Saturday, April 12, 2008

"What's wrong with Black people?"

Last night, I watched the MSNBC special "Meeting David Wilson". During the special, they aired a segment of David Wilson's film where he asked people to answer the question "What's wrong with Black People?"
Those of you who have attended forums with me know that I have often asked a variant of the same question; "Why have Black people gone crazy?" Without discounting or negating any of the social or institutional factors that share complicity in the genesis of our dysfunction, I believe the question is worthy of our contemplation. My colleagues in academia would certainly argue that the pathologies we see within the Black community are inextricably linked to the institutions of slavery, the black codes, and Jim Crow; the institutionalized philosophies of Willie Lynch, White Supremacy and Dred Scott; and their shared legacy of Black Self Hatred. And while the evidence of such is certainly compelling (to me), I am NOT sure that it truly explains the condition of our culture.
Where I think the argument falls flat is that it does not acknowledge the fact that we survived the horrors of all of the aforementioned attacks with our culture in tact. It was our culture, preserved and passed forward through OUR institutions; the Black Church, Black Organizations, Black Fraternities and Sororities, and our parents and grandparents that allowed us to survive. We were a family oriented people even when the society was selling our family members and actively tearing our families apart. We were a hard working people even when our work wasn't rewarded. We were a dignified people even when we were mocked and ridiculed at every turn. We were committed to learning even when it was illegal to teach Black folks to read. We were a faithful and churchgoing people even when society called us brutes and animals. We were a loving and forgiving people even when we were routinely faced with violence and hatred. We were committed to building a better future for our families and our community even when faced with the immediacy of hardship and despair. And to a degree far greater than we like to admit, we have become a different people.

The Future Outlook League / Cleveland-1938. My Grandfather, John E. Holley is pictured top left and my Great-Uncle John O. Holley (who was also a member of the Cleveland NAACP Executive Committee) is pictured bottom left

Our grandparents and great-grandparents understood that our families, our ethics, our faith, our education, and our dignity could not be subjugated to the wills or whims of society.
When the Nation mistreated us, we didn't respond by mistreating each other... and now, having made it through the darkest of those days, I believe we too often look towards our history of suffering and neglect at the hands of others to rationalize our new-found pathologies. But blaming our past is the path of least resistance. It exonerates us for allowing the diminution of our legacy of cultural resistance to the forces that would redefine us as inferior.
Now, when our children don't learn, we blame the schools. When our children engage in violent and anti-social behavior we blame the society's lack of opportunities and we blame the police for locking them up. When faced with the glaring economic disparities in our neighborhoods and communities, we blame corporations for not opening businesses within our communities, immigrants for opening businesses within our communities, and middle class Black folks for not giving back. When faced with the negative social indicators of crime, drug usage, teen pregnancy and the like, we blame black organizations for not solving the problem. And when questioned about the overall breakdown of the Black family and community, we blame the church. THAT is the big difference between our generation and the generations of our forebears... they didn't concern themselves with who was responsible for getting them into the condition they were in; they each (individually and collectively) took responsibility for getting themselves out of it.
(That's the "what")
We've lost that sense of self-reliance. We have developed a dependence on government and society that is culturally and spiritually destructive. The irony is we did not arrive at this point out of weakness, our current dependency is the unintended consequence of our strength.
~~~~~~ (Now here's the "why")

In a society where we had little real 'power', we developed a powerful and persuasive rhetoric which was designed to influence those in power to act on our behalf. We created a powerful protest method buttressed by the moral clarity gained by several generations of unearned suffering. We spoke, and change happened. We didn't actually 'author' the change, we didn't 'rewrite' the laws, 'appropriate' the funds, 'build' the facilities, or 'remake' the rules... We spoke; and the clarity of our convictions married with the righteousness of our positions motivated those in power to take the practical and necessary steps involved in making change.
We mobilized through marches and protests, but rightly understood, even these are forms of 'speech' and 'expression'. We'd gather, march, preach, demand, and chant, and then... go home. The action steps, (mundane, un-emotional, and tedious) would be handled by others. These methods worked so well for so long that we developed the belief and expectation that they would always work; and that protest was the vehicle that would solve our social ills. So in a sense it could be said that we didn't actually lose our legacy of cultural resistance, more accurately, we simply became convinced that speaking forcefully about change was our only necessary act of Resistance.
Our earlier successes in 'speaking truth to power' have left us saddled with a deficiency. We as a community have lost the appetite for change-making. We are no longer hands-on. We continue on in our tradition of 'speaking' the change, then waiting to see it materialize. It seems that we as a community still believe that if we speak to an forcefully to an issue, the 'righteousness' of our position will magically make a change occur. We believe that things change for the better, simply because we've 'explained' why they should. This is evident even in the development of the Internet as a new weapon of change. Instead of harnessing the power of the medium as an organizing tool, we seem content to use it simply as a virtual megaphone, through which we speak about injustice and hope to inspire others to do the work of change-making.
