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)
I believe that you can’t have a conversation about America’s Independence without having a conversation about the Black man’s independence in America because American history and Black history are totally intertwined. I’ve always believed that Black History is American History because Black History predominantly speaks to what white people did to Black people during all aspects of the birth and development of America. It shows how Black people struggled under severe oppression to win their freedom and continue to fight for full citizenship, f and independence which still eludes the Black community today.
Let’s be clear, there have been tens of millions of Africans that were physically and brutally kidnapped and forced into slavery under the most inhumane and atrocious conditions lasting several centuries. It was a sentence that affected not only them, but their offspring as well (legacy of slavery). It is impossible to tell the American story without telling the story of Black Americans. In addition, not only should Black people’s contributions be documented, archived, and celebrated, but the children of those enslaved are due a real and tangible reparation that should be reflected of this great contribution that our ancestors made without a single penny of compensation – the lack of this compensation haunts the Black community today.
Because of this history, the Black man in America is a unique group and should be given a unique and special treatment. We neither are Native Americans nor are we immigrants even though our blood has been mixed with every other group. The Black man in America was kidnapped from Africa against his will. We neither were casualties of war nor were we incarcerated and imprisoned for some criminal behavior. Our people were innocent victims of the worst kidnapping in the history of humankind that has had a devastating effects on both the country of Africa and its people. You can’t discuss the state of Black America today without discussing the history of this country.
When the founding fathers were drafting the Declaration of Independence, most of them were avowed racist, and believed that Black people could and should be nothing more than slaves. In fact, most of them owned slaves at the time the document was signed.
Thomas Jefferson, the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence enslaved 175 Black women, men, and children in 1776, and 267 by 1822. He began raping Sally Hemings when she was 14-years-old, and impregnating her seven times. In his notes on Virginia, Jefferson makes inflammatory and derogatory remarks against Blacks. He makes no mention of the rights of Blacks in the Declaration of Independence, and he did all he could to circumvent the law to continue his ownership of Black people in so-called “free” states.
It’s easy for us to want to romanticize our past and keep things simple without controversy. It’s used as a way to convey the narrative that America wants to advance, “America is the greatest democracy on earth.” From one perspective the Founding Fathers were heroes, but to the millions of Black victims, the Founding Fathers were no different than other White racist that committed crimes against Black people. They are not only unparalleled in modern history, but the legacy of these crimes continues to impede the independence of the Black community today.
By every standard, the Declaration of Independence was not only a great document, but was also a great part of history. But, the whole story must be told, and understood, especially when it comes to the Black man in America. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This was an obvious misrepresentation especially when it came to the Indian Nation, women, and Black people. America is the greatest democracy in the world and what makes it greats is the founding documents and the American democratic systems that keep this country going and none is more key than the economic and political systems both of these systems today reflect massive structural deficits that continues to handicap the Black community.
The Black community continues to fight against oppression on so many fronts in America, but many of our Black leaders don’t know where the oppression is coming from. Our leaders are perplexed by identifying the enemy.
The enemy to the Black man lies within the entire American society, which has been built without having any meaningful participation afforded to Black people. Because the American system was founded, established and built leaving out a key and important fact (the enslavement of millions of Black people) – America continues to have no answer for this most egregious oversight. Over the past 240 years, America’s institutions have matured and cemented without ever addressing the inadequacies and outright discrimination against a whole group of people whose sweat, labor and blood lay at the foundation for America’s so-called greatness.
In America, the political and economic system works together, and you can’t have one without the other. This can be seen in the most basic way in that the laws of America allowed White Capitalist to enslave Black people (slavery was legal). Today, both of these systems have grown to astronomical proportions and the Black community doesn’t have the capacity to defend itself nor to shape its outcome. Today’s subpar outcomes are now the status quo. The Black community will never be able to hold America accountable for the unbelievable wrongs that they have done to our ancestors. They will never be able to question what the current American institutions are currently doing to Black people though an orchestrated system of policies and standards that absolutely restrict and/ or inhibit our full participation to live out the American Dream (structural and institutional racism and discrimination) without having a political and economic solution.
American Political System – In writing about the American Political System, I’ve discovered, at best, the Black community political efforts lay at the fringes of the political process – for the most part. The Black community’s biggest participation is the vote, which the Black community had to fight for nearly 100 years after emancipation for the right to do. It took laws to correct this major indiscretion but the American Political Institution was already a goliath. While voting is a key mainstay of the America political system, the political system is much more than voting, it’s about Interest (agenda). To win in the American Political system, the Black community must fight at a number of levels including dealing with exiting challenges:
• What is the Black Agenda – Everything is driven by your agenda, and if your agenda isn’t clear, it can’t be leveraged (i.e. voting rights; education, affirmative action; civil rights; health care; class action suits; death penalty; mandatory sentencing; etc.). Our number one, two, and three agenda should be and must be economic, which is at the core of the Black dilemma in America – no matter what you do or where you do it, in America economics will define how far you can go and the Black communities never rectifies the economic disadvantage that they inherited. The Black community will be in an unending “invisible” fight in America. If we want relief; if we want freedom; if we want justice; if we want equality; and if we want independence, we will have to earn it through a democratic system that is just waiting for us, if we only would act with a higher degree of purpose and political understanding.
• Existing laws and activities that suppresses the Black vote – if nothing is done quickly, there are more than 30 states that have republican control, and are looking to further pass laws that could handicap the Black vote. The impact can be seen with Trump winning the Presidency by less than 100,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In Detroit, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, the Black vote was more than 10% less than 2012 and higher than 2008. Ever since Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision allowing unlimited corporate and union spending on political issues, Blacks and other impoverish groups are severely impacted – the playing field was already lopsided and now is permanently skewed.
• Supreme Court – With the political continuum pumped primed to produce even worst political outcomes for Black people, the conservative shift of the U.S. Supreme Court will make permanent outcomes for the next 50-75 years. And those Republicans that hated Donald Trump and everything he represented, voted for him to do what he just completed in the appointment and “gangster like” Senate Approval of Judge Neil Gorsuch. This doesn’t even began to look at the U.S. Court appointments across the country and the total control of the Department of Justice and the FBI. The final authority for all of our disputes will reside with the US Supreme Court and the question remains what will be the ideology makeup of the court and how they will rule.
• Electoral College – There is a built in biased that continues to minimize and suppress the impact of the Black voter nationally because the majority of Americans live in urban American and the Black community has approximately 75% of its population living in urban American. This can be seen in the several presidential races won by the electoral vote but not the popular vote – majority rule doesn’t apply to the election of the president of the United States. This is a big-time and high-level fight that our community might not be ready for but until it’s corrected, we will continue to have outcomes like the current.
• U.S. Senate – All states have two U.S. Senators and this too minimizes and suppresses the impact of the Black voter because states like California with nearly 40 million residents have 2 US Senators the same as North Dakota with approximately 700,000 residents.
• Gerrymandering – The state’s gerrymandering acts have limited the progress of Blacks in the States that they have the physical numbers but the redistricting keeps republicans in control of the legislature for many of these states and also the U.S Congressional by lumping the majority of Blacks in “Black” districts.
• Mass Incarceration of Black Men – with nearly 1.5 million Black men in prison and tens of thousands more that are unable to vote because of the voting laws governing felons, under normal circumstances, the Black community would be much stronger politically than it is. Imagine what can be done if the Black community had normal percentages in the prison system, it would produce 1-2 million new voters annually.
• Generational Gap – More and more young people (millennials) have given up on the whole voting process because they see no relevance to the political process and the outcomes that they see day-to-day (i.e. Black Lives Matter, etc.). What we are also seeing is the manifestation of this generation of Black people that are materially disconnected from our history and understanding of the Black struggle and in many cases have identified with a culture that is self-destructing. Voter education and Black history must be restore so that our young people can pick up the political fight and not abandon it.
• Existing Black Politicians – Most Black politicians practice politics like the previous White predecessor not realizing that the Black communities voting for them, so that they could look out for them. Every individual politician have political limitations that are too many to discuss – their power lies in their ability to caucus. In the city and states that I’ve studied, the Black elected officials are the most disorganized and dis-unified group in politics. Their caucus are just in the name only and they have yet to recognized and/or utilize their power to represent global Black issues nor have them been able to commit any significant time in consolidating their power base and political influence.
The chief driver for the political process is the public opinion and how the opinions are formed or shaped. In addition to getting direct responses from their constituents, politicians are driven by polls (public opinion) – therein lies a good portion of the Black communities problem. There is an existing public opinion about Black people and the Black vote, which is defined and contributed by a number of well-funded and intellectually strong and independent organizations which include the following: Political Parties (i.e. democrat, republican, independent, etc.); large universities and the number of organizations that sponsor our house within their university; hundreds of political and economic think tanks; lobbyist and political organizations that work exclusively for the business private sectors of our society that write policy and hold politicians accountable; thousands of Political Action Committees (PAC’s), C-4 Organizations, Pollsters; wealthy individuals, and the media and their political pundits (i.e. print, TV, Cable, Social, Movies, etc.) – all of these groups, organizations and individuals help to shape public opinion and none are exclusively dedicated to the Black community.
While the American Political system seems totally organized, it’s actually decentralized with healthy tensions between cities and counties; cities and states; and states and the federal government. The American Political infrastructure is a massive system which is made up of thousands of institutions that shares equal power amongst the executive, legislature and judicial branches all under the political umbrella of the American government. Laws are passed by city, county and state legislators and signed by those CEO’s (i.e. Mayors, County Executives, and Governors). In addition, each local has a court system that ultimately decides all dispute between all of the participants (public and private) through an organized process of law that if unable to decide can ultimately go to the State Supreme Courts and if one party isn’t satisfied with that outcome can possibly be presented to the United States Supreme Courts (the final authority).
The beauty of our situation is that in spite the overwhelming political disadvantage we face, the Black numbers in America (50 million) are absolutely potent. But, unless we become politically astute, other groups and other interest will continue to sabotage that. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King stated that our power lies in our unity. This is not about giving up, or just magnifying the obvious, or restating the problems – no this is just the opposite.
One of the major issues facing the Black community – there are too many who don’t know the problem and therefore suggest “simple” solutions to problems that are much more complex or think that the gains we see in our minds eye can be achieve in our lifetime – this is ludicrous and absolutely flawed thinking which requires a level of organization and functional leadership that we just don’t have nor have we been able to start. In part of two of this article, I will connect the political system with the economic system.