If nothing else, Black Americans are resilient. Having survived slavery, Jim Crow and institutional racism, merely existing is to some degree an achievement. What contributed to the perseverance that allowed Blacks to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges was a steadfast determination to gain their birthright as American citizens and their willingness to fight for it. Sometimes Blacks waged the fight in the uniform of the American military despite Blacks soldiers being restricted to segregated troops. Sometimes Blacks waged the fight at a lunch counter or at the counter of the county elections registrar. Sometimes the fight was on the ball field and in the locker room, or in the newsroom or on the college campus. No matter what the challenge, the common denominator was the willingness on the part of Blacks to confront injustice and fight the forces aligned against our interests.
Now, at time in our nation’s history when Blacks seem to have fallen into the abyss, there appears little fervor to engage in a sustained battle for economic and social justice. Despite all the indicators of our decline, including dangerously high rates of long-term joblessness, we seemed resigned to accept a second-class existence as our fate. Instead of outrage, there is an eerie acquiescence. Am I hoping for riots in the streets? Of course not. Nevertheless, I would like some sign of outrage, of disgust, of sheer disbelief over present circumstances. The silence is killing us, slowly, day by day.
Part of the dilemma facing Blacks is the existence of the nation’s first Black President. As if by some sci-fi mind meld, there has been a collective apprehension to voice protest, of almost any kind, for fear of giving the President’s opponents a license to hate. The result has been a rising tide of hate against which Blacks have been slow to react, and even slower to oppose. While on the other side, the likes of cable television conservative talking head Glenn Beck attempts to hijack the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to support an agenda diametrically opposed to our interests. It is just the latest example of how the right has usurped the language of the civil rights movement.
As the fire rages, Blacks have sat back and watched the house burn. We have a four-alarm blaze going and appear unprepared to put out the fire. Even our leadership is late to the scene, seemingly distracted and unable to coalesce around a common agenda of jobs and justice. The rhetoric sounds familiar but our leaders appear to be engaged in “drive by” advocacy and unable or unwilling to confront those interests that jeopardize our very existence. Every meeting or conference rehashes all too familiar statistics of despair. Each “new” research report simply confirms a bleak reality that previous reports have chronicled. Meanwhile, the hole we are in gets a little deeper and our chances of climbing out slimmer.
Where is the anger? Can we not see what is unfolding before our very eyes? A large segment of our community is jobless, with many Blacks in danger of never finding employment. Black adult men and young adults are out of the picture, through unemployment, incarceration or violent death. Gang violence is making some of our communities killing fields. Large numbers of Black youth are dropping out of school, being suspended from school and without any relevant skills, will never find a job or make their way onto a college campus. HIV-AIDS, obesity, heart disease and cancer continue to wreak havoc in our community and mental illness, the unmentionable disease, is taking its toll in ways that we do not fully understand.
Now, as never before, there is an urgent need for real grassroots activism and resurgent leadership in our community. The traditional civil rights establishment must recalibrate their agendas to tie the needs on the ground with effective policy interventions at the state and federal level. There is a real disconnect between much of what is proposed in state capitals and in Washington, D.C. with what is truly needed in the Black community. It certainly is not because we are lacking the intellectual capacity to focus our advocacy. What seems to be missing is the will. While we can enlist the support of those outside our community, the truth is that we must be singularly responsible for finding our way out of this mess. We must save ourselves.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.