Some of the critics of my last column mistakenly believed I was advocating a “pull yourself up by your boot-straps” ideology. Such thinking could not be further from the truth. Indeed, black self-hatred is the residue from slavery and segregation, perpetuated by the systemic, structural and institutional racism experienced in contemporary America. Black people did not establish the systematic and structural racism that exists. White America constructed it and benefited from it. White people must recognize this fact, and white people need to dismantle systemic and structural racism if we are going to move from chaos to community (à la Martin King). Agreed.
What I am positing is the revisioning of the psychological, spiritual, economic, social and political emancipation of black people. We must find a way to establish a sense of black pride and solidarity that promotes well-being while rejecting and resisting the murdering of ourselves. The questions are: How can black people become black people’s best supporters? How can black people start to see each other as brothers and sisters in a common struggle for liberation and the good, and not enemies? How can we overcome pettiness, classism, sexism and homophobia in the black community so that all of us may rise to the destiny envisioned by our fore-parents?
White America must take on the onus of deconstructing racism. Black people must take on the task of promoting self-love.
I was encouraged to hear both Columbia’s mayor and police chief acknowledge last week that the problem of recent gun shootings and violence is not a phenomenon that we can arrest away.
They are correct. The violence we are experiencing is a multifaceted issue. The violence in the black community, here and across this country, is an internal and external phenomenon. The systematic and structural racism in play in our society has promoted black self-hatred, particularly in the form of murder. The same violence is also tied to the insidious economic disparity citizens in low-income communities confront every day. Since most of those citizens are black and brown, black-on-black and brown-on-brown violence is more prevalent in said communities. The lack of finances to meet basic needs results in violence against others, even those that look like you. As a caveat, please remember white-on-white crime happens as well.
Lack of education and the absence of the middle class within the communities where violence is high leaves young people without role models who can relate to their experience. The continuous otherworldly posture of too many black churches raises anger and disappointment. The black church — the one institution born of struggle and owned by black people — is woefully absent when the need for its presence is so evident. The need for psychological resources is at an all-time high in our community. These socio-economic factors cannot be overlooked. Yet articulating these factors alone does not answer the question: How do we stop the violence here and elsewhere in America?
There is a hole in the soul of black folk in America and in Columbia. We have learned that social integration, the pontification of political parties, crass materialism and well-intentioned educational institutions were nothing more than empty promises grounded in greed, wealth and power. It has left us in despair, drowning in anger and often hopeless. After generations of hurt, the result is violence. Yes, criminals need to go to prison. But they also need education and training while they are there so they can create their own dreams, instead of destroying others’.
Our foreparents envisioned something greater than what is happening in our communities, both black and white. It is time to be about the business of constructing a society that illustrates our greatness and does not foster the worst in us.
I believe we are greater than our circumstances, and mightier that the giants that stand before us. I believe in human autonomy and the ability to choose and create the fundamentally new. The promise was never that the road would be easy. The promise is that we can be victorious. Our ancestors knew why the caged bird sings. We must rediscover it, too.
There are hints that the city may reorganize the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence. Five years ago, the task force made recommendations to the city about how the address the problem of violence. Some things were implemented, some were not. I hope a new task force will come into being. I hope it will include many stakeholders. We need the hard, penetrating social analysis of a Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, the experience of a Mary Ratliff and the progressive conservative knowledge of a Josh Divine. We need some clergy with backbone to mobilize our people for change. But we also need the real folk who know and live in Columbia and who know firsthand the challenges they face every day. We need people who love and care about the whole of Columbia.
The greatest task will be remolding dreams and filling the vacant spaces of the human heart with hope — a real hope. Not just for our children, but for all of us.
The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr. was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at MU. He teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College and writes for the Missourian.