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Print, electronic, and social media reveled in the glow of the myriad commemorations of the 1963 March on Washington. But the hype, only a salve on an unhealed wound, blurred the unsettling fact that full civil and legal rights are still not a reality for Black people, in particular, in America. Hopefully, 50 years from now, marching will be a thing of the past…, hopefully.The reasons for the March in 2013 are complex but discernible. We know racism, individualism and materialism permeate all of American society and that the existing power structure does everything it can to maintain a status quo that ensures continuation of its power. But we must also acknowledge Black people, too, contributed to the need for another march on Washington this year. As is often been noted, but hardly internalized by the majority of Blacks, the difference between the civil rights movement and 2013 are very clear. Blacks’ motivation and resolve in 1963 were the culmination of 400 years of struggle. The civil rights movement had broad, unambiguous goals and commitment in the Black community; “jobs and freedom” were not only the clarion call, Black people were fed up and willing to do something about it. In 1963, the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who descended on Washington, D.C. were protesting the denial of civil rights and other problems like police brutality. Have things really changed?Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s agenda for social, political and economic advancement was a model unparalleled, save for the philosophical, organizing, and unity agenda of Minister Malcolm X that resonated across most socio-economic levels but especially among poorer Blacks. Unfortunately, Dr. King’s and Malcolm’s exhortations and lessons fell on many deaf ears and their complimenting moral and ethical message, crucial for moving Blacks forward, was not as widely embraced as it should have been.
Blacks’ reluctance and inability to sustain the gains of the civil rights movement is instructive and warrants ongoing public discussion. The reasons for failing to sustain those gains are also complex, but stem chiefly from Blacks having internalized the white majority’s values without full access to their benefits. Many of us deluded ourselves by believing we enjoyed the same opportunities and rights as whites. When new opportunities opened, the Black middle-class swelled but it had a negative effect on intra-group relations; the chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks is now greater than ever in history—an ominous sign because all of us must be involved in the ongoing struggle for equity and justice.
Actual change requires a reassessment of thinking and values which admittedly is extremely difficult but critical, especially since middle-class Blacks act like they “have it made.” An oppressive status quo still exists and, as is often mentioned here, Black leadership must play a central role in the movement for transformative change. For some time, Black leaders’ patented insolence and ineffectiveness have been the norm which the Black community allows by failing to hold them accountable. These familiar issues deserve priority attention because they are crucial for reversing ineffective Black leadership.
Columnist Julianne Malveaux points out that, “In 1963, African Americans were desperate to bring about change… In 2013, there is neither desperation nor a passionate push for implementation (of smart, strategic initiatives). In five or ten years when there is another commemorative gathering, how will history judge us?”
If recent history repeats itself and significant numbers of Black people continue buying into the myth that America is a post-racial society, the response to Malveaux’s question is, history will judge Blacks harshly, unless collectively, we change our thinking and behavior. Leadership plays a vital role, but ultimately it is the Black community itself, like any other, that determines its values, standards and its own destiny.
In recent years, the weakness of Black leaders obviously does not auger well for the future. But doomsday predictions are not truisms and hope must still reign supreme—certainly if it is based on sound thinking, planning and collective, group-oriented action, not self-serving individualism that is not in Blacks’ best interests.
A profound paradox: African Americans are among the most resilient people in history and yet, simultaneously tend to keep the “iron boot of oppression” on their necks by challenging racism only with episodic not sustained, righteous outrage. This reflects conditioned self-deprecation caused by internalizing white people’s assertions that Blacks are an inferior people, doomed to live and die in oppressive space defined and controlled by others.
Except in rare instances, people’s major priorities are determined chiefly by their emotions, not their intellect. For Blacks, solutions depend on changing self-deprecating mindsets and a return to fundamental moral and ethical values, not only for political and economic gains, but for their very survival.
Will the U.S. Supreme Court continue its current trend of conservatism? Will the recent mobilization around the 1963 March on Washington be sustainable? Will Black leadership rise to the task of properly representing the needs, concerns and desires of the people?
While Black people ponder these questions in 2013, in fifty years, hopefully, there will be no need to march for jobs, justice and freedom. But whether such a march will be necessary depends largely on conditions we as a people allow or do not allow, and what we do or fail to do about it. The choice and responsibility is ours.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail