Barack Obama's presidency, an occasion for unbridled rejoicing, arguably will have little effect on the storied disunity of America's Blacks. Despite notable progress, Blacks' attitudes and behavior tend to reinforce a status quo that still does not accord them full rights and privileges. Reversing this first requires acknowledging that such behavior is not in their best interests. (A scarred collective psyche heads the list of obstacles to Blacks' political and economic progress; more on this later.)
Although Blacks' disunity is linked to the continuing denial of the significance of race, until Whites see their well-being threatened by the status quo Blacks will likely remain virtual spectators not equal participants in the political power equation.
Law Professor Derrick Bell reminds 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, and even simple civility, are lesser concerns among Blacks. Further complicating the problem is the middle class now looking askance at poorer Blacks, considering them "not ready", or "unworthy", i.e., not ready for prime time. Of course, this is disingenuous and wrongheaded since both still suffer the same inequities.
The genesis and continuing impact of Blacks' disunity is evident to all who claim to be objective. Racism has always marginalized Blacks, the poor and others excluded from the inner circle of White supremacy. But Blacks can find inspiration and unity in the lives of those who defied death and extinction as slaves and freed men, insisting on their humanity despite society's consensus that they were an inferior people. However, such unfailing hope and resilience is barely discernible among Blacks these days, and the consequences are enormous.
Professor Adolph Reed's provocative and penetrating analysis bears on race and Blacks' disunity. He suggests that egalitarianism appealed to both civil rights activists and corporate America because it did not really challenge capitalism. Rather, it stressed the immorality of racism and segregation. Reed also asserts that Black opposition in the 1960s was integrated into the system in a way that strengthened, not challenged it.
Dr. Cornel West also weighs in on race and disunity, arguing that apart from racism, the major enemy of Blacks' survival 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."
West, Bell and Reed, each forcefully articulates the need for Blacks to debunk the internalized, debilitating myth that race no longer matters in their lives. They agree that on-going racism and the need for Black unity should be at the center, not periphery, of conversations on strategic alternatives to the status quo that stress core values and top down responsibility (and accountability) essential for change.
Black disunity and ineffective leadership contribute to the miseducation of Black children by not demanding education policy and practice that focus specifically on their needs. Lesser known, but no less important, many other areas suffer from such disunity and weak leadership, e.g., Black-on-Black violence, business and economic development, civic engagement, et al. Disunity and ineffective leadership typically take place with impunity, which not only perpetuate but aggravates the problems.
Conversations about alternatives to Blacks' disunity are relatively rare, but useful discussion requires honesty and a sincere desire for change, both of which are in short supply-Obama euphoria, notwithstanding. (The chasm between middle-class and poorer brethren makes intra group collaboration even harder.)
Leadership remains perhaps the single most important factor in changing pervasive disunity. As long as Blacks persist in wholesale emulation of White's individual/material credo, disunity and distrust will prevail. That model is designed to maintain the social, political and economic status quo and Blacks have never been players in that closed. Race based power equation.
Many Blacks are unaware of their true history of pride and perseverance that enabled their ancestors to overcome horrific challenges beginning with enslavement. Sadly, these characteristics are rare among today's Blacks, many of whom seem to specialize in self-deprecating values, lack of civility and a callous disregard for others' rights and humanity.
Remedies for disunity must first acknowledge the problem, and then develop strategic alternatives unapologetically designed to benefit Blacks themselves. Their prolonged crisis of confidence can now become successes based on greater self-respect and respect for others. Internalization of values contrary to their own interest must be replaced by critically needed group-enhancing strategies propelled by unaccustomed unity among Blacks themselves.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail