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)
As a Black young adult or Black adult, it didn’t matter what Black group or ideology you supported during the 60’s and 70’s. While there were several different approaches, beliefs and ultimate strategies regarding how to liberate Black people, everyone knew who the enemy was. This was extremely important because normally, when you have many approaches that weren’t organized and aligned (we didn’t have social media and cell phones), you’re normally not effective. However; because we all knew who the enemy was, we didn’t have to belong to the same organization or follow the same ideology to be effective. Yes, we took different approaches to the problem, we were successful because all of our actions was geared towards defeating the “common” enemy of the Black man.
For the majority of Black adults it was no secret on who they believe was their enemy. The enemy of the Black man was then and remains white supremacy and those in leadership (i.e. presidents, chancellors, governors, mayors, CEO, judges, etc.) were able to utilize the institutions they own and ran to act on their racist motives. No, it didn’t matter what approach you held because being Black in America was bad for most, if not all of us. Black’s have been catching pure hell in America since being kidnapped, transported here and forced into slavery.
Unlike today, White supremacy, while lethal and just humanly degrading, was much more physically dangerous to Black people. The ramifications for not being in full submission and any resistance of any kind was met with the most brutal and hostile terroristic violence. For me and many others in the Black community, the horrors of slavery are coming to light, and to call them barbaric and sadistic is simply an understatement. The end of slavery didn’t end the terror against Black people. There was the intimidation used by the KKK and the tens of thousands of public hangings; rogue police forces that routinely kept Black neighborhoods in a “police” state; and all other institutions used to threaten retaliation against Blacks if it was know that they were resisters and/or agitators. Hovering over the heads of Black America has always been a “cloud” of intimidation and the fear of a real enemy.
I use the term enemy because how else can you explain the treatment that Black people have received from White people in America? The Webster definition for “enemy” is: a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another (fact); an adversary or opponent (fact); an armed foe (fact); a hostile nation or state (fact); or persons, nations, etc., that are hostile to one another (fact). White supremacy, by its very nature, is an enemy to Black people. The actions of White people that hold the mindset, or even a portion of the mindset have contributed to the long-term oppression of Black people in this country.
Starting in the early 1600’s with the massive kidnapping of Black people from Africa; then the torturous “transatlantic” passage; and ultimately the enslavement (chattel slavery) of millions of Black people that would last for the next 350 years, the American Institution of Slavery and its lethal “legacy” continue to wreak havoc on the Black community. Millions of our Black people were forced and/or born into slavery with no way out (millions of Black people died in slavery). Slavery in America was by far the worst and most prolonged barbaric treatment of human beings in modern history, and even today, the legacy of slavery is nearly as powerful.
Prior to emancipation, the Black community had one common agenda – to be freed from chattel slavery. After emancipation, things got a little more complicated because the Black community was literally thrust into the competitive environment of America having little knowledge and resources. However; being free was enough motivation and the Black community began to make some social strides (i.e. cultural, education, small business, politics, etc.) and being woefully weakened by slavery sought its own liberation that’s when the enemy of the Black man resurfaced again not as a slave-owner, but as members of the KKK and/or the landlords of legal segregation.
The different levels of success and achievement created different ideologies as to what was the best way to achieve Black liberation. But, it was still clear that the enemy of the liberation of Black people in America was the same enemy that has been our enemy since being forcibly kidnapped from Africa and sentence to a life of slavery that lasted nearly 300 years; it’s called White Supremacy and the general belief that Black people are genetically inferior and should never be considered as American Citizens.
Dr. King called his work in two phases. He stated that civil rights was phase I – struggle to end legal discrimination and segregation and all of the humiliation surrounding discrimination, a struggle for decency and a struggle to get rid of extreme behavior against the Black community. The second phase was economic rights. Economic rights was about seeking genuine equality, where we’re dealing with hard economic issues.
It means that the job is much harder; it didn’t cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters; it didn’t cost the nation one penny to guarantee the right to vote – now we are dealing without the nation spending billions of dollars and undergoing the radical redistribution of wealth. The redistribution of wealth is about uniting around an economic agenda.
It’s still unclear to me why our community was the recipient of so much pain and hurt in America, and there has been so much damage done to our people – the damage is cumulative. Even after the emancipation of Black people in 1863, White supremacy took an even more lethal and terroristic attack against Black people which became the foundation for both the Black Power and the Civil Right Movements. The Black Power movement grew out of the Civil Rights Movement that had steadily gained momentum through the 1950s and 1960s. The movement was hailed by some as a positive and proactive force aimed at helping blacks achieve full equality with whites, but it was reviled by others as a militant, sometimes violent faction whose primary goal was to drive a wedge between whites and blacks.
