today in black history

May 30, 2024

African American Episcopal Zion (A.M.E.Z.)Bishop James W. Hood, a fierce advocate for Blacks' rights, was born in 1831.

A Time to Work

POSTED: September 11, 2017, 7:30 am

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We have turned outrage into performance art. Despite a history of Black revolutionaries from the spectrum of political thought taking bold, direct and decisive action to end the scourge of racism in America, in the 21st century we now take a mostly sideline view. So much so that even fairly tempered protest in the form of Black Lives Matters is considered heresy. Black folks want change in 2017, so long as its achieved from the cozy confines of the man cave, beach resort or golf course. We want the tidy and comfortable version of social change that can be easily cleaned from one’s hands. It’s this malaise that has created a dangerous rip tide in America that threatens to kill us all in the undertow.

The election of Donald Trump has given us a convenient target to loathe and an excuse to vent. That’s about all though. The daily barrage of social media posts decrying the 45th president and his legion is not necessarily counterproductive, except when it is done in a vacuum, in the absence of some real work at organizing and mobilizing local communities to drive ground-floor change. For all the angst over this president, and the reaction to his every infantile and ignorant tweet, too much energy is being dispensed on expressing outrage and not nearly enough on the tedious, laborious and yes, sometimes downright boring, tasks of civic engagement. We have become intoxicated by outrage and after every drink are left with a hangover and little else.

Our current deficit is real, significant but not insurmountable. For those who have had the good fortune of visiting the Smithsonian’s new Museum of African American History and Culture, it offers a lesson on struggle, perseverance, the willingness to fight, and affecting change. It is, however, a story that is still unfolding. We can’t embrace the legacies of warriors of yesteryear but in our relative comfort of today quietly submit to new devices to preserve and extend white supremacy. Something is amiss when we have seemingly grown tired of confrontation or deem public protest as an outmoded or ineffective leading-edge tool to dismantle structural racism. Blacks in America don’t have the luxury for a flexible spending plan for justice or the insurance policy to cover our injuries. Besides, the deductible is way too high.

We are in a right-now moment that requires some real work and some real sacrifice. That’s the real challenge. Are we ready to work and sacrifice? And, that’s not some sort of ‘pull ourselves up by the bootstraps’ message. No doubt, we are owed and owed big time by this nation. There can be no denying that institutions of power in America – economic and political – have asphyxiated Black folks. So, knowing this, we need to do some work internally while still holding institutions accountable. There is nothing keeping us from using our political and economic power to drive changes to improve educational outcomes for our children, support historically Black colleges and universities, support the growth of Black owned business establishments and Black owned news media, train the next generation of Black artisans and professionals, and develop trading relationships with our sisters and brothers in sub-Saharan Africa. We do have the bandwidth to do all of the above and more, if we realign our priorities and be purposeful in the use of our time and resources.

While we tackle this “to do” list we also need to be about the business of holding down our local communities. Our fixation on all things Washington DC might provide some emotional relief but it does little to build capacity on the ground. This president won’t be in power forever, and there is the possibility, made apparent with each new revelation, that he might face an early departure. Our system of government does not vest all power in the nation’s capital though it seems so when you watch the news on television or your computer screen, or read the newspaper. States matter as do local governments at the county and municipal level. Yet, we treat them as an afterthought; believing that we can wave a magic wand over the Capitol or the White House and be liberated. The truth is that much, to a significant degree, of what impacts our lives on a daily basis stems from policies enacted by our local governments.

“For all the angst over this president, and the reaction to his every infantile and ignorant tweet, too much energy is being dispensed on expressing outrage and not nearly enough on the tedious, laborious and yes, sometimes downright boring, tasks of civic engagement.”

It’s not rocket science. When we organize locally, use our resources in a targeted manner, use good political judgment in the election of competent local officials, and sustain our institutions we then lay the groundwork to effect change up the civic latter – in counties, state capitals and eventually the nation’s capital. We keep trying to construct the top floors of the building without building a strong foundation. And every time a strong wind blows, whether it drafts from the Oval Office, Supreme Court or under the Capitol dome, Blacks find ourselves standing among ruins. At some point, we have to get the engineering for social change right.

We also can’t dismiss the power of public protest and civil disobedience. Today, in some quarters of the Black community, engaging in protests or picketing is looked upon as passé or beneath the dignity of our current ‘status.’ That’s a deadly miscalculation. There is power in public protests, so long as it is connected to strategies to unravel systems of racism and that energy is converted to grassroots efforts to advance policies constructed upon a justice and equity platform. The power of collective action is immense for it builds solidarity and a sense of shared responsibility.

It’s time to get to work. Wherever you live, there is work to be done. And, we have no time to waste.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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