Too Many Blacks Feel Silence is an Option; It Isnâ€™t
Silence of the lambs.....
Blacks, in general, and Black leadership in particular, are often silent on issues of grave concern. The reasons for this are complex and include continued racism as well as the continuing, insidious effects of slavery; more on this later.
Black elected officials' silence, for example, was evident in last week's highly contentious, reform resolution passed by the LAUSD Board of Education. It allows charter school operators, labor unions and other non-profits to operate 50 new and 200 low-performing district schools. Despite the involvement of several Black organizations, there was no unified voice on behalf of Black students whose needs were not addressed in the Board's Public School Choice initiative. The Board's only Black member, Marguerite LaMotte, cast the lone dissenting vote. Along with several Black organizations, she supported the union's amendments to the resolution, which did not address the needs of Black students, specifically.
Other Black leaders supported the main resolution, authored by Board Member Yolie Flores Aguilar (and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.) Others, including the Black Education Task Force, composed of grass roots and civil rights advocates, recommended changes that focused on Black students' specific needs, called for transparency and greater outreach and submitted "Education as a Civil Right," a model that focuses on Black students. The Black Task Force recommendations were not part of the deliberations nor were the needs of Black students a part of LAUSDs' Public School Choice reform conversation--even though they are the district's lowest achievers.
The damaging implications of pervasive silence are also evident in Black-on-Black violence and police abuse. Current statistics notwithstanding, crime in Los Angeles' inner-city has shifted, not decreased. (LAPD acknowledged a significant increase in homicides by forming a task force recently to combat the surge, especially in South Central Los Angeles: Forty homicides have been reported in the last three months.) Los Angeles' Black elected officials and other leaders have said virtually nothing about this; their silence contributes to the overall problem.
Black-on-Black violence is first and foremost a community problem but the "community" is mostly silent. It is caused, in considerable measure, by continuing racism and the fact that many Blacks have internalized white America's individualistic/materialistic values without comparable access to its benefits. The psychological implications are severe: For many, challenging the "man" or "system" is tantamount to challenging themselves.
Be that as it may, far too many Blacks, fearing loss of mythic political and economic capital, find it extremely hard to take the perceived risks necessary for actual change. Therefore, they tend to perpetuate a status quo that is inimical to their own best interests. For Black youth, especially, lower self-concepts are a tragic hallmark of this in virtually every inner-city neighborhood and every school. Poor children are disproportionate victims of poverty, physical and psychological abuse, neglect and violence that often starts in the home but reinforced in local communities and the schools. Is it any wonder that large numbers of these children find themselves on an inexorable cycle of rejection, violence and failure, culminating in prison or death. The most rebellious and "insufferable" of these youth are frequently the least secure and most victimized by their life circumstances.
This bleak scenario should be cause for challenge not despair. But here's the rub: Blacks are armchair experts at analyzing social problems but most often, do not actively work to solve them. And, classism is now superimposed on racism with many middle-class Blacks looking askance--from a considerable distance--at poorer Blacks.
Silence can be crippling. It makes needed group unity even more difficult. Pervasive silence on important issues, as previously mentioned has broad, injurious implications. In the 1960s and prior, virtually all Blacks considered themselves in the same boat, and more importantly, they acted like it. Today, attempting to educate and organize for positive change is a daunting, for some, a seemingly impossible task. And today, Blacks are at a decided disadvantage in attempting to marshal sufficient influence-commensurate with their numbers, to influence real change. And now, every step toward progressive, positive change causes "push back" from the conservative majority. Witness the crass demonstrations at the Obama administration's recent town hall meetings on healthcare reform. The animosity and contentiousness displayed is unprecedented and can only be considered a manifestation of 21st century racism.
Silence by Black leadership and, indeed, Blacks in general, is unacceptable. It reflects a conditioned "non-response" that reinforces a status quo inimical to our best interests. Renewed commitment, resolve and sustained strategic demands are imperative to bring about the full justice and equity we have so long been denied.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail