Too many of the black beneficiaries of economic and political progress have squandered our legacy, resources and potency. Despite our civil rights gains, our community remains relatively impotent.
The result of our squandering is community and economic destruction, poverty, unemployment, youth leaving school without motivation or skills, unmarried parents, swollen prisons, inner-city crime and a belief that we don’t have the power to change our condition. Our powerlessness makes it difficult to overcome the effects of changes in the broader community. Negative impacts affect us harder than the wider community.
Although there are now more blacks who are wealthy and who hold positions of celebrity and responsibility, the community from which they came has diminished in power and influence. A major cause of black powerlessness is the wholehearted acceptance of a white definition of who we are and what we should be. Black people will never achieve equality until they discard white definition of blacks. Accepting other definitions causes us to dismiss and denigrate a multitude of attributes and contributions, which are available within our community. It also leads to our dismissing a multitude of negative actions against us.
Although anyone can now name some black celebrity billionaire, millionaire, public official, corporate board member or even corporate CEO, their prosperity does not translate into progress for the multitude of black people who reside in a geographic or psychological ghetto. Too many black notables indicate by their behaviors that the “others” are not their responsibility.
Since the civil rights legislation, there has been a diminished effort on the part of black professionals to secure power for the black community, while there has been an increase in efforts for personal gain and estrangement from the black community.
After legal slavery ended, our motivation has been to prove to white people that we were not like the perception they have of us. Yet we inculcated the values and images that were deviously and diabolically created about us. Prior to the removal of Jim Crow, we were forced to utilize black institutions that developed and nurtured us. We developed well considering the constraints of Jim Crow. We can now go from birth to our grave without encountering a black person with any formal or technical responsibility. Too many black people prefer it that way. We have developed a lack of trust and responsibility for each other.
Many of us quickly embrace the notion that we are not a monolith in order to separate ourselves from the “others.” Black people are fragmented geographically, philosophically, politically and psychologically. This separation is a precursor to powerlessness. We are all impotent in most contexts. We are disenfranchised even when there are opportunities and policies that could be utilized for our benefit. We define our context, progress and ourselves by a paradigm created by others, while exercising too little of our power potential.
If we are to undo our powerlessness and empower ourselves, we must first reconnect. This can be accomplished incrementally on neutral territory such as churches, barber and beauty shops, recreational centers or schools.
Discussions on topics of common interest could generate respect, trust, interest, value and support for each other. An analysis of our reality within our community and in the broader community must be generated. Organizations to address programmatic goals must be developed if they don’t exist. Existing organizations must be modified and held accountable according to how well they address relevant issues in an appropriate manner. If earlier contributors to the acquisition of our power potential could be effective in a much more overtly hostile and limited context, surely we can now actualize our potential for power.
We must engage vigorously in the development of a search for solutions to problems and opportunities that impact or could impact our community. We can accomplish this by removing the division between our haves and have-nots within our community. We can mobilize our talent, energy and resources to address the myriad issues confronting our community at every level.
This process should start locally.
Local concerned citizens must initiate it.
It must start with open communication.
There must be a process of critical analysis with all voices being heard.
Relevant goals should be established through this process.
Appropriate leadership can arise during this stage.
All relevant segments must be enlisted and continuously respected.
Achievable strategies and programs must be developed and supported.
Corresponding processes and programs of monitoring and accountability must be inherent in all activities to ensure progress.
Celebrations must a part of this process.
National and international agendas and forums by leaders and celebrities can only have validity if they are reflective of the local level. Broad-scope assemblies serve only to bring attention to some problems. The real work must take place at the local level, where we have a chance to achieve our power potential.
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeretis for MU.