By: James Clingman
Shame On Us
In my latest book, Black Empowerment with an Attitude, the Epilogue discusses a person I call “The Tree Shaker.” Most conscious brothers and sisters know at least one Tree Shaker, someone who is always at the front of the line fighting for Black folks. Tree Shakers are unapologetic and unwavering in their resolve to stand up, speak out, and sacrifice their own resources for the betterment of the collective of Black people. The Tree Shakers don’t cower in fear of white opinion or get nervous at the thought of their actions being disapproved by white people. On the contrary, they want to see that final nail driven into the coffin that contains the “Negro,” the “Minority,” the “Sellout,” and the “Traitor.”
How do we repay those who are always standing up for Black people? Do we cheer them on from a distant sideline, only when we cannot be seen by the public doing so? Do we slap them on the back when we see them, in private of course, and tell them, “Keep on doing what you’re doing?” Do we secretly deny them in our daily professional circles and corporate environment? Do we support them in their efforts with our intellectual capacity and financial resources?
Over the years we have seen so many Tree Shakers pass away, in many cases leaving their families with virtually nothing, mainly because they spent so much of their time fighting for us. I was saddened and disheartened by a recent e-mail disclosing the death of a “Queen Mother” in New York City. Elder Adunni Oshupa Tabasi, beloved and esteemed by Black folks, died on January 7, 2008, and her home-going is scheduled to take place on February 9, 2008.
The sad part is the scramble to raise funds for “embalming and … to rent the Dempsey Center.” Despite the fact, as the news release states, “Elder Adunni worked for over fifty years in the community, as she would always say for ‘Free.’” Surely this Sister was a Tree Shaker. Surely along her fifty year road of working for Black folks for “free” she stopped and helped many. Surely she deserves a great deal more than a solicitation campaign for donated funds to embalm her body and then to “rent” a hall to celebrate her life, and then to have her body shipped to Ghana for burial. Is this how we show our appreciation for Tree Shakers?
When I think of Tree Shakers like Marcus Garvey, Amos Wilson, Ken Bridges, and Muhammad Nasserdeen, just to name a few, it makes me question the sincerity of the conscious brothers and sisters out there who give a lot of lip-service to Black Consciousness, but little else of themselves and their resources to further the cause of Black Consciousness, especially when it comes to supporting the Tree Shakers and their families.
Of course, the ones who really benefit from the work done by Tree Shakers, the “upper economic people,” as opposed to the “lower economic people” that Bill Cosby referenced when he took Black people to the woodshed, are culpable as well. Each time I raise the issue of economic discrimination and disparity against Black people in my hometown, some elitist Black person gets a contract, without ever having opened his or her mouth on behalf of Black people. Thus, the upper economic people always benefit, while the lower economic people remain trapped in the belly of a society that would only use them as cute rhetoric. Despite the upper economic people having the funds to take care of some of the Tree Shakers, thus assuring their contracts and opportunities keep coming, most of them refuse to put their money where their mouths are.
During the Hillary/Obama Debate in Los Angeles, a person named Kim sent a question in for Barack Obama. She asked him about the negative effects of illegal immigration on “African Americans.” She specifically asked Obama to address the question and she was very specific about whom she was concerned: African Americans. Immediately Barack Obama started answering the question in relationship to whites, Hispanics, Asians, minorities, and then African Americans. He emphasized the other groups and de-emphasized Black people. A slowly pitched softball was lobbed at him and he chose not to swing on behalf of Black people.
Obama was presented with an opportunity to say something about Black people only, but he felt compelled to include everyone else in his answer, rather than deal specifically with the issue as it relates to Black people, as Kim requested. Are the upper economic people so constrained by their own fear of appearing “too Black” that even when they are in a position to speak or act strictly on behalf of Black people they feel obligated to include everyone else?
I don’t know why we are afraid of anything in country, after what our people went through to help us reach the heights we have achieved. I do know that we should take better care of the Tree Shakers and their families by creating both local and national funds that can be accessed immediately when needed for causes such as the one involving the “Queen Mother” in New York.
We can take the Cosby tact of blaming the lower economic people for not holding up their end of the bargain, but we must also acknowledge the responsibility of the upper economic people as well. It is irresponsible, it is shameful, it is insulting and it is embarrassing to all Black people, no matter what level you are on, to mistreat one another the way we do. The work that needs to be done will never be done if those who are willing to do it are not supported by those who are unwilling but who also reap the benefits of that work. This goes for the conscious and the unconscious. Shame on us!
