Every race, culture and ethnicity has encountered significant struggles in the progression of their people. Where most ethnicities have managed to flourish despite the disadvantages common to minority groups; collectively African Americans have not been able to accomplish the same. I am inclined to believe that somewhere along the way, our voices were silenced and our vitality was diffused in the process of attempting to obtain our piece of the American apple pie. In retrospect, we can follow the trail of African American undertakings and observe how our mission for transcendence became muted and less urgent as each hardship and hindrance to success was surmounted.
Seldom is it ever disputed that our momentum as a race has subsided since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. A select few may debate whether or not we are still contenders in this cultural campaign we set out to win almost a half century ago. The general consensus is that the days of transformational African American leadership have been left behind to smolder in the ashes of the revolution. Silence has replaced the utter cries of “Black Power” heard amongst those gathered at Black Panther rallies or “We Shall Overcome” Civil Rights marches in Alabama and or my home state of Mississippi.
The selfless “by any means necessary” valor that once ignited our passion to unite and conquer – or at least “take back what the devil stole” – of the 60’s and 70’s has seemingly been eradicated by egotistic attempts to acquire a portion of the American “dream.” Thus, by abandoning and sometimes disowning our fellow brothers or sisters while undertaking selfish ambitions, we’ve failed to recognize that the formula for prosperity also includes the gallant deed of “paying it forward.”
These days, I refrain from watching the news as often as possible in an attempt to shun the anti-intellectualism and misrepresented barbarism of our people displayed on CNN and Fox News every morning. Why? Because it angers me that as time progresses, we seem to regress – at least according to the media. Nevertheless, I can no longer stand up and speak against the media portrayal of our people, being that I can potentially walk the streets of the inner city and encounter those same thugs, and welfare recipients who remain content in living off the system, while Outkast’s “Get up, Get out,” plays in my head.
I find myself asking questions like: At what point will we break free from the clutches of stereotypical perceptions and realize that we keep ourselves imprisoned by remaining targets of ridicule? When will we conduct some deep soul searching and emerge as beings that look nothing like the images portrayed on television screens? When we will make liars out of mainstream media? Where are the positive African American figures that can inspire young sons and daughters to be educated, powerful and influential iconoclasts like Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey?
The courage that once drove Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Andrew Young, Jessie Jackson, and Nikki Giovanni can lead us to the “Promised Land.” True, history proves that many of our Civil Rights leaders were either killed or thrown behind bars for standing up for a divine cause, but they still marched on. We must step up out of the inferno created by our traumatic past in order to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
I still marvel at the words of Professor Cornel West when he spoke at Tavis Smiley’s State of Black America panel in 2006. He stated, “If you can control the minds of men, you can control their actions…our mind is the most powerful weapon we have…” Statistically speaking, how many of us are actually using our artillery to our advantage? Most of us will not pick up a book to even begin the process of equipping ourselves with the knowledge and wisdom that it takes to become successful.
Instead of using the agony of our past to obtain the vigor necessary to become something other than what the world expects, African Americans remain oppressed and controlled by our own misrepresented realities. Still today, we organize marches against police brutality and embark upon a revolution for social change. This amazes me, being that we have yet to stop and change our own actions. In fact, statistics of divorce, single parent homes, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, black on black crime, the spreading of AIDS/HIV epidemic, and high school dropouts, rank high among African American communities. As long as we remain angry about the deeds of others – which by the way we cannot control – we can never move on. Anger and force are conduits to frustration and resistance, which ultimately creates disease.
The moment a prominent figure is in legal trouble or an innocent black man is gunned down for no apparent reason, an opportunist emerges to “save the day.” Doesn’t this contribute to the notion that we as a people need to be emancipated instead of being encouraged to become leaders and activists? It is through the empowerment of self that the resilience to avoid crippling mentalities is learned and practiced. Once we begin to change our paradigms and understand that freedom is the state of mind into which we were born, we can then begin to alter our behavior to that of affirmation and rehabilitation.
We should turn our cheeks to the provocations imparted by a society that expects us to act antagonistically. We should look within for the peace we seek to obtain from others who don’t have the power to give it in the first place. We should focus on finding answers and solutions to becoming a greater, mightier people. We should focus on gaining respect for ourselves rather than forcing outcomes from people who are less enthused about us rising out of poverty, lowering the percentages of incarceration and black on black crime and combating the AIDS/HIV epidemic. How can we expect others to respect us when we have very little respect for ourselves? Our focus should be education, entrepreneurship and the value of family and life, instead of trying to force America to give us something they obviously have no interest in parting with. In the words of the late great Gil Scott-Heron, “The revolution will not be televised!”