Getting lost is bad. It creates a state of powerlessness, anxiety and frustration. But worse than being lost is being lost and not realizing it. We can spend a great amount of effort and resources going down a wrong path without knowing that we are misdirected.
I believe this is the predicament of African-Americans currently. During slavery and prior to integration, the black condition was stark and apparent. We could all agree on our condition and possible solutions. Now our condition and solutions are not agreed upon as easily.
We have fallen victim to our relative comfort and the subtleties of modern racism and discrimination. Worse than that is the absence of discussions of our powerlessness among us. We look for indicators or signposts created by others to tell us if we are in a good or bad condition. An example of one of these signposts is the presence or absence of people of color in prominent positions. Rarely do we question the impact of this token presence or hold them accountable for anything but warming their seats. They often behave as if seat warming is the entirety of their job.
In Columbia, we have had African-Americans as University of Missouri System president, MU vice chancellor, public school administrator, school board presidents, police chief and various board members and administrators. If all of their efforts on behalf of minorities and disadvantaged people were combined, it would represent little or no positive change in the lives of minority or disadvantaged constituents. There are too many similar patterns occurring across the country and around the world.
Occupy movements at least point out that we are lost. So worse than being lost and not acknowledging that we are lost is to be lost while seeing signs and being unable to interpret the signs we see. The desegregation of some institutions and the failure of others have served to make us even more impotent. The fragmentation and disunification of African-Americans geographically, socially, economically and psychologically has further cemented our impotence.
These divisions allow us to do as much damage to ourselves as the systems that are set up to subtlety but effectively keep us in our place. Too many of us deny the signposts than indicate that we are just as much an economic commodity to the prison industrial complex as we were to plantation owners during slavery and sharecropping times.
The difference now is that we have created internal overseers that encourage us to blame ourselves for systemic injustices. We confuse a level of external temporary comfort with power. We have tokens that claim anyone who wants to achieve can achieve because they were lucky enough to get through the eye of the needle of opportunity. After all, they say we are living in a post-racial world and we have an African-American president.
Washington Post editor Eugene Robinson divides African-Americans into four groups. Others make other divisions based upon different criteria. The point is, there are divisions that are detrimental to the African-American community as a whole. We have an approximate 14 percent unemployment rate among African-Americans. Meanwhile, the NAACP wants presidential candidates to address the economy as though a strong economy leads to significant employment and job retention for African-Americans.
But what we really need is to talk to each other. Division serves to only provide immediate and temporary gratification to those who believe they are at the top of a detrimental scale. Scales add little support to the African-American community as a whole. Most of us are a disaster away from homelessness. African-Americans need each other now as much as they needed each other during earlier times. We need the physical and cultural contact as well as mutual support. We all need the strategic resources that result from unity.
Come home sometime, brothers and sisters. You are welcome. The door is always open. We need you now. You never know when you might need us.