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Last week’s column focused on the need for sustainable, righteous outrage among Black people. This week deals with Blacks’ lack of unity, an underlying cause of such outrage .Black leaders especially, have a tendency to focus on solutions before really acknowledging and/or understanding the underlying reasons for a particular social justice or political problem. Reality consists of positives, negatives and shades of gray; crafting potential solutions to existing social justice and political realities first requires honest assessment of causal factors.
Barack Obama’s presidency has had virtually no positive effect on the continuing lack of unity among Black Americans whose attitudes and behavior tend to reinforce a status quo that never accorded us full rights and privileges. All remedies should include recognition that such behavior is inimical to Blacks’ own best interest. (A scarred collective psyche heads the list of barriers to Blacks’ political and economic progress.)
Blacks’ disunity stems in part, from a denial of the significance of race. Even so, until whites see their well-being threatened by the status quo, Blacks will likely remain spectators rather than participants in the political power equation. A crucial challenge is Blacks themselves developing sustainable, political influence that poses such a threat.
As I mention periodically, because his analyses and observations are profound, the late law professor, Derrick Bell, reminded us that enslaved Blacks managed to retain their humanity and faith and that pain and suffering were not the extent of their destiny. Today, concern for humanity, let alone civility, seems much less among Blacks than in the past Another complicating factor ,among many, is the growing, wrongheaded chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks that makes fashioning remedies all the more difficult.
The genesis and continuing impact of disunity among Blacks are evident to all who view America’s history with even a modicum of objectivity. Racism has always marginalized Blacks and excluded them from the circle of power. But as Bell says, “Blacks can find inspiration and unity in the lives of those who defied death and extinction both as slaves and freed men, insisting on their humanity despite society’s consensus that they were an inferior people.” Unfortunately, such hope and resilience have waned among Blacks and the consequences are frightening.
Professor Adolph Reed’s penetrating analysis of race and disunity is also noteworthy. He contends egalitarianism appealed to both civil rights activists and corporate America, because it did not really challenge capitalism. He further maintains capitalism stresses the immortality of racism and segregation and that Black opposition in the 1960s was integrated into the system in a way that strengthened, not challenged it. A provocative argument!
Dr. Cornel West also regularly weighs in on the issues of race and disunity. Fundamentally, he argues that a by-product of racism, and major barrier to Black survival and progress in America is, “….loss of hope and absence of meaning…..Many Blacks now reside in a jungle with a cutthroat mentality devoid of any faith in deliverance or hope.”
Each of these scholars forcefully articulates the need for Blacks to debunk an internalized debilitating myth that race no longer matters. Each also emphasizes that racism and Black unity must be at the center, not the periphery of conversations about strategic alternatives to the status quo. Public conversations must also stress that moral and ethical values and principles as well as top-to-bottom accountability are essential for achieving actual change.
Black disunity and ineffective leadership typically occur with impunity, i.e., Blacks frequently give its leaders a pass when it comes to accountability which perpetuates pervasive substandard conditions for poorer Blacks and the unacknowledged, “steel ceiling” for the middle class. Public discourse about alternatives to Blacks’ disunity is vital and requires honest, principled conversation, commitment and a sustained motivation for change. Clearly such factors are in short supply today. Witness the initial (misplaced?) euphoria over Obama’s presidency compared to his race-neutral performance to date when it involves Blacks. Both tend to reinforce Blacks’ plight. Also, as mentioned earlier, the chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks obviously makes intra-group collaboration immeasurably harder.
Effective leadership is essential for changing the pervasive disunity among Blacks. Yet, as long as Blacks themselves-their leadership especially-persist in emulating whites’ individualistic and materialistic values, a widespread lack of unity and trust will prevail among the entire Black population. America’s race-based white privilege power equation is designed to maintain a social, political and economic status quo to which Blacks have never been privy; by definition and practice, they are excluded.
Many Blacks are unaware of their true history, worldwide and in America that is replete with pride and perseverance that enabled our forbearers to overcome indescribable brutality and other unbearable challenges. These characteristics are rare among today’s Black population; too many settle for ostensibly cheap, self-deprecating values and a callous disregard for the rights and humanity of their own and others.
Sound remedies should acknowledge that lack of unity is a major problem requiring strategic alternatives unapologetically designed to benefit Blacks as a whole. A prolonged, collective crisis of pride and confidence can be reversed by solutions based on renewed self-respect as well as moral and ethical leadership. Of course, this requires replacing individualistic and materialistic values with group-enhancing ones, propelled by a renewed unity among Blacks themselves.