In Celebration Of Black History Month 2013 - Part IV
February 26, 2013
In this, the final chapter for our current series on Black History Month, I wanted to re-position myself as a participant observer, not a detached observer. In other words, "come and tell your people about our people."
Many in my generation grew up during what is called "the movement" â€“ an outgrowth of the Civil Rights struggle. It inspired us and made us proud. It invited us to use our collective creative powers and imagination to devise plans and strategies not only to attack and fight the system, but also to attack the issues, abuses and social ills in the community.
The goals of the movement were to unite us as a people and encourage us to work collectively to build and control the cultural, economic, educational, political and social institutions in our communities.
So what happened to the movement? Many of its leaders were killed or jailed; people dropped out, drugged out and sold out. The goal of the movement was never a so-called black community, but an integration into what was then called "white society" that had excluded us either by law, fear or indifference.
Neighborhood segregation is a term or policy many social researchers say continues to exist and carries significant costs. Depending on who you ask, segregation is sometimes, usually or always a good idea â€“ sentiments in which social scientists found signs of hope and dismay. More whites favor integration than did 30 years ago. Yet, after decades of little progress, more blacks appear to be giving up on the concept. "Integration has been considered a laudable goal since the civil rights movement over 45 years ago and it continues to win national support, but that's not enough." said Julia Tolliver, a Detroit high school teacher. A recent Pew Research Center national survey found that over 70% of those polled said separate neighborhoods are a bad idea.
That same poll revealed some clear racial differences, including the fact that whites are more likely to fear softening property values and poor schools, whereas blacks are more likely to fear discrimination and harassment.
There are reasons for such polarity. It's all about where you can afford to move and whether you would be happy once you got there. The best living areas are still places where you're comfortable regardless of color. Unless we get to that point, we're always going to have problems.
Segregation carries heavy costs. From segregated schools to stagnant property values to a lack of exposure to the nation's increasing diversity, we pay for our preferences. There used to be an ideology that the sure road to a black middle class was through a white neighborhood.
On reflection, should we suspect a motive, perhaps unconscious, to marginalize the social message, accomplishments and potential that African-Americans present and past have made and continue to make? Part of that answer lies in the fact that our communities were hit hard by the great recession -- and the economic crisis continues. African-American unemployment nationally stands at 16.3%. Working families are struggling to pay the rent, keep gas in the tank and food on the table.
Despite our progress in many areas, we don't have totally satisfactory answers to many questions. Regardless, we can be assured that 2013 will be remembered as an historic year in America's long journey toward universal justice and opportunity. For those of us who study these things, we find it very interesting that not only was President Barack Obama re-elected, but just as intriguing was the clever way in which he positioned himself between the African-American boomers and the hip-hop generation. Obama's agenda on energy, greening the economy, the Consumer Protection Agency, Medicare, immigration reform and social security are much better than the policies offered by the obstructionists. However, in the broad sweep of history, the election of 2012 was bigger than Obama.
A conservative victory would have paved the way for the consolidation of the "electoral coup" which ushered in the Bush era with all of its radical rightwing ideological underpinnings. Then too, Obama is indebted, but not beholden to the civil rights gerontocracy. If the party of "No" had gotten its way in the last election, the great recession could have been worse than the great depression â€“ an economic hurricane instead of a bad storm.
What is also significant is the lukewarm response Obama has received from the luminaries whose sacrifices made this run possible. Then there is the often overlooked, but nevertheless amazing gradual repair of tortured relationships America has with black civil rights leaders. It's a lot like a once wealthy family that has lost its fortune but has to keep spending to maintain appearances.
Our country can no longer afford to choose its leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It's time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. Our women too have had to, and still must, overcome a general gender bias that exists throughout American culture. There are still both conscious and unconscious attitudes and long-term sexual stereotypes that dampen enthusiasms and limit opportunities for qualified African-American females.
History tells us that the authority and will of everyday Americans may be deferred, but ultimately, the people's authority cannot and will not be denied. We are all far greater than any catch phrase or code word can make us out to be.
Finally, despite the existing obstacles there comes a flash of unity, compassion and transformation. The central purpose of our recognition of Black History Month is to step in, recognize and honor people and works that reflect African-American life and artistic craftsmanship. We need to be both optimistic and realistic about our future.
In the end, regardless of the residue of living in separate societies for over 400 years and the conversation chasm that exists even today, for many of us the future still holds assurance. We can glance back with pride to a past filled with struggle and sacrifice. We can also look forward to a tomorrow which we helped to build, filled with promise.