The Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) is in the process of convening Town Hall Meetings in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Baltimore on the devastating effects of the “War on Drugs” on Black America and gearing up for State of the Black World Conference III (SOBWC) at Howard University in D.C. in November after the 2012 presidential election. These Initiatives are part of IBW’s steadfast focus on the “State of Emergency” in America’s “dark ghettos” and the urgent need to act to heal Black families and communities. Indeed, the debilitating crises of joblessness, economic underdevelopment, crime, violence, fratricide and mass incarceration will be the principal focus of SOBWC III. As we prepare to celebrate the Kuzaliwa (birthday) of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, it might be useful to reflect on what he might advise Africans in America to do in this time of grave crisis.
In 1964, as Black America and the nation prepared for a crucial presidential election, Malcolm delivered one of his most memorable speeches, The Ballot or the Bullet. In this speech, Malcolm sought to define and defend Black Nationalism as an ideological approach to solving the problems of Black communities. Seeking to simplify the concept for mass education, he basically asserted that the vision/mission of Black Nationalism was to control the politics, politicians, economics, businesses and social life of the Black community. In effect Malcolm was saying that Black people live in communities which are tantamount to “domestic colonies” – territories where Black people are the majority but where the politics and economics are decisively dominated or influenced by external factors and forces.
Nearly fifty years after Malcolm defined Black Nationalism, we have thousands more elected officials than was the case in 1964. We even have an African American in the White House. But, it is not clear that the election of thousands of Black elected officials has empowered Black people to adequately defend Black communities from external forces that have little interest in promoting and protecting Black people. Many Black elected officials have become so ingrained in the system that they lack the vision/commitment to reform and transform it to effectively serve the interests of the masses of Black people and the oppressed. Councilman Charles Barron in New York, Councilwoman JoAnn Watson in Detroit and Councilman Chokwe Lumumba of Jackson, Mississippi come to mind as elected officials committed to Malcolm’s vision/mission of Black Nationalism (I’m sure there are others). This does not mean that the majority of Black elected officials are bad people; it simply means that many lack the ideological armor to successfully battle the system on behalf of Black people. And, there are far too many who are not only ideologically deficient, they have succumbed to the vices of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.
By and large, we are losing control of Black communities across this country. As a result of the “White backlash” against the civil rights movement, substantial numbers of our communities suffer from massive disinvestment by the federal government in the kind of social/economic programs that at least ameliorated the harsh conditions of life in Americas’ dark ghettos. At their best, social/economic programs provided a gateway to achieve a better life. Deindustrialization also robbed Black communities of the low-skilled, semi-skilled and “blue collar” jobs that afforded Blacks with limited education an opportunity to work for decent wages and take care of their families. Decisions about disinvestment and deindustrialization were made by forces external to Black communities. The consequences have been disastrous. Opportunities for work have declined dramatically, and there has been no urban policy or federal response to rescue and reconstruct stagnate communities.
While there are thriving Black-owned businesses in Black communities, there are still large numbers of enterprises that are run by people who do not look like us, businesses which profit from Black dollars but do not reinvest to help develop our communities. Parasitical enterprises are not new to our community, but the fact that they continue to survive and thrive in our midst is indicative of a collective inability or unwillingness to control the economics of our communities. First and foremost, our collective priority should be to develop and sustain an infrastructure of Black-owned enterprises in Black communities – individual entrepreneurships, partnerships, corporations, community development corporations and cooperatives with the capacity to employ Black people. Second, no individual or company of whatever race or ethnicity should do business in the Black community without contributing back to the community. There should be a Covenant which spells out the terms and conditions for doing business in Black communities which we should enforce with the threat of economic sanctions. Black dollars should not support businesses that do not support Black communities. That we acquiesce to and even happily patronize parasitical enterprises speaks to the absence of the kind of Black Nationalist consciousness Malcolm believed was necessary to control and develop our communities.
We are also faced with the phenomenon of “disappearing” Black communities. As we state in the Martin Luther King/Malcolm X Community Revitalization Initiative, “gentrification has become the ‘Negro removal program’ of the 21st century … All across America, Black working class and poor people are being displaced from their neighborhoods, scattered hither and thither as Whites have decided to recapture the ‘Chocolate Cities’ of this nation.” While developers and their allies in the halls of government devise long term plans for the seizure and redevelopment of Black neighborhoods, Black elected officials, civil rights/human rights leaders and grassroots organizers are so preoccupied with the myriad crises we face that they appear incapable of combating the machinations that are decimating our communities. Worse yet, wittingly or unwittingly, some elected officials are complicit in the onslaught by cutting deals with developers or promoting development schemes that actually under- develop Black communities.
Yes, we are losing control of Black communities. Across the country, under the guise of fighting crime and prosecuting a “war on drugs,” Black communities are being targeted for stop and frisk raids and disproportionate arrest and sentencing of Black people, especially young men and increasingly women. The disinvestment, deindustrialization and an inadequate Black business/economic infrastructure have made the illicit trafficking in drugs a lucrative but deadly option. Violence, fratricide and mass incarceration are hard realities for many locked in America’s “dark ghettos,” and we seem powerless to end the dysfunctions.
Nearly a half century ago, Malcolm X prescribed Black Nationalism as the ideological and strategic avenue to protect and advance Black interests in a hostile land. Though times have obviously changed since Malcolm’s passing, large numbers of Black people still subsist in beleaguered Black communities over which we exert only marginal control. The fact that we can make this admission forty-eight years after the death of our “Black Shining Prince” suggests that somewhere along the way the lessons that Malcolm sought to teach us have receded in our memory. Therefore, in remembering/honoring him we must reassert his vision/mission of Black Nationalism. The first step in the process is to rekindle a spirit and practice of Black/African consciousness. We must affirm and love who we are as Black/African people. Our youth are more prone to utter nigger, nigga and niggah than Black/African because the Black consciousness/ “Black is Beautiful’ movement is dead in our communities. It was not sufficiently passed on by the Black Power generation, so Black pride and commitment to Black unity are almost passé in our communities.
Second, armed with Black consciousness and a commitment to Black people, faith leaders, elected officials, teachers, civil rights/human rights, civic and community-based leaders and ordinary people must unapologetically be prepared to protect and promote Black/African interests. Malcolm was clear that his first allegiance was to Black/African people, and he was passionately committed to fighting for our people in the face of racial oppression and economic exploitation. He was not afraid to condemn White supremacy as a primary obstacle to Black progress. Structural/institutional racism is alive and well in America today, and we must say so. Disinvestment in Black communities is structural racism. Gentrification is institutional racism. The “war on drugs is a war on us.” Stop and frisk policies which target Black communities are racist. In all instances, we must vigorously mobilize/organize to reverse the impact of these policies on our communities and fight for the adoption of just and humane alternatives that heal Black families and communities.
Finally, we must recommit to building and supporting institutions, organizations and agencies which have a positive/constructive/progressive Nationalist orientation. We need institutions that will teach/impart Black/African history and culture as the foundation for creating a consciousness and commitment to serve, promote and defend Black people and Black interests. We need not be opposed to other nationalities, ethnicities and cultures because we affirm our identity, history and culture. In fact, in the finest tradition of Black liberation struggles, Malcolm was a Nationalist and internationalist who identified with and supported the struggles of other oppressed people. But, as a first priority, it is imperative that we heed Malcolm’s maxim that we control the politics, economics and social life of the Black community! A healthy dose of Black Nationalism as prescribed by Malcolm just might heal what ails us!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Founder of the Haiti Support Project. He is a Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.