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I want black people to be more involved and effective in American politics. But three obstacles stand in our way—pessimism, a lack of liberal education, and resignation. Here are the three keys to unlock the path to successful black politics and democratic progress: Hope, Education, and Persistence.
Key #1. Rebuke Hopelessness and Keep Hope Alive
Every American citizen, black and white, should be angry about the systemic mistreatment of black Americans. Police brutality and mass incarceration, indeed, have been tormenting the black community since Barack Obama became president. Actually, we can trace these social plagues back to the black codes and penal codes set up during Reconstruction.
Unfortunately, yet understandably, the recent killings of black youth by police officers who escaped indictments have cast a spell of despair over the black community, precisely when it should be evermore proud, determined and united. Now many African Americans are possessed by a spirit of pessimism and hopelessness.
This can happen to any one of us. Even the enlightened legendary spokesperson for justice and social progress, Dr. Cornel West, succumbed to a malignant spell of negativity and despair in the Age of Obama. West said, “The state of black America in the age of Obama has been one of desperation, confusion and capitulation.”
Becoming victims of despair, West and copious other blacks have turned long-standing issues into divisive instruments, playing a black-on-black blame game as to who's behind everything that's wrong in Black America today. To be honest, I was tempted to acquiesce to the constant hash tagging of bad news in black America.
I've heard, and I'm sure you have as well, African Americans say that we are doing worse under Obama’s tenure than we were in the past. Before I could cede me audacity to hope, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned me that pessimistic people in his day said the same thing, as they reacted to the backlashes they experienced. He recalled Ramparts magazine stating: "After more than a decade of the Civil Rights Movement the black American in Harlem, Haynesville, Baltimore and Bogalousa is worse off today than he was ten years ago." (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?)
If we let pessimism become our reality, black people are going to be slaves by 2017.
To move forward, we need to cash in on the opportunities of hope. Instead of preaching despair, we need people to tell us what opportunities did the Age of Obama provide for African Americans. What positive trends have changed in our school systems? We need people to tell us where can we find mentorship for our kids, the steps to get good affordable healthcare, which minority businesses we need to support, what steps can be made to dismantle the pipeline to prison, and how to build a stairwell to college. Contrary to the popular incorrect opinion, Pres. Obama has initiated and contributed to a lot of these opportunities.
If we focus only on the negative, the positive will not get its deserved attention.
Here’s what’s interesting. When people say Pres. "Obama hasn’t done anything for black people," I give them a list. And after glancing at the list they quickly go on to say, “well, he hasn’t done enough.”
That’s the effect of pessimism.
The bottom line is that wherever there is an opportunity African Americans need to cash in on it. We have to stop stomping on our black roses of opportunity that grew from concrete. Instead, let's water the beautiful black roses.
Take a stand for hope, because someone else's hope provided an opportunity for you. Let your hope be an opportunity for yourself. Let your hope become an opportunity for someone else. Besides, hope makes winners, which I’ll talk more about later. For now, remember that losers get stuck complaining and spending most of their energy pointing out what's wrong.
Once you've taken the first step to rebuke pessimism and to have the guts to be hope you have to arm and equip yourself with education and knowledge. That is the second key.
Key #2. Find Your Passion to Learn
The former slave Frederick Douglass, reminds us in his Narrative that “Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world.” When he discovered the importance of learning he said, “From that moment on, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.”
Every champion of freedom and justice, from Maria W. Stewart, W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcolm X to the outspoken radical Angela Davis knows that education contains the keys to the chambers of nearly all the critical stations of power.
We have to learn what the late American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler and the late president of the University of Chicago Robert M. Hutchins called a liberal education. Hutchins wrote:
"This is what a liberal education is. It is the education that prepares us to be free men. You have to have this education if you are going to be happy; for happiness consists in making the most of yourself. You have to have this education if you are going to be a member of the community; for membership in the community implies the ability to communicate with others. You have to have this education if you are going to be an effective citizen of a democracy; for citizenship requires that you understand the world in which you live and that you do not leave your duties to be performed by others, living vicariously and vacuously on their virtue and intelligence. A free society is a society composed of free men. To be free you have to be educated for freedom. This means that you have to think; for the free man is one who thinks for himself. It means that you have to think, for example, about the aims of life and of organized society." (The Great Ideas Program: General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education Vol. 1)
A liberal education prepares women and men to engage the most pressing social, cultural, philosophical, political, and economic problems. A liberal education is the study of the Great Ideas. Many black people shun these ideas because many of them are thought to be Western or European concepts. In other words, they belong to white people. Some reject a so-called Western education because they believe it's nothing but a bunch of stolen legacies. Whatever one thinks about a liberal education or great ideas, there is no excuse or benefit in not learning them. Marcus Garvey said it best: "All intelligent people know that one's nationality has nothing to do with great ideals and great principles." (Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey)
Knowledge is the human mind's public domain. It doesn't belong any particular race. All knowledge is the accumulation of the past fragments of information. In order to do smart and effective black politics we need to educate ourselves. And learn as much as possible. Even Malcolm X, the champion of black politics, understood this. Education was vital élan of Malcolm's resurrection, when he was imprisoned. Not only did he study black history, he read everything he could get in front of his eyes. Manning Marable reports Malcolm's appetite for education:
"Once he had started reeducating himself, there was no limit to his search for fact and inspiration. Through Norfolk's library, Malcolm devoured the writings of influential scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, and J. A. Rogers. He studied the history of the transatlantic slave trade . . . . Nor did Malcolm restrict his studies to black history. He plowed through Herodotus, Kant, Nietzsche, and other historian and philosophers of Western civilization." (Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention)
Lastly, the appetite to learn great ideas helps us to find our genius. Alaine Locke, one of the pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance, teaches us that "genius is the most fluid social capital." ("Should the Negro be Encourage to Cultural Equality: The High Cost of Prejudice")
Social capital is the building block of a community's social, political, and economic infrastructure.
