Apparently, serious conversations about racism, locally and nationally, even among Blacks, are in vogue only after high-profile, blatantly unacceptable Incidents like Rodney King’s horrific beating and Trayvon Martin’s murder. Public discussion about the continuing significance of race and racism in America is episodic and hasn’t been sustainable for decades. But failure to extend that conversation, particularly among Black people, tends to perpetuate the status quo which is inimical to their own best interests.
The problem is not defining racism but doing something about it. Racism’s poisonous tentacles still infect all of our lives. And even though some scholars and pundits like Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West do illuminate the magnitude of racism’s soiled byproducts, they too are unavoidably and ensnarled in its jaundiced web.
A prime example: Barack Obama’s first campaign and the aftermath of his election attested to racism’s deep roots. His steadfast avoidance of the words “Black” and “African American” though politically correct and obviously intended not to alienate white voters, actually signaled what Blacks could expect were he elected. Similarly, not once during their respective speeches at the Democratic National Convention, did either Barack or Michelle use those words. On the other hand, conservatives, then as now, regularly demonize him.
Among the countless examples of on-going racism was post-election vandalism in Torrance, an L.A. suburb. In a clear manifestation of race-based terrorism, homes with Obama lawn signs and cars with his stickers were painted with “nigger” and “Go back to Africa.” OK?
After the election, George W. Bush’s former top adviser, Carl Rove and Bill Cosby’s pal, Black psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, reportedly agreed the Cosby Show, about a Black physician’s family had succeeded in changing racial attitudes enough to make Obama’s candidacy possible. How’s that for hyperbole?
Obama lost votes because of his race but his first election the financial meltdown surely caused many white voters to reluctantly vote for him. The popular vote was extremely close and arguably, but for the meltdown, John McCain might have won the election. Many Republicans abandoned McCain because, like countless others, they were hurting financially and came to see him as an extension of Bush’s failed policies. (Ironically, President Obama has embraced and extended many of George Bush’s policies, domestic and foreign.)
This column regularly addresses the harms of institutional racism and bemoans the fact that Blacks tend to deny or minimize its existence; such thinking amounts to a convoluted self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces practices and conditions contrary to Blacks’ best interests because race still matters.
Effective leadership is crucial if Blacks are to successfully challenge racism and racist practices. And Blacks must regain hope and bring their collective strength to bear on political and economic strategies and action based on explicit agreement on goals and objectives. It also means actually holding elected officials and other Black leadership accountable. Of course, Black people themselves must become sufficiently dissatisfied to behave differently, willing to assume risks and take action likely to result in real alternatives to the status quo. Cornel West intones, “Blacks must shed the twin burden of victimization and futile dependence on others….” Transformative behavior also requires an unapologetic reaffirmation of racial pride.
Racism’s crippling impact on the minds of countless children is rarely mentioned. But Black youth, based largely on their color, are severely victimized, especially in poor urban neighborhoods where neglecting their needs has become a horrific but criminally unattended norm.
Blacks should take special note of well-organized Latino and LGBT advocacy groups. They were wronged and unlike Blacks in general, are doing something about it. The last time Blacks demonstrated such unity was during the civil rights era, even though unified action is essential for advancing successful group agendas. For many Blacks, such unity is a faded, impersonal memory and today, most Blacks have never actually experienced working co-operatively with each other from common ground for a common good.
It should be clear that Barack Obama’s momentous victory did not mean the Calvary had arrived or that Blacks would be among his top priorities, or even that his presidency would positively impact their lives. Blacks must acknowledge that despite their special affinity with the president, like all other special interest groups, they must give him self-serving proposals and recommendations and then hold him accountable for responding in a timely manner. Accomplishing this is extremely difficult because of Blacks’ paucity of recent experience with group-oriented efforts. We have internalized the European’s individualistic and materialistic values, without full access to their benefits.
Tackling racism and race-based issues is difficult enough, but for Blacks, without alternatives, and for the reasons cited above, they are reluctant to challenge the power structure. Obviously, compared to whites, their resources are scarce and mostly, have only token political clout. However, Black history is replete with pride, resilience and defiance; servitude is not an option.
Whether racism is effectively challenged depends, in no small measure, on Blacks themselves. We must continue the struggle for full justice and equality and with renewed courage and resolve, we will again determine our own destiny.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail