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)
Many of us keep asking ourselves why the Black community in America hasn’t made more social and economic progress. Sure, we’ve made individual progress, but as a Black group, we’re really struggling. This isn’t some academic exercise, this is real. By any and every measurement that you want to examine (i.e. wealth, ownership, business rates, marriages, health, incarceration, education attainment, etc.) we are in serious decline, and the decline is moving faster in the negative. If our community was an airplane, we would be falling fast out of the air and near a great crash on the ground that would produce mass levels of casualties. What’s worse is that we have no organized or central defense to what is happening.
On the ground, where our people reside and live, these statistical realities are becoming more and more structural in nature and has an invisible life crippling impact. It’s like having cancer that is growing and spreading throughout the body and making the cure look more and more like a miracle – breaking the structural cycle of poverty is becoming more and more of a challenge for today and tomorrow’s children. These realities are creating a “cement” economic ceiling for too many of us, impacting is that socially and economically millions of Black people and their children are being denied from ever having the opportunity to achieve true American citizenship – I classify this as a “permanent” underclass (2nd class citizenship).
I contend that for too many of us the normal life struggles, which distract us from the Black Liberation Movement, make it nearly impossible for the average person to focus on these “global” issues – life is just too much. Many of us, not only start behind, but fall further behind because of a socialization process that replicates our parent’s pathologies. Studies show that when we live in domestic abusive homes, we tend to become domestic abusers; when we live in homes with drug and alcohol abuse, we tend to become abusers; when we have siblings that were born out of wedlock and the paternity is always in questioned, we have children out of wedlock – we replicate the pathologies of our parents which puts us further behind the economic eightball. These and many more are all of life’s distractions that hinder the Black Liberation.
When you take into account the numbers that, through no fault of their own, are just unable to figure out things for themselves and their families let alone for the group, this leaves only a few of us that have the emotional and mental capacity, constitution, and the willingness to make the much needed sacrifices required to defend our group. The sacrifices needed by those brave souls that remain standing will be doing all we can to “break” the cycle of disunity and begin to work together versus believing and acting as if we alone are the solution (we must build something bigger and greater than ourselves).
Over the past 100 years, this group has been labeled by many different names, it doesn’t matter what you call them. I know that this group must be assembled to stop the bleeding, and defend our community, which is being attacked on a multitude of fronts. The ultimate goal is not just to defend the Black community but to advance the Black community to secure real and measurable gains (stop the decline and begin the ascension).
When you do the basic math, and subtract a significant number of people from the total population who are economically trapped by poverty, near poverty and/or working poor, and are afflicted by the high cost of poverty with all of its expressions, you are left with a small group that have a chance at making a difference. The cost of being in poverty is a major distraction. It absolutely cost more to be poor in America. There are numerous reports and studies that show poor people have to pay more for the basics and essentials of life (i.e. food, clothing, shelter, education or lack of education, etc.) versus their suburban counterpart. It’s not enough that many of us are poor, but in America, everything surrounding poor people cost more (i.e. purchases, services, doing business, etc.) – this differential creates a massive economic disadvantage that must be paid somewhere and somehow.
You’ve heard of the term “rich get richer” and “poor get poorer” – America is structurally set up this way, making where you start economically critical – your family makeup and inheritance are critical components within a capitalistic system.
It is absolutely criminal and childish to think that being set free nearly 150 years ago was all that was needed, our being able to catch up is almost impossible without some form of reparations. This is not to say that White people aren’t poor and they must compete to survive and to win – they must wake up every day to defend themselves amongst themselves. However; what I’m saying, as a group, White people have a distinctive and inherited competitive social and economic advantage over Black people whom they have physically and legally held back based on the color of our skin for nearly 400 years impacting untold generations of Black people.
Being human, we suffer everything that other groups suffer from – we are no exception. We are humans, not robots. We have our share of diseases; we fall in love and we fall out of love; we have addictions and recoveries from drugs, sex, alcohol, etc.; like others, we are oversubscribed to sports, music, television, etc.; we have obsessions and fantasies; we have an inherited level of human deformities, dysfunction, and irregularities; we too are consumed by issues surrounding our children, parents, and our community; and we have all the human interruptions that others have.
The difference is that for Black people, we have every system in America structured to minimize and limit our participation based on a set of flawed and racist standards – these standards don’t take into consideration an extremely flawed playing field created by racist White ancestors. In spite of the normal distractions of life, we must contend with a society that has hated and abused us since we were kidnapped and brought here to be slaves – Black people have a double burden.
For many of us, it’s very hard to get our hands around why the Black man’s liberation in America hasn’t happened, or at least why we should be further along the path towards independence. Many of us know first-hand that the needle isn’t moving, but very few of us truly understand why.
We struggle in so many areas and our lives continue to be confronted with challenges that are generational in nature (this didn’t just happened) – restated, things are not getting better.
On the ground, in the cities where we reside and within the neighborhoods that we actually live in, we find chaos, and millions of people working under a “survival” mode. For the record, this hasn’t changed much since our emancipation.
For the most part, and contrary to popular belief, we are more segregated now than pre-integration. Sure we had to wage the battle against legal segregation for too many reasons to discuss now, but it shouldn’t have meant a massive relocation that has settled with the majority of Black people living in nearly 55-60 cities. Nearly 75 percent of our population live in urban cities like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Memphis, Newark, etc. Over the past 50 years these cities are where the majority have produced high levels of poverty for our people. They are structurally unable to fix themselves because of massive economic disinvestment, the cost of increase social needs, negative quality of life, poor public education systems and bloated government with shrinking resources and deplorable infrastructure.