While the Civil Rights legislation was an earnest and effective first step toward eliminating inequality between Blacks and Whites, it was just the beginning and not the end. The Civil Rights legislation wasn’t reparations – there was no actual compensation given to our community for the damage that was done to us. We can’t let the White supremacist off the hook by accepting civil rights as our compensation – allowing the Black man in America civil rights was the just the right thing to do (we’re not animals, we’re human beings) and as Dr. King stated, civil rights for Black people didn’t cost America one red cent.
We must always remember that the entire Black community continues to carry the scars of White supremacy, and not just the psychological scars of the past but the current structural and institutional racism that exist because our community, in spite of our best efforts and all of the external challenges, can’t compete economically. While the White racist were torturing us during slavery, they were still physically holding us back for participating in the economic race. Imagine if the Black community had never been enslaved and was able to grow in America like the White community without fear of terror – the Black community would own America and not the other way around. We must always keep things in perspective in that the Civil Rights legislation came on the heels of nearly 400 years of pain and suffering while White America had amassed enormous wealth on the backs on our ancestors.
There are so many challenges in depending on the achievement of the Civil Rights legislation. Not only would it take time (10-20 years) for the legislation to take full effect throughout the country with the adoption of a new culture a new environment for the Black community, the Civil Rights legislation just wasn’t enough. In fact, what we needed with civil rights was a massive infusion of capital. In fact, the enemies of our community went to work to undermine and weakened the Civil Rights legislation even before the ink had dried. Why? Because this is how it’s done in America. Every gain in America is a fight. There are winners and losers, and just because what you win you consider as the morally the right thing to do, the loser began immediately to defeat you. And the White supremacist (the enemy of the Black man), who has all of American infrastructure at their disposal regrouped and begin to develop strategies to neutralize Civil Rights legislation and maintain their oppression of our people.
The legal challenge for civil rights is not the only fight that the Black community faces – if that was the case, we would’ve made much more progress. Every aspect of American life is a battle when it comes to the Black community – we have to fight on so many fronts. When you just think about it soberly, it makes all the sense in the world (we’re playing a tremendous catch up). Like all other institutions, American institutions want to protect themselves and the status quo. It’s almost like we’ve been asleep for 400 years and when we finally woke up, everything has been cooked (done). Now we want to have full participation, but those who have been in control (Whites) want to keep things the way things have been and those who just woke up (Blacks) want everything to be adjusted.
This is complicated by the fact that those that woke up from the sleep (Blacks) didn’t sleep voluntarily they were force to sleep by those that are in control today (White racist) and refuse to even acknowledge any contribution to the sleep. The Black experience in America is now like David and Goliath with the Black community at a total disadvantage (group maturity) and up against a nearly insurmountable infrastructure including all of American systems; American IQ and know how; financial and institutional resources; and seats of power. Unfortunately, and not knowing (group maturity), when one door is finally opened, several other doors are being closed and the problem is that we don’t even know that the doors had closed until we try to walk through them.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “just when we learn the rules of the game, they change the rules.” This is the plight of the Black community in America. This can be seen with each and every American Institution. Sure, they adopted the Civil Rights legislation so they could withstand the “legal” charge of racial discrimination, so they changed the rules that would have the same or even worse negative impact and outcome of racial discrimination – supposedly race neutral policies have race based consequences. When you control the systems and institutions, it easy for you to just change the rules and that’s just what was done.
Guided by civil rights and liberal leadership, we have been chasing social equity in this country when the real race that we should have been chasing “economic equity.” In fact, one can’t have social equity in America without economic equity. At the end of the day, no matter how you slice it, it is the economic benefits that America refuses to share with Blacks – in fact, they won’t even acknowledge the role that Black people played in helping America become the rich superpower today. America owes a real economic debt to the Black community that it has refused to pay. To make matters worse, America via its political, financial, educational, and other systems have made Black people, who are the victim, as the culprit. In spite of their overwhelming advantage, unfortunately it’s on the Black community to defeat its enemy (White supremacist).
A. Phillip Randolph stated: “At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything, and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.” Restated, “Nobody is going to give us anything – we must take it; we must organize ourselves.”