All too often in the Black community we have a tendency to place our leaders on a pedestal that places them so far from us that we cannot conceive of them as human beings. They become gods residing in some distant space achieving their goals with magic and miracles. However, in reflecting on the recent holiday that commemorates the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I began to think about Dr. King’s legacy in a way that was more pragmatic. It thought about the things he said and the things he did and the things that he wanted to do with respect but not reverence. I think it is important that in the Black community we view our leaders and elders this way. It allows us to think critically about the lessons that they have taught us and to actualize those lessons in consideration of the current context of the society we now live within.
The problem is that we did not have the exact answer to the problem of discrimination and disenfranchisement that affects Black people in America. I state this not as a flaw or fault but as a fact. In truth, we were too ignorant from having been ostracized from participating in society as citizens. We had no clue how things like the economy worked. So we were ill prepared fro integration into mainstream society. This was a fear of Dr. King’s and his turn towards economics was evidence of his heading in the right direction to solve address the issue.
With all the struggle and all the achievements, we must face the fact, however, that the Negro still lives in the basement of the Great Society. He is still at the bottom, despite the few who have penetrated to slightly higher levels. Even where the door has been forced partially open, mobility for the Negro is still sharply restricted. There is often no bottom at which to start, and when there is there’s almost no room at the top. In consequence, Negroes are still impoverished aliens in an affluent society. They are too poor even to rise with the society, too impoverished by the ages to be able to ascend by using their own resources. And the Negro did not do this himself; it was done to him. For more than half of his American history, he was enslaved. Yet, he built the spanning bridges and the grand mansions, the sturdy docks and stout factories of the South. His unpaid labor made cotton “King” and established America as a significant nation in international commerce. Even after his release from chattel slavery, the nation grew over him, submerging him. It became the richest, most powerful society in the history of man, but it left the Negro far behind.
This still applies today. Economic markets are dynamic and have changed several times over since the 1960’s. Black America never fully wrapped its head around American economics and was never able to gain major ground in this regard. Certainly through education and Affirmative Action a few individuals have managed to ascend the economic ladder. Through the celebrity fame and stardom of professional athletes, actors, and music artists some Black people have managed to reach that 1% of the economic population that controls the country’s wealth. But not enough of them and not enough of the kind of people that would dedicate themselves to the economic improvement of the community from which they come. Those are the major problems: apathy and ignorance about the country in which we live.
America is and has always been a country obsessed with power and influence. And the only way to gain power and influence in America is through wealth. The pursuit of wealth as a means to power and influence is the American ideal. This ideal drives our workforce, our government, our international relations, and our everyday motivations to go to work everyday. If we accept that fact objectively – saving the philosophical criticism for another discussion – we would then begin to recognize that the largest playing field of the civil rights movement today is economics. America legitimizes only those voices that wield the magic of the dollar. If we are looking to make our voices heard and change the state of People of Color in America we will have to focus on economics and economic programs to help us do so.
Pretending to believe that somehow the framework of America is set up to offer a fair and even playing field to all its citizens is an egregious error and a deplorable deception. The reality is that the economic power structure is saturated with the biases that created racism and used it as a route to power. We, like Dr. King, have to dream up a way to level that system. But there is no point in dreaming if we are not, at some point, going to wake up and deal with reality.
I’m not sayin; I’m just saying,
An Angry Black Man