We Are at a Significant Economic Disadvantage
Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
There is a very serious and dangerous situation for the Black community in America, which is why our community is suffering. The Black community is in serious disarray with little-to-no real leadership, infrastructure and/or, organizational structure to mount any serious defense.
Nor does the Black community have a clear-cut agenda that is widely accepted. Who is responsible for setting up and implementing the Black agenda in a way that would actually get something done? Is it the NAACP, Urban League, National Action Network, Nation of Islam or the Black church? Who is it? The fact that we even have to ask the question suggests that we do not have an agenda nor the capacity to establish one.
This is not likely to change anytime soon because too many of our Black leaders and decision makers actually believe that we do not need any type of central leadership and/or there are some who say that we do not need any new organization. They are dead wrong.
I believe that many Black leaders take this approach because it serves them well as individuals by not joining a group effort, but this approach most definitely does not serve our community well. Within this “free agent” environment, every Black leader is basically on his/her own to do his/her own thing and no one is accountable to our group. This makes it nearly impossible to achieve a consensus on establishing a collective agenda.
We must establish an environment where we can secure “functional unity” amongst Black leaders, which will require that individual goals take a back seat to the group goals. This will require real work and sacrifice, something many Black leaders are unable or unwilling to do.
When we begin to discuss the Black agenda, we always hear that the Black community is not monolithic and there is no one who can set our agenda.
This is immature and this type of response usually comes from upper-income Blacks because many of them have bought into American assimilation hook line and sinker. Their response is a masked justification for not working together. When we have so many issues, many of which are interrelated and interconnected, and we have extremely limited resources, both financial and human, if we are not synchronized and organized at the highest level (leadership), we will continue as we have – with little to no progress at all. Do we expect the average person to navigate and take on this fight when they have to spend most of their time just trying to survive? Let us be candid, the Black community has not had a group win in over fifty years with the passage of the Civil Rights legislation in the 60’s.
No matter how you portray our issues, at the end of the day, you will need to secure real resources to combat and correct those issues about which you are so passionate. Emotional and reactionary responses are just not enough.
Not only will you come to know the complexities and challenges of the issue you are tackling, you will also come to understand that you will need resources that must be sustainable over a long period to achieve any level of progress. Therein lies the problem and it is the perfect definition of the “Catch 22” – to get the job, you need experience and to get the experience, you need to get the job. Not only do we need resources, we need patient resources and unfortunately, contrary to what many are expounding, our community lacks those types of discretionary resources, which force most of us to seek resources from outside of our community and this keeps us in a permanent state of dependency.
The Black community suffers from a massive “resource” gap and it haunts us at every level. The economic gap will continue to undermine any/ all efforts, which requires that we address this issue at the highest level.
Economic parity must be our national and overarching agenda. In some respects, it is, but we have not labeled it this way and the closest thing that speaks to this is Reparations, about which the White community scared us so much that we no longer even speak about. At the end of the day, economic parity must include significant increases in Black businesses securing both public and private contracts; jobs that pay a livable wage in the private sector; and increased Black participation in management jobs and board governance spots. If we achieve this, we can handle most of our issues by ourselves.
Brothers and Sisters, those who argue that other issues (i.e. education, incarceration, addiction, housing, etc.) and not economic parity should be our number one agenda issue are being selfish.
Our community spent nearly 300 years to free ourselves from chattel slavery and nearly 100 years to gain civil rights not knowing that the next fight is economic. We must come to understand and recognize the Black economic disparities we face and our overall lack of resources that have its roots in our overwhelming and restrictive start in this country, which I call the “legacy of slavery.”
The legacies of slavery are real, and wishing or praying that they go away will never change our outcomes. The structural economic disadvantage that nearly every Black person has inherited must be front and center and not marginalized as “just the way it is.” I wholeheartedly condemn the false belief that America has promoted to the world that every citizen, if he/she works hard (pull yourself up by your bootstraps), can be successful in this country. I call this lie the “illusion of inclusion,” which fully negates the trapped and structural systems, policies, laws, behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and racial oppression that looms over every Black person that has ever lived in this country.
The inference is that if one does not achieve economic success in America, then they just do not want to work hard enough. Never is there any discussion about structural racism and institutionalized discrimination against the Black in America.
You either believe this rhetoric that America is fair and just and, therefore, the Black community is simply inferior (i.e. shiftless, lazy, and don’t want to work hard and have a welfare mentality, etc.) or you believe that the Black man has been dealt with in the most inhumane way possible; you cannot have it both ways.
If you do the math, and with a liberal interpretation of success, still the supermajority of Black people in America are struggling economically and that number is growing disproportionately.
Sure, we must work harder and smarter, but we must also work together if we are to change this outcome for Black children. We must establish our Economic Agenda if we want to have a fighting chance.
This is not an attack against any Black leader, but it is an attack against very poor thinking. If we are to produce better outcomes for our people, we must make a serious paradigm shift to begin to work together.
We do have organizations that are effective in what they do but none has been able to do all that we need done, which is move the economic needle for the overwhelming number of poor Black people.
Not only do these organizations do different things (there is some overlap), which is a step in the right direction, even if they were to merge into one organization it would still not be enough to compete. Our community is at a significant economic disadvantage and must act accordingly.
The many problems that Black people, leaders, and organizations are trying to “fix” on behalf our people without the adequate resources is like moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic and calling it decorating.
It makes us feel good (celebrate effort), but our outcome will not change for the better under this scenario.