Message to the Community
with Rahim Islam
Brothers and sisters, we will never be able to hold America accountable for the unbelievable wrongs that they have done to our ancestors and what the current American institutions are currently doing to Black people. These injustices are orchestrated through a system of policies and standards that absolutely restrict and inhibit our full participation to live out the American Dream. This phenomenon, while masked, is intentional and works perfectly because America has disconnected us from our history and our past so as to negate White America’s nearly insurmountable advantage achieved through the enslavement of our Black people. For more than 300 years of slavery and nearly 100 years of overt racial discrimination via Jim Crow, our people have endured structural and institutional racism and discrimination.
Where you start matters, especially in the economic race. Given that we live in a capitalistic society where money rules, we must never forget this fact so as to continue to fight for reparations. America owes a significant debt to Black people and this could represent nearly $20 trillion (represented by the current wealth gap). Nearly all 80 percent of the nation’s $110 Trillion is inherited and literally no Black people inherited capital after slavery and since only a very few have amassed capital. This is the real fight – the fight for capital. In addition to the real disadvantage that this presents, the structural discrimination exacerbates our problems to the tenth power and makes “moving the needle” extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Why are we in such a state of despair? Because we have allowed the undermining of every Black self-determination movement in America, including the great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. King has been relegated to a pacifist but nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. King was a giant freedom fighter for the Black community. Dr. King was about securing economic freedom for the Black community which is an absolute requirement for self-determination. Dr. King criticized those who thought the pathway to our success could only involve obtaining political office or limited integration. King was very clear that our self-determination must include access to capital, and that the fight was equally about economic power as it was about political and civil power. In fact, Dr. King’s final speech involved orchestrating an economic boycott against Coca-Cola and Wonder Bread “redistributing the pain” (redistribute the economic pain).
Those who undermined the “sting” and “attention” needed to carry the social and economic movement for our people were not just White people, but included many Black conspirators. Those who choose one road and one road only were the culprits; those who advocate integration over economic segregation were the culprits; those who believes that one day these people would wake up and “give” Black were the culprits; and those who worked as spies and agents and orchestrated acts of violence that help sway Blacks from leveraging the anger and unrest of the 60s were the culprits. Most of the individuals who did the undermining lacked Black consciousness and acted out of ignorance. However, there were a few who would do anything they could to please their White masters. After all, some Black people executed unspeakable atrocities on their own. My prayer is that those individuals who knowingly sold out or inflicted these atrocities upon their own people be relegated to a special place in Hades.
In addition to the undermining and changing of the narrative of our freedom fighters, we have allowed the media, education institutions, and now public opinion to promote and advocate the “false” perception that America has successfully eradicated racism. Because this false narrative has been so carefully crafted and marketed, both White and Black generations to come will conclude that Blacks are the cause of their devastation. This false narrative of blaming the victim is the most lethal form of White supremacy and Black inferiority. Think about it. If we erase or revise our history to believe that everything is equal and there is an “even” playing field, how do we account for the carnage in the Black community? One must deduce that if the Black group isn’t advancing in this free market, they must bear the blame and, in effect, they are inferior, never taking into account capital disadvantage, the deplorable education struggle that continues today, and the latest, newest and most diabolical trick to silence Black people – the mass incarceration of Black men.
While there is a discussion on the impact of the mass incarceration of Black men, this discussion takes place in the most condescending way imaginable. Specifically, this topic is spoken as a matter of fact and that is just the way it is without describing the massive “human rights” violations that it presents to the whole notion that Black lives matter. The mass incarceration of Black men is modern day slavery in that the impact is just as lethal and will have long-term consequences that if not addressed now. If we don’t address it, the issue will cement its distressing impact on the Black community. America has, by far, the largest imprisoned population in the world. Regardless of how the metrics we use to examine incarceration in America, the rate of incarceration is number one (i.e. per capita, actual number, etc.). America has the dubious distinction of being the world’s number one human rights violator with the incarceration of the Black minority. This type of human rights violation has not been seen in the 6,000 years of the world’s documented history.
Black men, who are targeted by America, represent approximately 4 percent of the nation’s population but make up nearly 55 percent of the prison population. These percentages are equivalent to the numbers of fatalities that result from the world’s most devastating earthquakes. The mass incarceration helps to support and sustain a climate and culture within law enforcement, courts, and the penal systems that absolutely devalues Black life. The portrayal of Black men as animals and criminals fuels the racist justification for an oppressive criminal justice system, with the word justice an oxymoron. Notably, when we consider that the majority of imprisoned Black men are not violent offenders but trapped in an unequal and unfair system involving drugs offenses, we shudder at the profound injustices inflicted upon Black men.
