Bookmark and Share
Click to go to the home page.
Click to send us your comments and suggestions.
Click to learn about the publishers of and our mission.
Click to search for any word or phrase on our Website.
Click to sign up for an e-Mail notification only whenever we publish something new.
Click to remove your e-Mail address from our list immediately and permanently.
Click to read our pledge to never give or sell your e-Mail address to anyone.
Click to read our policy on re-prints and permissions.
Click for the demographics of the audience and our rates.
Click to view the patrons list and learn now to become a patron and support
Click to see job postings or post a job.
Click for links to Websites we recommend.
Click to see every cartoon we have published.
Click to read any past issue.
Click to read any think piece we have published.
Click to read any guest commentary we have published.
Click to view any of the art forms we have published.

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 same.”

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


December 16 2004
Issue 118

is published every Thursday.

Printer Friendly Version