One of the most self-rewarding things you can do is to pursue your potential—your genius--and encourage others to do the same. The more all of us focus on our genius the more we will develop the necessary habits to move forward in life. Our attention will be rerouted away from obstacles and directed at our human potential. We have to search our souls to find our genius. But that’s the ingredients for healthy success, in the face of adversity. The genius dedicates his or herself to the craft. And, she creates works and offer services that benefits human society. In fact, that might involve creating the social, political, and economic conditions for other people to become a genius.
Key #3. Get in the Game, Stay in the Game
Politics is more or a less a game with endless rounds. Actually, the game of politics will continue as long as people exist. Too many black Americans are leaving the game and decided not to vote. They mistakenly believe that their actions don't matter, and worse, don't affect others. Too bad W. E. B. Du Bois and Dr. King are not alive to help Pres. Obama remind African Americans who give up of the importance of political power and the ballot.
Du Bois in 1903 knew which weapon was needed most to strike down behemoth of injustice in America. He explained, "Of such weapons the greatest, perhaps, in the modern world is the power of the ballot . . . political activity." Over a half a century later, King recognized that "the final major area of untapped power for the Negro is in the political arena." (Where do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?)
Frankly speaking many of us are now giving up on our political community and choosing to retreat into chaotic fragments of frustrations.
That’s a losing strategy. Giving up squanders the black political capital that has accrued in American politics and in the ballot box during the past 150 yrs.
So, if you have recently given up, get back into the game and stay in it to win it. The winners are those who stay at it, constantly learning how to play the game better. That’s why it is not helpful for African Americans to not vote and try to avoid politics.
Refusing to show up at the polls or be involved in politics is resignation.
You might wonder: “why does Kasaun care if other African Americans vote or not?” Basically, there are a number of issues that affect black communities, such as mass incarceration, police brutality, a lack of good educational, social and financial resources. And, unfortunately, black people have to make these concerns known and make efforts to correct them. It’s going to take team work.
If any member of a team refuses to help, the entire team is negatively impacted. In fact, he or she is actually helping the opposing team. To use a basketball analogy, it’s like standing in the middle of a basketball court and sabotaging your teammates chances at succeeding.
Sometimes, I feel that black Americans who don’t want to participate in politics or vote should leave the country and join another political team there. They might be more helpful to the overall cause at a distance. Apart from the sarcasm, my point is that we need to do more than complain about issues and stop refusing to learn where these issues come from and start doing everything we can about them.
People have died for us to have the opportunity to join the game, and now many of us are saying: "I don't want to get into the game of politics." If someone says that to you, explain to them what I'm saying here. Or, send them directly to me.
In sum, politics and voting matters for African Americans. Black politics can only move forward if black people continue to stay in the political game.
Unlocking the Door
The black agenda, the human agenda, succeeds by means of hope, education, and persistent political organization.
We have to maintain focus while under pressure. When doing black politics, we have to focus on the destination and on every single opportunity to reach it. We have to commit to a positive mindset. There is no room for doubt. If we doubt ourselves, then we’d certainly fail.
Be a winner and rebuke pessimism. Be a winner and become a disciple of the world of ideas. Be a winner and stay in the game of politics. Being a winner is tough. You have to face your loses and your fears. Winners learn from their mistakes. Winners study progress. Winners capitalize on opportunities.
After reading this post. Pick one of these steps to act on. Act on one a day, one a week, or one a month. The key is to keep moving forward, keep looking out for your brothers and sisters, keep making an effort to make a better society for those who are disenfranchised.
P.S., for those of you who feel threatened or are offended by black politics . . . black politics, at least how I have presented it on my blog, is not an insurgency. It is better understood as surgery. It is a corrective measure. Black politics is nothing more than a set of measures to correct specific racial, economic and political injustices. The black agenda, unlike many other political agendas, aims to heal a specific organ of our democratic body. Think of black politics as a surgical operation on a severely damage part of your body. In other words, if you're having a tumor remove, surely you wouldn't complain: "hey doctor, don't all of my organs matter?" Obviously, they do. But if the tumor is what's killing you right now, then let the doctor do the right thing by removing the tumor.
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