Message to the Black Leaders
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)
We have allowed our history and our start in this country to be marginalized and, in many aspects, to be removed from the public discourse. This permission to dismiss our history of oppression and discrimination makes us unable to challenge racism and discrimination, which have become structural and institutional because we have accepted “real” bias; bias in the government; bias in corporate America; bias in quasi-government boards and commissions; bias in education at all levels; bias in science and medicine, etc. Because of the failure on the part of Black leaders to defend Black people and what has and continues to happen, racism is invisible yet more lethal than when Whites wore hoods and vowed never to allow Blacks to be full citizens.
While we don’t have Jim Crow laws, what we do have is James Crow, Esq., his children, who still owns and controls nearly all American life and now has no legitimate concern or reason to share with Blacks especially when Blacks refuse to hold them accountable – why should they? Blacks are unable to hold Whites accountable because they’re unable to hold themselves accountable. If American isn’t getting a heavy dose of accountability from Black people, the historical notion that Blacks are inherently lazy and deserve the outcomes that we have will be cemented and relegate the future Black generations to a permanent underclass in America. Black people must take responsibility – while we had marginal success -that success would look much different today if we had more Black leaders fighting on behalf of Black people instead of replacing White oppressors with African American oppressors who believe the same ideology that Blacks are inferior and Whites are superior.
While we all know that racism exist, when was the last piece of anti-racism legislation adopted in America? Just the opposite has occurred, both racism and discrimination is buried in institutional thinking and climate- and its manifestation can be seen in the racial makeup of the ownership and governance (structural bias). This structural bias is becoming more entrenched and can’t be corrected until more Black leaders see that we are all in this together and our individual success will always be threatened by our inability to achieve group success (functional unity). Nothing should divide Black people, not the aspect of leadership we represent or the viewpoint from which we come (i.e. religious, political, class, education, etc.). The current reality is unacceptable and unjustifiable – we’re in a crisis and at a crossroads that require our immediate and unapologetic response.
I regret to conclude that given the downward spiral of every demographic, our Black leaders seem unwilling or unable to mount a collective defense or offense. When nothing is being done, we not only fail our ancestors, we also support the misrepresentation of Black inferiority (where else should we look for hope). While, I fundamentally believe we should never exonerate America for the damage it has done to our people, we are responsible for our own destiny and self-determination – NO ONE IS GOING TO SAVE BLACK PEOPLE BUT BLACK PEOPLE.
Today, our leaders suffer from an acute level of hopelessness and “group” paralysis. We have Black leaders that are afraid to make “hard” and/or “smart” decisions that could positively impact the Black community. This paralysis emanates from systemic psychological slavery where these leaders refuse to threaten and/or anger their base or special interest groups. Sadly, these leaders adopt “easy” and somewhat uninformed decisions that either prolongs the problem or that don’t/ won’t empower the Black community. At the same time, we have our most economically mobile not championing Black independence and in many cases these individuals support and advance disparaging ideas and racist stereotypes about Black people (i.e. violent, lazy, criminal, looking for handouts, etc.).
Despite the complexity and despair of these issues that contribute to our sense of despondence, hope resides in our ability to unite our leadership – “functional’ unity. It is this “functional unity” that is necessary to change the trajectory of our people. Much of our hopelessness and disunity is inherited and we must do all we can to break the cycle. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King stated that our power lies in our unity and our leaders must lead by example. Those that consider themselves leaders must come together and create a “table” where we can begin to discuss these issues. Regardless of the position or view that we have; if Black- we have an obligation to fulfill our purpose as a representative of an oppressed group while we hold office in Pharaoh’s government. We have no excuses. Our inability to unite places the Black community in a very vulnerable position in what I describe as a “perfect” storm.
The “perfect” storm is when several horrendous things begin to happen and/or culminate over the next 15 – 25 years. In addition to the roiling back of all gains achieved by Black people in the 60s, the deficit of effort to restore and/or establish new gains; and the lack of America’s accountability to many of the social-economic conditions that Black face today – the general opinion is that White privilege does not exist and America has a contrived race issue. Many ill-informed pundits argue that we now live in a post-racial society (racism has been defeated); while massive wealth disparities exist between Blacks and Whites as Whites maintain a near absolute control over the American economy and its institutions. Additionally, the Black school to prison pipeline which represents the world’s most egregious human rights violation of our time has literally decimated the Black family, community and has significantly crippled our ability to mount any real defense.
When we examine the continuum of every statistical social-economic area we will find that the negative numbers that impact the Black community today will only worsen over the next 15 – 25 years.
The pump is primed- we won’t nor can we improve ourselves without serious interruption.
Finally, the Black community will lose a population of elders that represent the final group of Black pioneers that were young adults and/ or adults during the last campaign of “open” racism in America – this group has a personal experience of the “sting” of American racism-they have lived it.
This group of Black elders is represented by anyone who was born before 1935, which means that they were young adults prior to integration. Why is this important?
This group represents the last known group of Black victims of overt racism and discrimination. Our entire present day generation stand on the legacy of their struggles as they carry the institutional knowledge and memories that are the foundation for all aspects of the existing fight for freedom, justice and equality for Black people in America.
One of the major reasons why White America has disclaimed reparations for their role in American slavery and many articulate that no reparations are due is because they say no “slaves” are living today.
However, we do have the children and grandchildren of those who were enslaved and who lived under the reign of terror of Jim Crow, i.e. American Apartheid, post emancipation.
This group also, in many ways were “duped” and “hoodwinked” into believing that under certain circumstances (i.e. integration), America would treat Blacks as full citizens – the current facts repute this assertion. In addition, this group truly understands the adversaries of Black people and understand how these opponents created a culture and climate to undermine and destroy Black unity, while supporting Black individualism, and contributing to Black tribalism.
We must break this cycle of disunity to unite and defend our people.
In the next part of this article, I will elaborate more on what we need to do to effectively break the cycle of Black disunity.