In these cities, especially in the places that Black people live, real estate values are either stagnant or on decline. Wherever we see economic growth, we see gentrification with little to no Black economic participation – the tale of two cities is worsening. There continues to be an upswing in violence and crime and a general demise of the traditional Black family.
These, and many other issues dictate that any solution must not just be external (what they are doing to us) but internal (what we are doing to ourselves). This is evident in spite of the fact that we have yet to institutionalize the human and financial capacity need to “do for self” creating a more long-term and lethal form of dependency going forward.
Our issues are further complicated by the fact that if you were to look at television, movies, politics, or athletics, it appears that the Black community has arrived. “Shucks, we even elected a Black President.” Unfortunately, for every one Black person that has achieved “so-called” success in America, there are tens of thousands of Black people that are sinking socially and economically. I call it the “lottery” phenomena, and the “illusion of inclusion.” We are made to believe that we have a legitimate shot at winning the lottery but the reality is the odds are overwhelmingly against us but we still participate.
The illusion works because the media portrays successful “assimilated” Black people as a hook to keep the masses fooled that the system is fair and not rigged against them. You can only truly evaluate the health of the group by looking at the “whole” or the majority of the group to determine if the remedy is producing improvements and not some small and miniscule percentage (less than ¼ of 1%) of our nearly 50 million population and using them as a measurement of group progress – this is absolutely misleading and false. Making a lot of money is great but it can’t be confused with wealth. NBA players have high incomes but NBA owners have wealth.
The reality is that too many of us equate high incomes with wealth, and this is misleading. Could these high-income Black people do more for the movement? The answer is “yes,” but too many of them are first time high income earners. They must learn by experience what that entails, and like many other first time high income earners – they are always at risk of losing everything.
Yes, “life” gets in the way for them as well, and while their struggle is different than that of a poor person, the fear of being poor again can drive some of them crazy and the struggle to maintain and or to leverage their economic success is in itself a struggle. Because this is relatively a new thing for Black people, there are very few successful examples of “how” high income earners are supposed to support and contribute to the movement without fear of materially losing whatever they have earned – life gets in the way of the movement.
Today we are faced with the children of the civil rights movement (millennials) believing that, at a minimum, America is race neutral and assimilation is the way towards success. They are not only wrong, they are dead wrong. America is just as racist today as when their parents fought for the right to integrate “white only” areas, or the right to vote. This fight wasn’t waged necessarily for us to join them. This fight was waged as part of the long fight towards our ultimate liberation, and real progress couldn’t be achieved unless we prevailed against the aggression of open racism. This is a marathon, and not a sprint. Each generation needs to make a contribution to the liberation movement. It was believed by many of us that if we were able to send our children to better schools and create better opportunities for them, this would translate into a better Black America. The question is what contribution will the current generation make towards the liberation of Black people?
Unfortunately, what we really created was a more economically mobile class of Black people that believed that whatever economic gains they have achieved were done by themselves from their own hard work and dedication – nothing could be further from the truth. But for the struggles waged by our ancestors, we don’t know what America would look like today – it’s just impossible to predict. Their undertone is that if you don’t work hard, you’re not deserving of the same level of success that they are having, which translates into your economic condition being your own fault (by the way this is the exact way that White America feels about Black people). This attitude has further divided our community by income, and we now have the Black “haves” whose agenda is not reflected of the majority of Black “have-nots.”
We must, at a later date, unpack the word “gains,” because I would argue that no matter how well you do in America, you must work harder and longer if you’re Black. Your accomplishments will never equal your White counterpart. The largest cohort of successful Black people can be seen in sports and entertainment, and if there weren’t double standards that exist there would be no need for Black associations to help to defend and/or fight for equitable treatment – even when we achieve “perceived” gains. When we truly examine what’s going on within that industry or sector, we will find that Blacks are being discriminated at a wholesale level that is now become structural.
In addition, many of these people openly disregarded any idea of group consciousness – in fact, many are opposed to the idea of seeing themselves as a member of the Black group. I don’t care who you are, if you’re Black in America, you will we be confronted by racism on some level and for those millennials that believe in this so-called “post racial’ society, they will hit the wall (reality) harder and it will force them to learn firsthand what their parents and other Black elders and ancestors have experienced on a daily basis. It’s a lesson that experience will teach them and they will learn it the hard way – life gets in the way of the movement.
Many of our “so-called” leaders think they know why our community isn’t moving socially and economically and they offer up “simple” solutions – if we just do “this” or if we just do “that” we would have liberation overnight. The question is why hasn’t these approaches worked?
They haven’t worked and will never work because our issues are much more complex than what is being articulated. In fact, it’s absolutely the most complex human dilemma in modern time and quick fixes are impossible to correct what is ailing us. Not only are many of these proposed solutions not achievable, they are not practicable and don’t take into account the fact that life gets in the way.
We are not robots, in spite of needing to be robot like – we are human beings with human frailties and struggle like all other humans and unfortunately we have been dealt a terrible hand that will be almost impossible to win without creating a critical mass of those that can withstand life’s distractions.