As I get older, I am beginning to notice that pictures like this affect me differently. As a young boy, I remember looking up to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X with wide eyes of admiration and reverence. They were on pedestals so high, they appeared to me as giants. I read their speeches and I read their books. I watched black and white documentaries about their lives. I hung posters with their images and wore t-shirts with their quotes. I internalized their messages and merged them with my own.
In this, my 38th year of living, I realize I am just one year away from the age they were when they were assassinated. They don’t look like giants to me anymore. They look like regular guys who not only had something to say about the plight of their people, but loved to eat good food and laugh with their friends. They look like young men who had families waiting for them at home with to-do lists on their desks and dates circled on their calendars and ideas for sermons and speeches on note pads in their pockets. They look like me; They look like my friends.
Headed into my 39th time around the sun this year, I can plainly see the youth in their eyes and hear the youth in their voices. I hear some trepidation about the future coupled with hope that what they are doing will matter in the long run… whether their choice to sacrifice their personal lives with their wives and children for the greater good of humanity generally and Black Americans particularly would make a difference 50 some odd years later.
Time flies. And as I contemplate on my thoughts 50 some odd years after my historic heroes have lived and died, I am not seeking answers to the question of whether their sacrifices mattered. Instead, I find myself asking questions to the man in the mirror—who I also find myself looking at differently these days. I will end this post by sharing with you a few of the questions I asked him when I saw him last:
What happened to your fire?
What happened to your fight?
What happened to your passion?
What are you doing with your life?
For whom are you standing or speaking?
What societal ill makes you cry?
Where is your battle? What cause will you champion?
For what are you willing to die?
What I Know for Sure: “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer to any of these questions. Not at this age. Not in these times. Not for me at least. And though I may not know you, I venture to speak for you and say it isn’t acceptable for you either.
“When we see a black man who is constantly being praised by the Americans, begin to suspect him. When we see a black man get honors and all sorts of decorations and the United States flatters him with fine words and phrases, immediately suspect that person Because our experience has taught us that the Americans do not exalt any black man that is really working for the benefit of the black man.” Malcolm X
Over the past several months, I have noticed a lot of empowering and inspiring stories highlighting Black achievement in volumes I don’t remember in the past. I mean good news, big wins, and long awaited comebacks. I read the stories and am proud. I share the stories and hope to spread inspiration. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I also wonder why mainstream media is embracing blackness so beautifully and aggressively all of a sudden.
In no particular order: Black Miss America, Black Miss Teen America, Black Miss USA, Black Miss Universe, Black Miss World, Black Miss France, Black Little Mermaid, Black Woman 007, Black woman and lesbian mayor of Chicago, Marsai Martin becomes Universal’s youngest producer and will produce feature comedy ‘Queen’, Black Superman possibly in the works, Jamie Foxx making history with first Black to star in Pixar Movie (Soul), Black women owned tea brand heads to New York Stock Exchange, Jay-Z reaching billionaire status, talks of All-Black Panel Show on CNN, Rumors of War Statue unveiled in Richmond VA- former capital of Confederate States of America, Mall of America hiring first Black Santa , New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker has first Black lead, Michael Vick forgiven, Colin Kaepernick’s Saga with the NFL reemerged (then ended), Cynthia Erivo is celebrated for role in Harriet Tubman (who as a subject matter, got a lot of attention lately, $20 bill, tv show, movie, etc.) Kennedy Center Honors inducts first African-American group: Earth Wind & Fire, Law Passed to make sure natural hair isn’t discriminated against, Grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios to rival Hollywood studios, Season 5 of Boondocks reboot with Aaron McGruder, Eddie Murphy returning to SNL, Coming to America II, and out of his “Hollywood Timeout”, Steve Harvey Talk show revival, Byron Allen v Comcast to square off in Supreme Court Kaiser Permanente has a new Black CEO, and Presidential candidates debate reparations for Blacks.
Don’t get me wrong, now. All of these named (and several more unmentioned) wins have been earned with hard work, long hours, and much sacrifice. Each is well-deserved and in many cases, long overdue. While Malcolm X encourages us to suspect the individuals being honored, I am suspicious, however, of the abrupt shift of American Industries honoring and exalting her former slaves in this way.
A transitory look at history will substantiate that we as a people haven’t always gotten the credit we deserved from the majority of the industries in which the aforementioned list represents (entertainment, financial, political, etc). We haven’t always gotten the recognition we deserved. We haven’t always gotten opportunities we deserved. We’ve been held down, pushed out, overlooked and unsung for generations. So while I celebrate and relate to the joyful feeling connected to finally getting “a piece of the pie”, I ponder at what cost and why now? Not to forget to mention the fact that if someone else is giving us a piece of anything, the power dynamics should raise an eyebrow or two—especially if we are interested in true black power.
Carter G. Woodson’s words from his Mis-Education of the Negro still ring true,“Negroes who have been so long inconvenienced and denied opportunities for development are naturally afraid of anything that sounds like discrimination. They are anxious to have everything the white man has even if it is harmful.”
