Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and never will.” I often wonder what Black people do not understand about that statement. We love to quote it, but when it comes to putting it into practice, we fall far short of the spirit of Douglass’ words. Maybe Douglass should have added this caveat: “A demand is nothing without power to back it up.”
In response to incidents of injustice, we are quick to resort to the same old tactics directed by leaders who sell us out. They tell us, as our president told the Congressional Black Caucus a few years ago: “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” and hit the streets chanting and singing in an Seffort to show our discontent.
We gather in churches and listen to fiery speeches.We hold press conferences and show our disdain for the system and its oppressive behavior toward Black people. We offer milquetoast solutions to the worst of crimes against us. For instance, in Ferguson, Mo., Al Sharpton advised us to stop having “ghetto pity parties.” John Lewis called for martial law in Ferguson. I am still trying to figure how he thinks implementing martial law, which has the power to suspend civil rights, is the answer to a problem he and others consider to be a suppression of civil rights. Other iconic leaders say the problems in Ferguson can be solved simply by “voting.”
Tepid solutions offered by our “leaders” do absolutely nothing to change our situation, because there is no power behind them. Demands sound great and make for good photo opportunities and press conferences, but they fall on deaf ears because they have no power backing them up. Thus, the conundrum of so-called Black Power. We know that power concedes nothing without a demand, but a demand not backed by real power gets no concessions.
In their quest to be important, many of our leaders are, as a comedian once said, “Impotent,” which only exacerbates our collective situation and keeps us running like a hamster inside a wheel – going nowhere.
What we hear and see from some of our leaders is shameful and insulting to Black people. Instead of, or even in addition to, putting forth their weak responses to killings on all levels, they should also offer strategies based on economic power. That’s where the issue will be solved, but we are woefully inadequate when it comes to implementing economic sanctions that will bring real change.
Some of the local leaders in Ferguson understand the power of economics and have been promoting solutions thereof, but they had to take a backseat to the fly-in crowd, toward whom the media gravitated. Now that things have calmed down and the opportunists have left Ferguson, the folks who live there, along with continued collaboration with young advocates for economic solutions, can work together.
It is sad to see Black “powerbrokers” strut to the microphones and threaten folks, only to walk away with their proverbial tails between their legs, having received absolutely no concessions from the establishment. Rather than contenders, these folks are pretenders. And rather than powerbrokers, they are really “power-broke.” The conundrum of today’s notion of Black Power resides in false bravado and impotence.
Anheuser Busch (A-B), Radisson, and Nike withdrew or threatened to withdraw their economic support from the NFL. They know exactly where power resides: in dollar bills, y’all. They wielded their power immediately to show their “outrage” about domestic and child abuse.
A-B, domiciled in St. Louis, said, “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” A-B took serious action against child abuse in Adrian Peterson’s case, but did nothing in response to Michael Brown’s abuse that occurred in their back yard. Did that go against their “moral code”?
Apparently Nike was not outraged by Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and John Crawford, being “abused.” Pardon me, but isn’t abuse – no matter the form – still abuse? Pepsi Cola CEO, Indra Nooyi, spoke against the NFL but voiced no indignation about Marlene Pinnock’s abuse on a California highway? Hypocrisy abounds in reactions to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, as with Michael Vick and his abuse of dogs, for heaven’s sake. Dogs! But those company execs and others fail to speak out and use their economic clout to put a stop to the abuse of their Black consumers by police officers because we have no power behind our demands.
Folks with power are not reluctant to use it to punish those who do not operate in their best interests. Black Power has been reduced to calling for and falling for voting rallies and worn out speeches laced with demands not backed up by any real power at all.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people.