Big Oil Mission Creep Accomplished
Have you had enough yet? Are you convinced yet? Now that oil has hit that magical price of $100.00 per barrel, are you finally ready to respond with a strategy that makes sense this time? Or, do you want to call for another Gas Out Day? Been there, done that, right? Although we missed a great opportunity back in 2002 to show the oil thieves we would not take being ripped-off lying down, now that we are paying through the nose, and every other orifice, for gasoline and related oil products, maybe now we are ready to strike back.
Bush, Cheney, Rice, and their international crew of oil thieves have slowly but surely secured their futures and that of their families with their shady deals and secret meetings with the oil barons. Under the guise of developing an energy policy for the United States, “Darth” Cheney, the guy who has given new meaning to the “Vice” in Vice President, convened his boys and girls and has yet to divulge what went on in those meetings. He also, as former Chairman and CEO of Halliburton, negotiated pipeline deals for Chevron and, if you connect the dots, you will see why he was and still is so adamant about maintaining the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There’s oil in them there hills, boys!”
Condi, as she is affectionately called by George, gave up her seat on the Chevron Board in 2001 when she was named National Security Advisor, and Chevron changed the name of its oil tanker from the “Condoleezza Rice” to the “Altair Voyager.” Maybe that’s why Rice was so supportive of the war as well.
George W.? Well we all know his deal. He is just the puppet that keeps us all laughing. He is the stringed marionette that dances across the world stage, keeping us diverted from reality. He is the old-time cowboy we liked so much in the “shoot ‘em up” movies. He is the village idiot to whom no one really pays serious attention other than to keep track of his gaffs and malapropisms.
Among the three of these characters and, of course, more second-string players, such as Ken Lay (Is he still dead? Did he really die?), Daddy Bush and James Baker with the Carlyle Group, and others, there must be billions of dollars hidden in some international pipeline somewhere.
The stage was set even before Bush, Jr. became President, and now the die has been cast. Think back to 1999; oil was below $20.00 per barrel, and it was only after Saddam Hussein halted production late in 1999 that it went to $27.00 per barrel. Then about a year later, around October 2000, Saddam decided he would take euros for his country’s oil rather than the vaunted “petrodollar.” Uh Oh! All of a sudden, “Houston, we have a problem.”
I say again, just connect the dots; do a little research and you will see the “mission creep” that started with a plan to capture greater control of the world’s oil reserves, in light of China’s burgeoning society and its growing thirst for Black Gold. If you think this is all happenstance, I would be happy to make you a great deal on some beautiful ocean-front property in Kansas.
Now, what do we do? Having tried one-day boycotts and protests of big oil companies, as if that would hurt them – they make billions of dollars per quarter and pay their executives hundreds of millions annually – it’s not likely that a one-day refusal to buy gas would do anything but make them irritated to the point of raising prices, the way they did on the last “Gas Out Day.”
I reiterate what I wrote in my last book, Black Empowerment with an Attitude.” It’s not good enough simply to complain; heck, you can see how much good that has done. We must “restrain and sustain.” Restrain ourselves from frivolous driving; carpool, walk, scooter, or bicycle when and where possible; and stop buying those gas-guzzling behemoths that car manufacturers have convinced us we need to have. Finally, don’t fall for the flowery, “we love the earth,” and “we are looking for alternative fuels” advertisements that we see on television; big oil companies are buying those ads to make us feel good, while they continue to take us to the cleaners.
How stupid are we as consumers? Is there no limit to how much money these thieves can steal from us, and how many times they can do it before we wake up and decide to respond in kind? That’s where the “sustain” part of the strategy comes into play. On a local level, we must refuse to purchase gasoline from a selected few stations and sustain that effort until either their prices fall or they go out of business. I can hear some of you now. “Jim, that’s not fair to the local dealer.” Well, whom do you suggest we mount our efforts against, the $36 billion annual revenues of Exxon-Mobil, or maybe one of the other four: Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, or ConocoPhillips?” Fat chance you’ll even get their attention.
When prices escalate the way they have since Bush and company took, and I do mean “took” office, when the mere threat of a hurricane can cause the price to rise even more, and when every station in your area gets the same call to raise their price to the same amount at the same time, you have to know there is some stuff in the game.
When stations start to close we will see a change. That’s it; bottom-line. If we are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to respond to the thievery of the oil barons, we simply need to shut-up! Or, develop a good relationship with Hugo Chavez.
Aristocracy and Pauperism in the Black
I am reminded the fate of the infamous French Aristocracy, and its “Let them eat cake” philosophy, when I ponder our current economic situation. Wealth abounded in a few French families, but most other families suffered in abject poverty. Is this what the United States of America becoming?
