I’m reading Black No More, a satire by George S. Schuyler, where a black doctor has invented a way to turn “Negros” into white people. Imagining the ease of being white in the period we have come to know as the Harlem Renaissance, mobs of black people withdraw life savings from banks or scrimp and save to pay $50 for the transformative treatment. I’m in the middle of the novel so I can’t tell you the outcome for the newly “white” black people but I can tell you what this grass-is-greener, race-betrayal theme has me thinking: Why are African Americans so comfortable? Why do we believe we are free and able to equally enjoy all enjoyed by white American power holders? Why don’t we wake each morning recognizing the missions we are called to in the interest of the protection and advancement of our people? And, when I say “our people,” I include all people of color as there is firm evidence that we all continue to be oppressed and are at risk in our American home.
If you take a close look at the three questions posed, you’ll realize the second and third fold into the first, so, why are we so comfortable? Consider, for a moment, how much or little you know about your local and state governments. Do you know the penalty for late property taxes? Do you know who your secretary of state is? And what about your schools? Do you know who makes funding decisions and what portion of the budget majority schools receive as compared to schools in poor neighborhoods? Do you know if the federal government has created any back-door paths to school vouchers? Rather than whether we can buy the watch or clothes, car or home, or vacation we want, how much we know about our local, state and federal governments is among top indicators of our actual measure of freedom.
If we’ll admit it, we spend a decent amount of time complaining and blaming white power holders for our troubles. We are highly suspicious of them and rightly so. But as overcoming peoples, our focus must be on our own power and potential and that makes it a must for us to change the conversation. Our collective call is to regain awareness, remain aware and continue to rise using both old and new techniques. Right here on the WE CAN website, our Sister Stephanie is committed to our knowledge of U.S. policy, and she regularly provides links to other resources where we can learn, share and participate in our so-called democracy. As users of the WE CAN website, we fulfill when we learn, and then share what we’ve learned, so we are further empowered to build on our own behalf.
A few months ago, I heard about The College Board’s Opportunity Scholarship which guarantees $40,000 to individual high school students who complete their six-step program. I posted a link on Facebook for this much-needed resource but received few “likes” and “comments” and zero “shares.” The pale response saddened me, especially when compared to the vigorous responses given to petty, trite and comedic postings. It made me think how many of us have been lulled into complacency. And just for the potential, it may hold to shake us up, the definition of “complacency” according to dictionary.com is to be “pleased, especially with one’s self or one’s merit, advantages, situations, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect.”
As some of the black-turned-white characters find in Black No More, sharing characteristics with white people makes them neither white nor free nor comfortable. This cannot be missed or dismissed, especially by the people of color who share characteristics with whites such as educational achievement, financial mobility, or should-be-simple voting rights. Our current President speaks for a majority of American power holders, so the very real threats are now on Front Street. The power holders count on our naive comfort as they quietly use public agencies to enact policy. Agency-level action requires no citizen votes, acts of Congress or Senate majorities. Agency-level action happens while we’re complaining, spending, watching Empire, Greenleaf, and NFL Sunday Ticket, and, even, literally sleeping. The backroom deals and decision-making result in increased advantages for power holders and new or returned disadvantages for people of color. Democracy is not static; it’s never a done deal. Instead, democracy requires the ongoing active participation of citizens even when the system seems rigged. Those who do not consistently participate— through discourse, advocacy, and voting—are more than likely to be left behind.
Laurie Renfro, Guest Author/Activist