Do you have anything to say about what’s going on in town, or across America? What are your personal priorities and how do you put voice to them? It’s a good question that we all have to ask ourselves from time to time: “Who speaks for me?”
A poll, commissioned by BET Founder Robert L. Johnson asked: “Who speaks for you?” The response: 40% of African Americans surveyed said: “No one”; 24% said, the National Action Network President and MSNBC host Al Sharpton; 11% said Jesse Jackson; eight percent said NAACP President Ben Jealous; and two percent said Marc Morial of the National Urban League.
Hillary Clinton (87%) was rated more favorably than the NAACP (83%), the National Urban League (69%), and the Congressional Black Caucus (68%).
Here is a list of problems we say are facing African Americans and need attention:
1) The lingering effects of slavery and racism continue to confound African Americans in all phases of their lives. A biased and institutional system of discrimination continues to exist, that no one, neither Black nor White, will admit.
2) The lack of equal economic opportunity. The ‘last hired, first fired’ truism still applies for Blacks in America. In daily American conversations, everyone accepts double-digit Black unemployment rates as “normal.”
3) Breakdown of the family. Seventy percent of Black children are born to unwed mothers. This is a persistent problem and the welfare aid associated with it reduces the value of Black men.
4) The high incarceration rate of Black men. Agitation, protest activity, and legislation is needed toward healing incarcerated addicts, or in our communities, decriminalizing some drugs and reducing jail time served will return millions of Blacks to their families.
5) Low expectations of political parties and elected officials. Black leaders and liberal academics do not criticize President Obama for ‘mediocre’ outreach and/or attention to Black problems. Nor, define ‘what they want’ in their leadership.
6) Failure of urban K-12 schools. Teachers, unions and the education establishment have been more interested in salary increases and grants than student achievement, testing, and competition from private schools. The failure of urban schools is not attributable to a lack of government funding.
7) Building economic development centers in inner-city areas that have high minority populations.
8) Focused government efforts on unemployment of Black youth, particularly in high crime urban centers.
9) College loan and grant assistance for those in college, in addition, loan forgiveness or aid for those that complete college.
10) A highly focused look at the war on drugs, and the unfair application of crack cocaine sentencing disparities.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently, race matters. As you go about daily life, take this truism from Frederick Douglass with you: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” With a Black man in the White House, the majority of African Americans have lost the art of protest, dissention, and promoting a ‘grievance agenda.’
The ‘race question’ is downplayed by Blacks who gave 96% of their votes to President Obama without any reservations. Blacks are at the lowest rung of American economics, yet what they get, or want, in return for their support of Obama is in question. Most Blacks benignly accept Obama’s indifference to them as ‘the price we have to pay’ to have a Black in the White House. But Brother Barack tends to avoid Blacks. If you’ve been keeping count, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has been spending more time with Blacks than President Obama.
Obama should do more for Black people—not because he is Black, but because Black people are the citizens suffering most. Black people have every right to make demands—not because they’re Black but because they gave him a greater percentage of their votes than any other group, and he owes his presidency to them. Like any president, he should be constantly pressured to put the issue of racial injustice front and center.
Obama’s practices and policies hardly represent the views, or needs, of African Americans, but politics forces them to continue to accept the status quo of an institutional system of racism.
(William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the <Bailey Group.org>.)