As African Americans continue
to confront the vestiges of slavery and segregation, largely
racial animus and economic
subjugation (educational differences are a challenge that is partially
self-inflicted), the community’s problems have outlived the advocacy
born to address the problems, and most of the leaders that emerged
to help remedy the problems. God raises a new leader to deal
with each generation’s issues. However, the advocacy no longer
seems to work. Whether it’s protest, negotiation, boycott or voter
revolt (the latter two of which we rarely, if ever, use), watching
black advocacy is like watching re-runs of Sanford and Son;
you know what’s about to come next – and what the line is going
to be when Redd Foxx grabs his chest.
If we know what’s coming next, don’t think the people to whom
the protest is directed haven’t seen the same re-runs. I have visions
of racial discriminators, progress oppressors and equality obstructionists
sitting around a television saying, “Okay, this is the part where
they march in.” “Now, they’re about to holler and scream, and give
long speeches, watch ‘em.” “Here is the part where they put the
community mothers up to cry, sigh, ain’t it sad?” “Now this is
the part where they march out singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’ then
they’ll go home and be quiet until the next time we get caught
violating them or their interests. But the response will be the
It seems as if black America has been stuck
on the same page of a fifty-year-old play book. New generations
of advocates are doing
the same old thing because they don’t know advocacy, and are only
doing what they’ve seen the generation before them do, the ole’ one-two-three
(press conference, march, shout). Is this the future of black advocacy?
Re-runs of what we knew once worked? Typewriters once worked too,
but we no longer use them. Too slow, not as flexible as computers.
What do we call “black advocacy” today, and what is the future
of black advocacy? We have to begin to address these questions
if we’re ever going to see racial progress.
Over the past few months, the effectiveness
of black advocacy and activism has been called into question,
as black communities
nationwide continue to experience a social regression that is both
signifying and stigmatizing, in terms of how relevant black issues
are in the context of the larger societal scheme. Two of our major
advocacy organizations, the NAACP and SCLC, have on-going leadership
battles centered on what the future direction of “the movement” should
be. New groups like the National Action Network and Operation HOPE
claim to be the future of the struggle but are fueled by “personality
driven” activism (Al Sharpton and John Bryant) that seems to serve
a more singular interest than collective – some say, replicating “the
Jesse Model.” The “Jesse Model” only replicated “the King Model” which
replicated “the Garvey Model” which replicated “the Booker T” in
terms of organizations driven by personality leadership. It’s a
20th Century phenomenon we can’t seem to get away from, and the “take
me to your leader” syndrome now causes a rush to the front of the
line that breeds conflict on another level – the lobby for the
white man’s (mainstream) attention. The point is, when you get
in front of him, do you really have anything to say?
Cities like Cincinnati and Denver are embroiled
in mass protest over police abuse controversies, while the closing
of the trauma
center at the only “black hospital” in Los Angeles drew 3,000 protesters,
and like the aforementioned cities, fell on deaf ears. At the end
of the day, white folk did whatever what they were going to do.
It was as if black advocacy had no bearing on white decision makers.
They knew what to expect, sat through the “re-runs,” and turned
the channel when they had seen enough.
What does that say for black advocacy when
targets of our activism don’t even blink when hundreds and thousands of our protestors
show up. We’ve now been reduced to just another “special interest.” A
longstanding “racial” special interest, but a special interest
none the less. Is it now enough to just protest? When are we going
to turn the page?
A new chapter of black advocacy is needed to
address the follow-up that is necessary to advance our struggle – for equality, for fairness,
for justice, whatever it is we’re advocating for. At present, we
constantly call for somebody to do something, and we see folk in
the streets, but we see no progress. That’s because we mistake
motion for action, and all activity is not progress. People can
be busy, and not be productive. We “look” busy at work every day.
Particularly when the boss is around, or that last hour before
its time to go home. We’ve taken “lookin’ busy” to another level.
But what are we accomplishing?
There is a sophistication, an art, to advocacy,
that requires training, research, response, and remedy which
most “black advocates” don’t
engage in. Folk are quick to tell you today that they are “activists,” or
hand you a card that says, “community activist.” Well, what does
that mean, brotha? That you activate? Activate what? “I antagonize,” “I
instigate,” “I agitate.” Well, as Frederick Douglass said, “Agitation
is necessary for progress. There is no progress without struggle.” But
what happens when the agitation leads to no progress. Do we struggle
endlessly, with no direction, and no purpose (other than to be
seen – the most common source of activism these days). What do
we do when “the show” is over, the camera turns off, and the spotlight
goes down? How do we insure that our advocacy stands for something
more than the usual “twist and shout?”
Future advocacy requires the development of
new tactics, something the mainstream hasn’t seen before, but is constructive – not destructive – to
our collective interests.
Times dictate measures, and extreme times call
for extreme measures. Extreme in the sense that advocacy offers
a new twist that gets
the attention of all involved – “them” and us – and brings about
solutions to the challenges we face as a people, and as a society.
Black America’s biggest challenge is to figure out what the future
of black advocacy is, and what works in bringing about progress.
Stop relying solely on past advocacy efforts (and tactics). Enough
of the re-runs already.
Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, author and
managing director of the Urban Issues Forum. His upcoming book, 50
Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America is
due out in 2004. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.