The black community faces numerous problems. Black-on-black violence, white-on-black violence, failing inner-city schools, police brutality, racial profiling, poverty, disproportionately high incarceration rates, the breakdown of families, the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and a host of other issues that can be traced back to structural racism and the lingering effects of slavery and segregation.
But perhaps the biggest problem in the black community is our failure to develop an effective plan and strategy to deal with these problems.
Fifty years ago the most well-known figures and artists were also activists. Our leaders actually led us somewhere. We had clear goals and clear plans to achieve them. We had people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good. And we made progress.
Now we have “leaders” who give speeches at important events, we have grand ceremonies like the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we have our own publications, we have writers with large followings, we have prominent artists who set global trends.
But our “leaders” are not leading us anywhere, our grand ceremonies are little more than symbolic gestures, and more often than not our most prominent artists, writers and public figures use their platform to build their brand and sell product, not to engage in activism or act on behalf of the community. Superstars with millions of fans and immeasurable influence typically stay silent about serious problems or simply become part of the problem themselves.
And our issues remain unsolved.
What are we demanding of the powers that be?
As Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” But what, exactly, are we demanding of the powers that be?
Many of us complain and call out racism. We vent on social media. Sometimes we even take brief stands like the wave of protests after George Zimmerman’s acquittal. But ultimately, we are not united, coordinated or dedicated to changing conditions on a large scale. We are just upset, stuck in an ongoing cycle of rage and apathy that accomplishes little. While our complaints are certainly valid, complaints don’t change conditions. Goals, plans, strategies, tireless work, self-sacrifice and specific demands do.
So we have to do more than get upset. We have to get organized.
We need to replace our ineffective figureheads with real leaders who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause. We need a clear plan of action, not a vague set of complaints. We need to take back hip hop and use it for the original premise it was built on—calling attention to social issues and changing conditions. We need our artists and writers to dedicate more of their time, energy and talent to addressing the ills that plague our community.
We are a people with unlimited power, so much so that after hundreds of years of oppression we’ve still risen to the top of virtually every field. It’s time we unite and use that collective power to combat the problems we collectively face.