The State of Black America: Leaders Outline the Problem, but the Solution Is Really Simple

Todd Steven Burroughs | The Root

At what point does lighting the candle instead of cursing the darkness become an example of just plain—and deliberate—political impotence?

A lot has happened since Agent Orange, aka 45, aka President Donald Trump, celebrated his first 100 days by pretending that it was 365 days ago, when he was running for president, and people like this writer were laughing at the absolute absurdity of the idea.

Now that America is in Trump standard time, white liberal people of all stripes have gone out into the streets, screaming as if the situation that America finds itself in were brand-new—as if neither George W. Bush nor Ronald Reagan had not each served two terms as president. (Sadly, too many young people think the world began when they started paying attention.) Those white-left marches used to be impressive until the Occupy movement—until whites crumbled at the first swing of a single policeman’s baton. With apologies to Malcolm X, who would have turned 92 on May 19, today’s protesters are picnicking.

The American white left has a standard reaction when Republicans takes power: They keep their brands going. The white-liberal magazines that white liberals read have more subscribers. MSNBC has chained Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow—staples of its all-white prime time—to their desks, where they have spent evening after evening blowing raspberries at Fox News, the network where every on-air woman is seemingly mandated to show her legs. Michael Moore is now focused on Broadway. There are no John Browns anywhere today.

Meanwhile, without any political magazines or cable news networks to support and feed, black American leadership does what it does best: Speak out in press conferences and release reports. Since Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Hampton showed the bloody price of true leadership, black leadership has perfected this late-20th-century, early-21st-century tactic. The tactic of releasing “state of” reports used to mean something a long time ago: Black people wanted to completely change America, from within and without. But today, there are no Hamptons or Eslanda Robesons anywhere.

But the National Urban League is still here. On Tuesday it released its State of Black America 2017 report, called “Protect Our Progress.” It says that, statistically, blacks are a little more than 70 percent equal to white Americans in categories such as economics, health and education, and it called for the same Urban Marshall Plan it’s been calling for for more than 20 years.

“While the Obama years were no panacea for America’s long-standing racial inequities, they were a steady climb toward improvement, and we are determined to keep moving forward to protect our progress,” according to the league’s report summary.

Drastic change in America, whether political, economic or social, starts on a local level.

A couple of hours before the NUL issued the report, the NAACP had an emergency black-leadership conference six months too late in Washington, D.C., to try to develop a plan of attack or defense or both. (Full disclosure: I have done recent work for the NAACP.)

All of this activity comes after the release of “Black Women in the U.S. 2017: Moving Our Agenda Forward in a Post Obama-Era”, a significant report recently released by the Black Women’s Roundtable, a division of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. The report, which focuses on the South, documents issues such as black women’s health, the problems of black girls and women who are incarcerated, and the plague of human trafficking.

“Although the South is hard hit by adverse public policies, it is also home to some of the most cutting edge, savvy organizing in the country. Black women are leading initiatives that are making a difference in local communities—on school boards, in criminal justice reform, at the statehouse and in their neighborhoods,” the report’s summary reads.

It does have information on how black women are fighting and organizing, but ultimately, the report pushes the black vote as the primary solution. “Alabama is a stunning case in point where key urban communities including Birmingham elected black women to elected office in record numbers in 2016, including five judges,” it adds.

There are no more new ideas because there are no more new situations. See if this national scenario sounds familiar:

If a Democrat is in the White House, black leaders ask for moderate change and get incremental advances, and when a Republican is in it, they ask for major changes that everyone knows won’t be implemented. The next successful Democrat for president campaigns for major changes but, if he or she gets into the Oval Office, implements incremental change. Instead of pushing the Democrat, black leaders stand behind him or her.

If any of this does not make sense, it’s because it’s designed well in a nation with a right-wing party opposing a center party.

People don’t use their imaginations because liberal leaders get funded well by liberals not to use their imaginations.

So how do African Americans make significant change?

The simple solution has always been the same: Take effective local efforts national. Go local and disrupt.

Drastic change in America, whether political, economic or social, starts on a local level. The Black Panther Party was a collection of local groups, just as the NAACP is today. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was just that—a coordinating committee of groups around the South. Jesse Jackson got people jobs and created black (conscious) millionaires in Chicago by getting in the streets. As did Marion Barry in Washington, D.C., but in the suites.

Black history is replete with local struggles now christened as legendary historic sites: Selma, Ala.; Montgomery, Ala.; Birmingham, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; Albany, Ga. Remember: The Freedom Riders’ almost getting killed in Anniston, Ala., put the White House in crisis mode.

The problem is not that black America has top-down leaders. The problem is that these well-funded, well-respected leaders cannot lead black America to its logical conclusion: creating and endorsing strategies and tactics that disrupt America’s business as usual, city by city, until those cities are repaired.

That’s a scary suggestion. It last happened en masse 50 years ago this summer in the form of racial explosions, but these leaders would quickly argue—using Newark, N.J., and Detroit as main examples—that those cities and scores like them never fully recovered. Neither did those parts of Los Angeles 25 years ago this spring, or Baltimore two years ago. In 20th- and 21st-century America, thus far revolution has been a failed strategy, and insurrection a failed tactic, they would vigorously say.

That is undeniably true. But what is also true is that the larger the disruption, the more action taken; the more confrontation, the more disruption; and the more disruption, the more remedies that come in as concessions. Disruptions don’t have to be violent per se, but they are far from painless.

An effective black leadership that wanted major change could put the reports and press conferences to the side and decide when and how to distribute the pain that black and poor America is feeling, the way it used to do. That leadership would become unpopular, as it used to be. It would be viciously attacked—not by fake-news sources, but by established mainstream journalists with undisputed facts. White liberals would show their disappointment with those black leaders by pulling their black-organization ATMs out of their sockets, and the right wing would turn its billion-dollar machine against them.

There are very few people willing to go down that road.

Black America will get a Marshall Plan one day. But it won’t happen because of a press conference or because of some moral suasion delivered in and accepted by the Oval Office. It will happen because of direct action—not because of tweets or online petitions; not because of comedy shows; not because of one-day, white-liberal symbolic rage fests; not because of opinion-journalism pieces like this article; not because of MSNBC appearances; and sure as hell not because of reports.

If black America still can’t see when the candle is lit, then let the flame extinguish and let black communities get out the night goggles. But before they do, perhaps all this paper should be burned first.

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