America must be held accountable for the hypocrisy that it promotes daily with its sale of democracy abroad when it violates and interrupts the growth of millions of Black people daily at home. How is it that the great and powerful America has become the world’s moral police? Under the cloak of advancing democracy, America picks and chooses what it considers human rights violations and will seek to intervene when there is an economic benefit that will feed its international and global corporations as “security interests.” Who will police America? How a country treats its minorities is a measure to determine the “value” of a country, and by all accounts America has always demonstrated that Black lives don’t matter.
We can’t say that Black lives matter today and not take into account the absolute regard for the lives of our ancestors. We must say that Black lives matter now and in the past even though we know that as evidenced by our history in this country. For nearly 400 years Black lives absolutely didn’t matter in this country. So how do we make Black Lives Matter? We acknowledge that our lives matter by taking on the mantle of defending and honoring our ancestors and by actively improving the way we live for our children and ourselves. There is no statue, memorial, or grave for the tens of millions of Blacks that lived and died as slaves; there is no cultural ritual, no holiday in remembrance, nothing that speaks to this group as victims, so our job is to defend our ancestors. In defending them, we are legitimizing that all Black lives matter then, now, and in the future.
If Black lives are to matter today and in the future, we must honor and defend our ancestors; we must avenge our ancestors by fighting for payment (reparations). We must fight for their human dignity and the restoration of their honor that so many lived and died in the most horrible of fashion. We will never be respected until we start our fight by going back; we can’t move forward until we go back. Black people benefit from this approach. America is in denial and this chapter represents an open wound that is cloaked in selective amnesia and disguised as racial progress. America will never achieve its full greatness until the issues of the Black community are dealt with in a just manner. Not only must America acknowledge its complete role in the tragedy of slavery, but it must also own up to the multiple ways in which it continues to benefit and procure wealth, i.e., the legacy of slavery and White supremacy. The residual issues of slavery and White supremacy are too complex to resolve in one generation. To start, America must address these three critical issues: the mass incarceration of Black men, the failed public education system, and the alarmingly high rate of Black male unemployment.
Our problem today, especially with many of our young people who are at the core of the Black Lives Matter struggle is that they don’t really know the enemy that they are fighting. Many of our youth think they understand the magnitude of the situation we are in but they really don’t, and it is practical to understand that they wouldn’t. Some of our young activists believe that our elders had it easier than they have and because of this they should have done more. The truth of the matter is that each generation of Black people had its own unique set of challenges. This generation of young people have had to endure the constant de-feminization of our women where our women are encouraged to be tough and hard and the emasculation of our men where our men are unable to truly provide and protect our women.
In addition to the structural issues that our parents faced, ill-conceived and malignant public policies actually divided our families and created competition between our mothers and our fathers, or women and our men. Sadly, this negative competition further emasculated, humiliated and left many of our men feeling less than or hopeless. I’m not making any excuses, but we must come to know how these acts have undermined our families and compromised the very essence of Black adulthood. The consequences are seen in the high levels of drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and single parent households.
To my strong Black activists, I want you to tell me when the Black man has ever had it good in America? The answer is never, and while some periods were obviously worse than others, each period and generation has had its challenge. I know our young people who are full of energy think that the elders have not fought hard enough and haven’t taken an “in your face” approach. In this regard, our young people are right, but it wasn’t because our elders didn’t care. Simply put, the strategy was different because of the context of the times. Many of our elders were hoodwinked into participating in a strategy that undermined the struggle. Specifically, the strategy of “integration” decimated and dissolved our already existing weak economic base. Could the elders have done more? The answer is absolutely, but now we need the youth to use the wisdom and the lessons learned from our elders. We need the youth to activate this historical information as a guide to avoid significant land mines that may defeat their activism.
We have forgotten our history and the consequences that accompany our forgetting can be seen in the lack of “collective” Black progress. The demographics coupled with the rash of documented police killings of unarmed Black men are appalling. We scream out “Black Lives Matter” not really understanding that this has been our history in this country. What makes it a little different today is the technology known as video. Today, we hear the cry of “Black Lives Matter” all across the country. While I truly understand why this is happening, I also know that those who seek to harm us are smirking at our constant plea for acceptance. Unfortunately, those who we seek to feel our pain of oppression in the country will never feel it no matter how much we beg, plea, and or try to reason with them. My argument is that if hasn’t happened in nearly 500 years, what makes us believe that it will happen now? To America, Black lives have never mattered.
The plea of Black lives matter is, I believe, a plea to stop the oppression of Black people, not just the killing of unharmed Black men but to stop all the oppression that our young people see and feel every day (i.e. no jobs and no careers, deplorable schools and neighborhoods, Black on Black crime, etc.). Black Lives Matter seeks to achieve equal rights and opportunity like all other Americans. What the movement really seeks is Freedom, Justice and Equality. This is the struggle that Blacks have waged since we were captured and forcibly put into slavery. So I’m thankful that Black Lives Matter movement erupted although I’m not thrilled with the context. Nonetheless, it is absolutely imperative that the movement is rekindled.
