The Black Paradox in America
There is a fundamental difference between being a slave and being an “enslaved” human being. Words matter. Several days ago the gatekeepers of our democracy voted to make Juneteenth a national holiday, however, it is critically important that we not bask in this cosmetic achievement as many of these same policy makers have not mustered an inkling of courage to pass an anti-lynching bill while continuing to stonewall any attempts to green light the George Floyd Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill.
I’d be remise if I failed to mention that despite some of the gains that have been made, the truth remains that nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress with a shameful three passed by the House. US Presidents between the years of 1890 to 1952 had asked Congress to address these matters of great moral, legal, and ethical precedence. The truth remains that we continue to languish as a country that rarely moves the needle for black folks through policy. Today, we acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth, but we must not forget that black and brown bodies continue to be treated as invisible vessels in a country that they built for free. And let me be clear that while multi-generational and multi ethnic celebrations are important I encourage my good white friends to couch the need for celebratory posturing and replace them with policy frameworks that elevate black and brown people in ways that value us as assets and not deficits.
Let me be clear, there is a difference between being “technically free” and having the freedom to live fully and to be given the same respect and opportunities rightfully due all members of our country. We are not free because a host of the same the lawmakers who have acquiesced to Juneteenth becoming a federal, or in the case of governors a state holiday, have went to unique and predatory lengths to stonewall any and all attempts to introduce critical race theory into the school curriculum — finding any chance to demonize the validity of the 1619 project.
The great Frederick Douglass spoke to this hypocrisy in his transformative narrative; he brilliantly predicted that a co-hort of white folk wanted black folk at the proverbial table not to serve as decision makers but to make them feel good about their own moral and racial hiccups. Like Douglass, both Du Bois and Ida B. Wells bellowed the need to leverage white allies, but they cannot and must not be the face of liberation of black folks. However, if they choose to be of assistance they must use their privilege to help reframe the calculus of this nation that legitimizes and rationalizes the public lynching’s of black bodies at the hands of their state sanctioned protectors.
One hundred and fifty-six years ago, the enslaved people of Texas understood this nuance. They had been free “on paper” for more than two years before finally being released from bondage on June 19, 1865. History tells us freedom from slavery did not mean freedom from persecution, destitution or prosecution. Not in 1865, not in 1968, not even now in 2021. We cannot allow calls for defunding the police to drown out the immediate appeal for reparations. We are overdue on what is due to us. We demand criminal justice reform and we must also demand housing, educational, corporate and financial equity.
We exist in a country that is marred by the hate and evil that destroyed the streets of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 100 years ago — Greenwood, a Black economic engine created, run and sustained by Black people in the shadows of one of the most notorious Klan chapters in the country at that time. The men and women who built Greenwood provided us with the blueprint to develop an economic system that generates wealth, promotes ownership and creates employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for our communities. It also reminds us of the great lengths those who are afraid of our collective power will go to stunt our progress.
To make a transformative paradigm shift we must call upon the political, civic and corporate leaders to refrain from the performative woke ness of the moment. We have to become a nation that is comprised of school systems that center the voices of black and brown folks and doesn’t allow its black and brown children to sit idle in special education courses. Being a good ally must move beyond book clubs and hashtags.
We refuse to be short changed this time. Adopting a progressive framework that includes community discussions about the works of Ibram Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates is a start, but the real work takes place when we incorporate the policy recommendations of leaders like Kimberle’ Williams Crenshaw and Derrick Bell, which will create a pathway to liberation. We need new ideas and bold action that matches the zeal and courage of our young people who have been standing against inequality and up for equality. The unbridled and undeterred voices of justice warriors that morally saved us as our country came apart at it seams as we saw in the aftermath of the state sanctioned public lynching of George Floyd.
Black folks are tired of seeing policy makers patronizing us with the donning of kente cloth, but afraid to put policy recommendations forth that stop the suffocation of debt and medical hemorrhaging of Black folks. We must not forget that far too many Black soldiers did not receive their GI Bills to put down payments for homes like their White counterparts. They fought for this country. However, they were cut out of the American Dream when it came to securing the white picket fence for their families.
I am not impressed with governors and mayors celebrating their racial growth by simply honoring Juneteenth as a newly installed federal holiday. I want those same policy makers to be committed enough to put forth policies that tear down the pervasive and predatory demons of racism and white supremacy. I want a school system that acknowledges that it is not only committed to being anti-racist, but puts forth a ten point community wide action plan that is directly focused on eradicating the Opportunity Gap by 2024.
Liberty and justice for all, yes we want that. But we also want our votes counted fairly across this country, we want medical equity and state wide appointments, we want fair housing, small business grants and access to an exemplary free education and we want it for us. We’ve been waiting 400 plus years and the time is now.
Tony Clark is the Co-President of The My Brother’s Keeper Cambridge Taskforce, College Professor, and Principal of The T.Clark Strategy Group