of civil rights and other social justice issues.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s agenda for social, political and economic advancement was a model unparalleled, except for the powerful afro centric agenda of Minister Malcolm X that resonated across socio-economic levels but especially among poorer Blacks. Unfortunately, Dr. King’s and Malcolm’s exhortations and lessons fell on too many deaf ears and their complimenting moral and ethical message, crucial for moving Blacks forward, was not nearly as widely embraced as it should have been.
Blacks’ reluctance and inability to sustain the gains of the civil rights movement are instructive and still warrant public discussion. The reasons for failing to sustain those gains are also complex, but stem fundamentally from Blacks having internalized the white majority’s values without full access to their benefits. Many of us delude ourselves by continuing to believe we enjoy the same opportunities and rights as whites. When new opportunities opened, the Black middle-class swelled. Unfortunately, this had a negative effect on intra-group relations and the chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks is now greater than ever in history—an ominous sign because all of us must be involved in the ongoing struggle for equity and justice.
Actual change requires a reassessment of thinking and values which admittedly is extremely difficult but crucial, especially since middle-class Blacks tend to act like they “have it made.” However, an oppressive status quo still exists and, as is often mentioned here, Black leadership must play a central role in the movement for transformative change. For some time, Black leaders’ patented insolence and ineffectiveness have been the norm which the Black community allows by failing to hold its leaders accountable. These issues are important and must be accorded priority attention in order to ensure effective Black leadership.
Columnist Julianne Malveaux points out that, “In 1963, African Americans were desperate to bring about change… 9In 2017), there is neither desperation nor a passionate push for implementation (of smart, strategic initiatives). In five or ten years when there is another commemorative gathering, how will history judge us?”
If significant numbers of Black people continue buying into the myth that America is a post-racial society, the response to Malveaux’s question will be history will judge Blacks harshly. But that need not be the case; we can, and must, change our thinking and political priorities. Leadership plays a vital role, but ultimately it is the Black community itself, like any other, that determines its values, standards, i.e., its own destiny. Black interests are best served by group-oriented thinking, planning and action; current self-serving individualism is not in our own best interests.
A profound paradox: African Americans are among the most resilient people in the world but have been conditioned to keep the “iron boot of oppression” on their necks by not challenging racism with sustainable righteous outrage. This resulted from self-deprecation caused by internalizing white people’s assertions that we are an inferior people, doomed to live and die in space defined and controlled by others.
Except in rare instances, peoples’ feelings are determined chiefly by their emotions, not their intellect. For Blacks, solutions depend on changing their self-deprecating mindsets and returning to fundamental moral and ethical values, not only for political and economic gains, but for their very survival.
Will Black leadership rise to the task of properly representing the needs, concerns and desires of the people? That can only be determined by the Black community itself.
Blacks must address this and other major issues that bear on their future. Hopefully, in fifty years, there will be no need to march for jobs, justice and freedom. Whether such marches will be necessary depends largely on what we as a people allow or do not allow, and what we do, or fail to do. The choice and responsibility is ours.
In recent years, ineffective Black leadership has not augured well for the future, but doomsday prognostications are not truisms. The need for justice-seeking marches will decline because of renewed hope, strength and determination.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail [email protected]