Unfortunately, Black lives will never matter, nor will the movement be successful, until as a collective, we begin to organize around this principle. Not only does this stance require an “action” but it will also require that Black people begin to hold ourselves accountable. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t hold America accountable if we are unable or unwilling to hold ourselves accountable. We are can’t be unable or unwilling to do things that are within our control. None are more important than working together to fight the enemies that engulf the Black community. In a democracy like America, Black lives will never matter until Black votes matter. Voting is absolutely essential to our survival. Why do you think that having the right to vote was such a significant fight in a country that espouses democracy? Because getting the right to vote in a democracy placed Black people on the trajectory towards some level of equality although not full equality. I say not “full” equality because that won’t happen without additional struggle and the coordination of several activities coupled with functional unity and activism which includes a strong “political” and “economic” strategy.
Given the many sacrifices that were made by our ancestors who fought and sacrificed their lives for the right to vote, our current voting record is deplorable with the exception of Barack Obama 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Given that racism and discrimination have been buried within America’s institutions our political needs are greater now than they have ever been. Far too many young people claim that they have nothing to do with politics. We take for granted our “so-called” freedoms. Freedom isn’t free. It costs and the cost is the participation in the democratic process. To secure freedom we must also participate in politics. No one is exempt and everything is governed by politics including our freedom.
How much taxes we pay or don’t pay; what we can and can’t do when we die; who goes to war and who stays home; what and where we can build; where we can congregate and for how long; how clear our air, waters, and environment will be or not be; what we are allowed to buy and from whom; the size of our social security payments, food stamps, and welfare benefits; how we take care or don’t take of our most vulnerable citizens; management and oversight of health care, financial, education, and all other institutions; and how we are to be treated by police and what is acceptable due process are all governed by politics.
The movement that will validate that Black lives matter is both internal (change behaviors) and external (hold America and its institutions accountable). The behaviors that we must change require that we work smarter and closer together. We must break the cycle of disunity and disconnection. We need everyone working together; we need different sectors working with other sectors; we need a comprehensive approach as anything less will not work. We must change the behavior to unity versus disunity. We can’t afford to pit our youth against our elders, our women against our men, and our rich against our poor.
The behaviors that we must change include being proactive versus reactive. Our community is great at responding to a White cop killing of an unarmed Black man but is unable to do anything about the thousands of Blacks killing Blacks. We must spend our time being “for” something versus being “against” something. We must rally, march and protest for those things that we are for (i.e. education) and not just against police brutality; we must build our communities versus tearing them down. We need to take pride in our neighborhoods by creating brotherhoods and sisterhoods versus killing and invoking horrible name calling on each other, and we must change the behavior that activism alone will correct our issues. We need to couple political and business strategies with our activism.
The movement is a long-term proposition, and the issues that affect the Black community will not dissolve overnight. The Black community must come to understand that we will not change immediately what has taken hundreds of years to institutionalize. It is going to take generation after generation to make a dent on our issues, and we can’t keep starting over like we have been prone to do. The movement is a marathon and not a sprint and will require a major behavior and paradigm change. Our community is excellent when it comes to the short term (100 yard dash) meaning that we have very little staying power. We can muster up some opposition but not for too long (our opposition will just wait us out). We can march and rally but what happens afterwards? Real change will happen when we combine our activism with both political and legal measures (i.e. lawsuits).
It’s time for us to “put up” or “shut up.” I’ve listened to every revolutionary speech and most ring hollow when it comes to more than just activism. There is no plan except to “act up.” When it’s all said and done, this isn’t about some emotional acknowledgement of Black lives matter, but a transfer of resources. Summarily, if Black people are to benefit from these resources outside of entitlements (i.e. welfare, etc.), we will need to engage the business community. In addition, we will need to challenge each sector through the court system to get the results that we demand. We will also need to amend, abolish or create new laws to support our agenda. It is the combination of these actions, strategies and activism that will create real and sustained change.
To that end, I and a few others have begun the process of doing something about Black Lives Matter by developing political tools that will help us deliver on Black Votes Matter – our power, our future. On November 17, we will launch this comprehensive effort which also include the Milwaukee Community of Leaders (MCOL) which will focus on aggregating our community’s capacity and developing the agenda for the Black community. MCOL will present this agenda to every elected official and will seek to get them to support our agenda which we will hold them accountable to do. Because we are so out-manned, out-resourced, and in many cases out-smarted, we must organize or we perish. Our progress will only come through organization.
“There are no reserve seats at the table of life; you get what you can take; you keep what you can hold and you can’t take or hold anything without organization,” A. Phillip Randolph.