Righting this ship means re-writing our schedules... If we're going to talk about institutional racism (which we must), let's have the conversation while we're doing a neighborhood clean-up. If we're going to talk about the role of government in creating dysfunction (which we must), let's have that conversation after we've selected, prepared and prepped our own candidate for office. If we're going to talk about what the Church Isn't doing (which we must), then let's have that abstract conversation after discussing some specific projects that we Can work on together. If we're going to talk about the failures of Black organizations (which we must), then let's have that conversation in the membership meeting and in the context of where we would like to volunteer our time and talents. If we're going to talk about the breakdown of the black family (which we must), then let's have that conversation with the group of teens you're mentoring.

Romans 12:1 says I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God. That is your reasonable service...

Indeed. THAT is our necessary calling. We are so much more than we have become. We must regain the faith, foresight and strength of our forbears. We must Do More...

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AAPP April 12, 2008 at 9:36 PM  

Your post is both timely and on point. It's an extremely powerful post that should be considered as a base line document, a driving force if you will for individuals, organizations and institutions who are committed to community-building as a vehicle of black community change. Your comments about Our earlier successes in 'speaking truth to power' have left us saddled with a deficiency.

Your so right, and as you said, We as a community have lost the appetite for change-making.

You wrote, We are no longer hands-on. I will have to say "some are no longer hands-on" I won't say everyone involved in community change are not hands on.

But I must say I totally agree with you that we continue on in our tradition of 'speaking' the change, then waiting to see it materialize."

You write, "It seems that we as a community still believe that if we speak to an forcefully to an issue, the 'righteousness' of our position will magically make a change occur. We believe that things change for the better, simply because we've 'explained' why they should. This is evident even in the development of the Internet as a new weapon of change. Instead of harnessing the power of the medium as an organizing tool, we seem content to use it simply as a virtual megaphone, through which we speak about injustice and hope to inspire others to do the work of change-making."

I also agree.

This is something that we black bloggers should consider as we continue to use this virtual megaphone, (the internet) through which we speak about injustice. We must not just hope to inspire others to do the work of change-making. We must continue our good work and multiply our efforts with community building actions to flip the script to days that people in local communities long for. The days you talked about in your post.

Thank you for this powerful post. I plan to link to it so others will read this post.

Best wishes,


msladydeborah April 13, 2008 at 9:00 AM  


This is one of the most intelligent and passionate statements about our state of reality in America.

I watched Meeting David Wilson. It is a thought provoking documentary. That young man made an extrodinary journey of self-discovery and recognition.

No we are not the same people that we once were. That responsibility for not molding ourselves is on our shoulders and we do not know how to manage the weight of us.

Turning things around means taking an active interest in what is happening. The nation's greatest leaders may never receive fifteen minutes of fame. No one outside of their respective communities may ever know who they are or what they have accomplished. But the improvements that are made will have impact.

Anonymous,  April 13, 2008 at 3:48 PM  

KM, this ia an awesome piece of analysis. I would hope more of us who have been educated begin to use our education for more than doing the corporate and govt reports that have no bearing on our plight and solutions to them.

Rarely do we prove we can articulate our situation in the press. Our best and brightest that work for govt and corp America do not write and submit to newspaper opinion columns, nor do we show our critical thinking skills online, but we do indulge in preparing reports, charts, and other documents and presentations that take immense critical thinking for corporations whom seldom really support Black empowerment. Beyond buying a table at banquets or dishing out a few dollars for scholarships,,, we are played as cheap and insignificant.

The Do4Self mentality is one we need now; and yesterday. We can not be in charge if we strive only to get a job for corp Amerca or a govt job that fills our day with mundane activities. Sure, a paycheck is needed to pay for security, but all the money in the world will not buy it when too many see survival as a necessity. Hence we have high Black on Black crime. There are plenty of grants and contract opportuities to provide the services we say are needed, conduct the programs we think are ideal for our youth, or to conduct the research that can be used to change the mindsets of those in influence or power. But since our best and brightest are given a check to fill 8hrs a day to do the work maintaining a status quo, the pwers that be know we will get little done to turn around the very problems afflicting us as a whole.

As a people we then look to others to 'fix' our problem! What a shame.

Anonymous,  April 13, 2008 at 6:48 PM  

Good post and good question. Blacks are going to have to stop blaming others and come back UP to where we as a people belong.

Thanks for confronting the obvious.

Anonymous,  April 14, 2008 at 7:38 AM  

Great post! Very illuminating observation about expectations of rhetoric in relation to action.

Lola April 14, 2008 at 11:16 PM  

very very good post... i totally agree with you. personal responsibility is something that seems to be talked about very rarely these days. The system has always oppressed black people but yet back in the day, people still got ahead in spite of it.

