State of the Black Union

State of the Black Union:  Making America As Good As Its Promise

Divas, Buppies, Wonks, Rasta, Entrepreneurs, Sorors, Hustlers, Church People, Kids and Old Heads.  The SOBU was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center yesterday.  I went for inspiration, cutting edge thought and reinforcement.  Score!

There were two panels, vendors and a blogging sidebar with distinguished academics, theologians, activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians.  Speakers included Cornell West, Maxine Waters, Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Steele, Lani Guinier, Al Sharpton, Na’am Akbar, Michelle Singletary, Van Jones, et al.

The uniting theme was:

How to respond to the world, post Obama’s victory?

I want to examine two claims that often come up at events like these.

  • Calls for personal responsibility.
  • Offer solutions not just critiques.

Personal Responsibility

Of course individuals should be accountable.  But I have a problem with assuming that all or most blacks, poor people, women are constantly on the look out for slacker opportunities.  When speakers invoke this line, they NEVER mean themselves or those whom they hold dear.  They might be talking about the wrongdoers in their own families. But more likely they’re talking about some distant, despised others — the underclass, the gangbanger.  Those who frustrate them, embarrass them, shame them, enrage them.  They tend to talk about them like they are some unknown, subspecies.  This despite the fact that there numbers are small.  This despite the fact that most poor people, black and Latino people are regular.  They work hard.  They take care of their families.   We need to put it together without letting anybody off the hook.

We know about the inequities that exist for all Americans.  Declining wages since the 1970s.  Lack of mental health care in the presence of stigma.  Health care.  Collapse of education. Environmental degradation.  With the shape that many urban and rural areas areas are in, honestly you have to be super strong to make it out alive.  The days when you could secure a middle class life style with a high school diploma or single income family? For most, long gone.  For others, achievable only with massive amounts of debt.

The bad apples are part of every race, every era, every nation.  Getting at how they function, the damage they cause is complicated.  No society in history has ever been able to completely curb the antics, minor or extreme, of young, single men.  Harness it?  Yes.  Complete control it?  No.

And the rising rise of aggression of young women?  I was a top student and musician in NYC who dressed modestly while I was dragging my cello around.  But nonetheless, I often felt overwhelmed by sexual aggression.  It must be difficult to act like a demure southern belle in the face of b(#*h, p#(@y, h* and sl@^ in your face, on tv and in the videos.  And what about more substantive threats? Help might not be on the way.

And as many others have noted, individual accountability doesn’t mean much in the absence of societal accountability.


Without an intellectual framework, without a strategy, without buy-in, if things go forward at all, they will not last.  They won’t lead to anything coherent.  During the many years that Republicans were in the political wilderness, they funded think tanks.  When their chance came again, they were ready.  It’s hard to see how we can have solutions without critique. And if you’re impatient for solutions, start doing your homework so you can come up with some.

I think the frustrations of post civil rights America for blacks make people lash out.  The progress seems so slow.  The issues so complex.  The gains so shaky. Why do a few succeed while others fail?

How about this?  Post civil rights America for blacks coincides with the decline of manufacturing, the gradual breakdown of the auto industry, failure to invest in new infrastructure, deregulation.  Marriage rates fell and divorce rates began going up at  a time when African American could have used an opportunity to solidify gains with stable unions.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to play catch up.  There are no more time outs and we don’t have this lap to lose.

I’m no longer worried about slights from non African Americans OR fellow blacks. The New York Post and Mayor of Alamitos incidents are troubling and worth protesting.  But they will keep coming.  But we have to keep our eyes on the messier, harder-to-solve bigger picture:  imprisonment, education, the environment …

So despite the stumbles, thanks Mr. Smiley for creating and sustaining an infrastructure.  And big up to all those who came out:

Whoever has ears, let them hear

Hat Tip to Lani Guinier, Esq.:  Scott Page’s The Difference


About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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