by Dr. Boyce Watkins
The other day, I was speaking to someone about the forum that I am holding with Min Louis Farrakhan on Wealth, Education, Family and Community. The topic that came up is the depth of black male marginalization and how millions of talented black men are left on the fringes of our society. I’m not just talking about felons or the men who didn’t go to school, I’m also talking about men with advanced degrees who still find that black male self-respect typically leads to punishment when working under the umbrella of your historical oppressor.
I told my friend about many of my hard-working colleagues in academia who are constantly being told that they are not good enough. I talked about how, all too often, black pride is perceived as white hatred. I also spoke about how even the mild task of getting together with Min. Farrakhan to discuss the principles of wealth, education, family and community could be seen as threatening to people who are accustomed to black people waiting for liberals to give them a handout. In most American institutions, black males have difficulty standing tall when they are placed in rooms with ceilings that are only four feet high, so in order to get a chance to become real men, some of us have to walk outside the building.
I had no idea that the conversation was nothing more than a precursor to the phone call I’d receive just an hour later.
During the call, I was told that the forum we’d planned with Min. Farrakhan at The University of Illinois at Chicago had been cancelled by the university. Apparently, there were some who were “concerned” about the minister’s presence, as well as the theme of the event. I was a bit surprised, because it’s not as if anyone should be shocked that Farrakhan and I would be gathering to discuss black people, for that’s all we tend to talk about. We’d met with university officials well in advance to tell them the theme of the gathering and our objectives. So, there was nothing stealth about the event whatsoever, for we had nothing to hide.
Without expressing any disdain toward the university (several other organizations have been eager to host the event, so we’ll just find another venue), I couldn’t help but see this incident as a reminder of how black self-sufficiency contrasts with our 400-year old American tradition of protecting white supremacy. The reason that the CIA allowed for the mass importation of guns and drugs into the black community (this is well-documented, not a conspiracy theory) is because black activism and movements toward self-sufficiency during the 1960s were considered to be a threat to national security. When power shifts, there is volatility, which makes change uncomfortable for nearly everyone. The truth is that while there are many who complain about black people not working to solve our own problems, they actually don’t enjoy seeing us coming together to get our collective house in order: Remember those old laws forbidding slaves from becoming educated or gathering in large groups? They were there for a reason.
With the recent death of a six-month old baby in a drive-by shooting in Chicago, there is hardly a more important time for African Americans to come together to discuss community-based solutions to the epidemic of violence that is killing our children. The recent recession has destroyed 30-years of African American wealth, so it is critical for us to embrace financial literacy and prudence for the survival of our families. Our unemployment rates are double those of whites, so we MUST learn to build black businesses and create our own jobs . The prison industrial complex is building a new bed for nearly every black baby being born, so this capitalism-fueled modern day holocaust MUST be put to an end no matter what the cost may be. Something has got to give, and none of us (especially black men) can afford to step to the side while our community is simply left to die.
From the very beginning, I told the organizers of this forum (and the one we’re going to do with Cornel West in New York City) that I didn’t want any corporate sponsorship. Depending on the descendants of your historical oppressors to give you the tools for your own liberation is like a losing team asking the other squad to donate enough points to help them win the game. No one is ever going to give you your freedom, and no one is ever going to give you true power; in fact, it’s entirely illogical to do so. To do what is right for the people you love, you must be unapologetically firm in your commitment to escaping the confines of your existing situation, and know that some people may dislike you because of it.
The fact is that America DOES NOT find black self-sufficiency to be an endearing or encouraging concept, which is one of the reasons why the 79-year old, mild-mannered, Louis Farrakhan will always scare the American public more than any other black man in America. It is also the reason that America celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. (neutering his message to be a simple one about peace, service and holding hands) and pretends like Malcolm X never existed. Integration is a wonderful idea to those who benefit from our servitude, but without properly negotiating the terms of your integration, you are setting yourself up for a more complex form of slavery.
So once again, no hard feelings toward the University of Illinois at Chicago, they are effectively doing what I expected them to do long ago. But the lesson to be learned is that when it comes to standing up for the people we love, we can’t waste our time worrying about what white people think about us. It’s time for a new paradigm in Black America.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, “Black American Money”. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. Please join Dr. Watkins and Min. Louis Farrakhan for a summit on “Wealth, Education, Family and Community: A New Paradigm for Black America” to be held in Chicago on March 30. You can RSVP by clicking here.