bygpowis April 15, 2008 at 9:26 AM  

well stated. this needs to be shouted from the mountaintops. i've made similar arguments about the need to continue black folks' legacy of being the moral standard bearers of this nation. america has been bettered for our shouting and rabble-rousing and demands for her to live the truth she preaches. i worry about the next 25 years when the civil rights generation is dying out. who among us will carry the torch when there is such a concerted effort to make us forget the power in our struggle?

these days, i VLOG my thoughts on blackness. it's still writing, but with video. please go to and listen to the ideas. i am frustrated that more bloggers n the AFROSPEAR haven't seen the videos or responded.

you and i are saying the same things. i'm just trying to reach the generation you worry about in a way they can relate to.

if you like this, pass it along to your blogging friends. the main thing is to get at people, right?

MJ April 15, 2008 at 10:55 AM  

Wonderful post. You are so very right - I wish others would see this truth and make a change as well. Bravo. I will be highlighting this on my blog today.

aimhighanderson1908,  April 18, 2008 at 5:10 PM  


I agree with many that this post couldn't be more timely and for no other reason than until "we" get it right while agressively identifying a means of ensuring that "they" get it right, at least with respect to "us", it's a conversation that should NEVER cease.

One would think that after the stripping of our ancestors from their native lands, being stripped of our native tongues, being stripped of our humanity while being forced to strip on auction blocks and for circus shows, that we would cringe at the notion of our young girls and women alike who aspire to strip for a few dollars or who willingly walk around half stripped of their clothing in an effort to be validated as none other than a "bitch" or a "whore."

One would think that after burned bodies, burned churches, burned crosses and crossed picket lines, that we would do more than provide lip service when we experience or witness injustice, even at the hands of our own.

I'm no expert, but the view from my porch is two fold. On one horizon, I see a generation of young people that I serve everyday who were guided or misguided by adults, some unknowingly as they too were misguided, and some intentionally, as they saw a way to directly benefit or profit from the demise of a people, even their own. On the other, I see some from the generation that preceeded mine who believed that sense the wall came tumblimg down, the flood gates had opened, and we no longer had to "wonder" since we had FINALLY "got over" that they didn't have to report for duty as those that had prayed and cried and marched and died did for their generation. Afterall, we had already won "our" collective victory.

While we were busy celebrating the fact that shackles no longer kept us in bondage, that we could read books that today remain untouched on shelves,that we could chose to be educated at the school of our choice but opt to choose none, let alone willingly seek knowledge and insight even in informal capacities. We rejoiced in the fact that we could vote and demand that our voices be heard but today only register half the time and won't show up at the polls the other half.

While we were busy celebrating the fact that we could sit up front on the bus, satisfied with securing the part of more than just the maid or nanny or both on the big screen, or delighted that quotas would ensure that at least a few of us would get a place at the table, despite the fact that many more of us were qualified, we failed to see the shackles, just like the hooded sheets had changed form.
Boarding my plane from DC this Monday returning from the National People's Action conference where a collective of Hope Street Youth gathered with 600 plus from around the country who are "crazy" and "radical" enough to believe that change requires some sort of action and who further saw evidence of the fact that anything you can tolerate will NEVER change. Young and old alike worked to identify ways to be active agents of change becuase they are smart enough to know that quality schools, a safe place to learn and student accountability aren't all that "radical." They were courageous as they stood with thier brothers and sisters of the hispanic persuasion to speak out against injustices at the hand of government administration disguised as a resource who do more harm than good to families.

Sitting in a meeting last evening discussing what keeps change for the good, from occurring in our communities, those gathered around the table listed reasons such as fear, isolation, time, lack of committment, complacency,lack of knowledge, misunderstanding of history, failure to get to the root problems seem to large to address, feeling as though we're in it alone and the fact that someone always stands to profit from that which we lose.

I think the quote below from Philosopher Thomas Merton speaks to what is required if we are to "regain the faith, foresight and strength of our forbears." as it challenges US to do more,not just in word but in deed and that we do so with the full understanding that each of us has a vital role and a key responsibility if we are to become what we WERE to become

"Those of us who attempt to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening our own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. We will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of our own obsessions, our agressivity, our ego-centered ambitions, our delusions about ends and means.
-- Thomas Merton, Philosopher

When we do as this and I am certain many others have suggested, we truly can't help but to get back the our rightful place. A place where were are only seen as crazy and radical because we have the audacity to fight for what we know is right and actually believe that the battle will be ours.

Thanks for always challenging us but it is my hope that we are just as willing to challenge ourselves and others in love but certainly IN justice.

Anonymous,  July 23, 2008 at 10:33 PM  

I've been thinking about this for a while, and it is so true that we blame everyone else for our problems. Yes slavery and racism are valid reasons for the difference in the distribution of wealth and power in this country, but our people worked hard to better our situation and we must break the cycle of hoplessness in this country and stop blaming and start doing something about it. Im an 18 year old black male about to go to college, and i strive to show our country that we can be just as good in this country if we put our full efforts into changing our status.

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