During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the Black Panther Party encouraged black Americans to take up arms against White America. Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X even made a promise to white Americans that black Americans would obtain equal rights and protections under the law “by any means necessary.” At the time, white Americans considered Malcolm’s remarks inflammatory, because his intended meaning was that black Americans would punch, kick and shoot any white American hindering their advance toward prosperity. But after a brief trip to Mecca, Malcolm’s views on what these means were began to change. And when all was said and done, he articulated a vision that had black Americans working with white Americans to bring about positive societal reforms.
But reforming American society for the better is easier said than done. The problems that divided us Americans along racial lines then persist now. These days, many white Americans are appearing on television news programs to tell the American public that black Americans need to forget their past victimization and move on. There have even been instances in which these same white Americans identify themselves as victims.
The growing sentiment is that white Americans are being discriminated against when their group members are passed over for college admission or job promotion. And the overriding belief is we Blacks condone the same discrimination that our ancestors fought against. But by harboring such views, these unenlightened Americans show us, and the world at large, the low value that they place on the contributions and lives of black Americans. It also demonstrates a lack of understanding on their part.
Consider this example from my life as a married man. Whenever I wrong my wife, I do whatever it takes to make amends. I offer sincere apologies, communicating both verbally and nonverbally that I know why my actions towards her were inappropriate. Following this apology, I put forth efforts designed to regain her trust, let her know that I will never mistreat her in such a way again. Ultimately, I’m on a mission to show her the extent of my love.
One could argue that America’s love for its black citizens isn’t deep at all. If it were, an apology from President Lyndon B. Johnson would have preceded the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Moreover, enlightened white Americans would have been in an uproar, making President Johnson aware of his omission through letter-writing campaigns, television appearances and nonviolent marches in Washington, DC.
Because none of these allowances were made, we black Americans feel that we must get our act together in isolation. We know it is possible, because of the period that we find ourselves living in, a period of collective prosperity. The foundational hallmark of this period is that people from all ethnic groups have been granted the inalienable rights to life, liberty and happiness. Unfortunately for us, there wasn’t a single black individual or black organization that communicated the need to make repairs to the thoughts and feelings driving our behaviors.
One of the first things we black Americans should have done following the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was create a subsystem that caters to the educational, spiritual and physical needs of black American children, youths and adults. But this seemingly did not occur because our parents and ancestors thought the programs being offered by local, state and federal governments were sufficient. They were sufficient to the point of cultivating a dependence on government assistance, but they did nothing to help black Americans recover psychologically from over 400 years of institutionalized oppression.
There are some who would say this subsystem was supposed to be channeled through the black church. It was the one institution that called on black Americans to stand up and be noticed. But 43 years later, the black church is no closer to taking on this responsibility. All it seems to be concerned about is providing forums for Wednesday night bible studies and Sunday morning worship services.
Now don’t get me wrong. These bible studies and worship services do work together to increase our knowledge of God and our purposes here on Earth. But the fact still remains that the black church has never challenged its members to devise uniform, interactive approaches for placing more black American children, youths and parents on the road to recovery. Our contemporary, black churches are seemingly islands unto themselves, not wanting to display unity when addressing the psychosis of its constituents.
But the most natural place to establish this subsystem is in our public schools. It is the place where our black ancestors wanted our black American children and youths to spend a significant portion of their days. However, you would be hard pressed to hear about or see programs dedicated to the psychological enrichment of black American children and youths. Instead, you have a public school system that requires our black American children and youths to assimilate into programs predominated by white American children and youths. In settings such as these, our black American children and youths are taught to esteem the norms, values and mores of the majority ethnic group while ignoring the ones held by their own.
We must face the realities associated with trying to establish such a subsystem in our public schools. School administrators of all hues, while saying they respect all students’ right to peaceful assembly, usually are sitting on pins and needles when meetings are convened by a group of black American students. These administrators seemingly feel that these black American students (and their black adult advisors) are spending their time together berating Whites for their mistreatment of Blacks. In their minds, these black American students (and their black adult advisors) are drawing up plans that will require them to make additional educational reforms.
If educational reforms are needed, they should be made. Today’s public school system is structured in a way that continues to benefit white American children and youths. These benefits are most profound in middle and high school environments where white American students wear their privilege and popularity like badges of honor. Privileged black American students can often be seen shunning all references to their blackness in an attempt to fit in with their white counterparts. In their minds, they don’t want their white American friends to feel uncomfortable around them.
Recently, I learned while listening to Tavis Smiley’s November 16, 2007 Public Radio International (PRI) podcast that the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center reported that today’s Black America is divided into two distinct worlds – one occupied by the black Haves, the other by the black Have-Nots. While this phenomenon is a throw-back to divisions (i.e., House Negroes versus Field Negroes) of slave-to-master proximity, it also shows how we black Haves tend to wipe our hands clean of the black Have-Not’s condition.
To many of us, black Haves continuing the fight for equal treatment (i.e., black activism) would lead to our becoming a social pariah in the eyes of white Americans. More than anything, we black Haves are committed to showing White America that we climbed to loftier heights through our blood, sweat and tears, not the Affirmative Action policies that make educational and vocational opportunities more accessible to persons of color and women.
But it is this selfish attitude among us black Haves that is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the black Have-Nots. They resent us, saying most of us have forgotten where we came from. Yes, it may feel good for our white colleagues to pat us on our backs for a job well done. But when our workdays have ended, we still have to walk the nation’s streets as persons of African descent.
The resentment that black Have-Nots harbor for black Haves does not exempt them from criticism, however. They have to stop blaming white Americans for their condition, start making more deliberate strides to change it. Granted, there are a number of factors keeping them down, with many of them being connected to our institutions, but many of the black Have-Nots are focusing much of their attention on things outside of their control. Consequently, they get caught up in cycles of impoverished hopelessness, which causes many of them to drop out of high school. And those black Have-Nots who manage to graduate from high school often opt not to attend college or trade school, or join the military.
Ultimately, it will be black American’s shared testimony about how we got it together that will cause prejudiced and discriminating white Americans to stand beside the enlightened ones. And when they stand beside their already enlightened white brothers and sisters, they will also find themselves standing in the company of black Americans. While standing there, we black Americans need to talk with them about God’s vision for our future, one that has every citizen of the nation and the world doing unto others as they would have others do unto them. More importantly, though, we need to let them know that they have been forgiven for their unrighteous maneuvers. Through our daily interactions with them, we should communicate (both verbally and nonverbally) our belief in their newfound willingness to invite us to the table of brotherhood, finally accepting us as equals on a level playing field.
© 2007 Jeffery A. Faulkerson. All rights reserved.