I ultimately believe we’re being thrown hand-me-downs like pigs are thrown slop. And unfortunately for us (and the rest of the world) we are eating them like a gourmet meal. Anybody who knows anything about acquiring what other people have used, know that you only get access to the item once the original owner is done with it, can’t fit it anymore, done playing with it, has no use for it, or transitioning to something new.
Are these highly celebrated accolades leftovers? Why are we getting them now—as we turn the corner into 2020?
The story has become an American classic. We’ve heard variations of it before.
The 250 pound 28 year old claims he was defending himself against a 140 pound 17 year old carrying skittles and a can of iced tea.
Police cannot find evidence to suggest that the white man is lying—even though everybody else sees it.
Lawyers busy themselves preparing arguments.
Black parents claim racism.
Protests and press conferences are held where irrelevant Black leaders parade in front of cameras.
Black people leave justice in the hands of the authorities.
Black people stay in their rut.
Regardless of what happens regarding the arrest and conviction of the murderer or whether or not the Department of Justice, FBI, or FDLE find anything in their investigations, if Black people continue leaving justice in the hands of so-called authorities, Black people will remain in defenseless and powerless positions—crying over injustice and complaining about unpunished racism in the 21st century.
Are we destined to remain in such anemic positions?
What, if anything, can we do about this?
How should we respond to this?
- Should we fight to introduce a law into congress that makes it illegal for a white man to murder a black boy ?
- Should we fight to make sure already existing laws are enforced?
- Should we assemble to express our disappointment with the silent local police?
- Should we make a sign with a MLK quote about justice and injustice?
- Should we write a blog expressing our disappointments and how this is incident is reminiscent to Emmitt Till’s murder in 1955?
- Should demand that Barack Obama or other political figures call for the
arrest of Zimmerman and not vote for them if they don’t respond to our demands in a way that is sincere?
I’m running out of ideas… I honestly don’t think any of these ideas will do anything to address the heart of problem of Trayvon’s murder. And I hope I’m not alone. Malcolm X’s words ring clearer to me, now more than ever: that the government is either unable or unwilling to address the problems that confront Black people in a satisfactory way. The most natural response seems to be self-evident : address the problems ourselves–but that is not what’s happening. smh.
“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.” –Malcolm X
We know the problems. We’re affected by them every day. Let’s create some solutions. Here are a few of mine:
1. We should recognize our power and use it:
- Power concedes to nothing but power. White power is dominating us because Black power has not responded in a way to nullify or overpower white power.
- Black people have power. Always have and always will. Unfortunately, because we don’t know how to use it, we are misusing it. We have fallen into the trap of misdirecting our energies to kill each other in service of white domination (part of the plan of white power).
- If our power is redirected in ways that will help us get out of our current social, political, economic, and spiritual rut, we WILL succeed.
- We must want “freedom, justice, and equality” so badly that we will seek to obtain them using any means necessary.
- We must reject any and everything that is thrown at us to stifle our attempts to empower ourselves to lift ourselves. We cannot limit ourselves by dismissing ideas for Black elevation because they may not be the ways that we have historically fought.
- Let’s fight the fight and let the chips fall where they may.
2. We must redefine independence.
- Independence and freedom are often used interchangeably. As a result, people may erroneously conclude that we (as a people) are independent.
- Consider independence as NOT dependent and slavery as being dependent.
- Are we (as a people) independent?
- When the government provides assistance to “underprivileged” (namely Black) people, it creates a level of dependence that is paralyzing. We are very dependent on the very systems and structures that are failing us.
- Let’s stop putting our trust in people or systems that have not helped us in the recent and distant pasts.
- Let’s be intentionally about becoming self-determining and self-reliant. We must get to the place where we are not dependent on structures and systems that have been put in place by our former oppressors to do for us what we should do for ourselves.
- Understand that our formal education is one of the most important instruments used to keep us in the mentality that keeps us working in the interest of white domination and against the interest of ourselves and our children.
- We have been educated/conditioned to respond to situations in ineffective ways.
- When is it acceptable for children of former slaves to be educated by children of former slave masters? Have things change that much to where one thinks whites will teach blacks how to beat them at the game they’re playing?
- Recall the 5th point in the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program: We should want an education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We should strive for an education that teaches our true history and our role in the present society. “We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.”
- Reeducate yourself on the importance of Nationhood. (Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad , John Henrik Clark, and a host of others talk about it in their books and recordings). Land, food, and shelter are very important in this equation.
4. We must separate.
- When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected with another… Language from The Declaration of Independence, one of the founding documents of America. It made sense for them then and makes sense for us now. It’s time for us to get out of the mindset that this system will do right by us. It has not, it is not, and if history proves to be a good teacher, will not.
- Put little faith in the American system/ government/ way of life. Begin to devalue the structures that we have accepted as indisputable and unchangeable. This is the first step in independence.
- Lose respect for the laws—Since they do nothing to protect us, we should have no obligation to respect them.
5. Stop being so damn afraid.
- Fear paralyzes. It will prevent an individual from reaching a goal and a race.
- Remove all notions of fear and doubt.
- Be lead by the Spirits. We have more help than we realize.
- Fight the fight. Let the chips fall where they may.