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, referred to this new fashion of CEO’s making million dollar windfalls after laying off thousands of workers, as “the disappearance of the implicit social contract that used to bind companies with their workers and communities.”
If he was correct, African Americans, especially, are in for a rough ride. We will get attacked from all directions. Downsize government (most affluent black people have government jobs); downsize companies (you know who goes first); privatize the public sector (who will get the lion’s share of the contracts?); eliminate all forms of affirmative action (do you really know what a “colorblind” society will mean for Black people?); and, build more jails (who fills them now?).
Change is here, right before our eyes. How are we reacting to that change? Are we sitting back and buying the rhetoric coming out of Washington regarding the economy, jobs, taxes, welfare, and education? Are we being lulled to sleep by the “do-gooders” who would have us believe that everything will be all right if we simply continue to let “them” take care of us?
I sincerely hope not. If we want jobs we have to make some jobs. If we want businesses we have to pool our resources and not only start them, but we must also grow our own businesses. If we want charity, we must first be willing to be charitable ourselves. And if we want our children to be educated, we must first open our own minds and raise our level of consciousness.
Corporate America is not the answer for the majority of us, and we must not look to it or the government to solve our problems. They simply do not care about us; that’s the bottom line. The important thing, however, is how much we care about us.
Doesn’t it make sense that the best way to eliminate the welfare system is to create more jobs rather than wiping them out by the thousands? Obviously the private sector is not interested in job creation, which leaves our good friend, the U.S. Government, the largest employer of higher income Black people, to pick up the slack. But wait — they want to downsize those jobs too. And then there are tax reductions, abatements, incentives and the like, which don’t mean a thing, if you don’t have a job.
So whom are they kidding? We are excluded from the so-called mainstream economy and yet we are reluctant to build our own economy. What are we supposed to do? I’ll tell you what we can do. Forget about them and worry about us. Create and nurture genuine Unity in our communities. Pool our resources and create our own businesses. And while we are doing that, we must stop our feeding frenzy at everybody else’s trough. Stop protesting someone else’s stuff, and get our own stuff.
The United States is rapidly becoming a two-tiered society, let alone the latest “revelation” that there is more than one Black America. You either have something or you do not. That’s a frightening scenario, especially when you add our children into the equation. What are we going to leave for them?
Jobs are very important, don’t get me wrong. However, ownership and control of those jobs is even more important. How many jobs do we own? The latest census shows that 1,197,000 Black businesses employ just 773,000 employees. We cannot increase our economic empowerment if we fail to grow our businesses to the point where they can hire our people – the way other groups do in this country. We cannot grow our businesses if we, the consumers, do not support them, nor can we grow them if business owners do not reinvest a portion of their revenues back into their businesses.
I once heard a man say he’d rather control a million dollars than to have a million dollars. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac in this country, and it is derived by accumulating and controlling economic resources. We had better be about getting and retaining some for ourselves, that is, unless we want to continue in the role of Pauper rather than the Aristocrat.
Stop the bickering. Stop the hatred. Stop the jealousy. Stop selling out. Stop back-biting. Start trusting. Start loving. Start respecting. Start helping. Start building.
Black people can ill-afford to succumb to reports that we have fragmented into at least two separate races, the rich and the poor, the urban and the suburban, the sophisticated and the crass, the refined and the coarse. That’s a trap and a death sentence. No matter where we are in our individual lives, no matter what we have achieved, we have a commonality that should never be compromised. Whether we want to admit it or not, we do need one another.
Collective economic self-sufficiency is the only way Black people will move forward in this country — this capitalistic society, in which it’s not about Black people even eating cake, let alone bread. Crumbs will be the only items on our menu if we do not change our minds toward one another.
The Great Debaters – A Message In The Movie
Having seen one of the best movies I have ever seen, namely, The Great Debaters, and having read a piece in The Wall Street Journal by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, titled, Separation Anxiety, I thought of the ironies of so-called HBCU’s and the issues they face today. I thought about the students these schools have graduated and the professionals they have produced. I thought about the 13th 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and how they were expressly written for Black people but have, over the years, evolved into laws that some believe, and others profess, to have been written for “minorities.” I also thought about the trick-bag we have found ourselves in because many of us have all but given up on the very educational institutions that did more than any other elevate Black people in this country.
The irony of a Black College like Wiley, home of the Great Debaters, not being one of the top schools in this country is interesting to say the least. The school at which James Farmer studied and Melvin Tolson taught should be on a very firm foundation by now. Morris Brown, Central State, Prairie View, Grambling, Barber Scotia, and now even the iconoclastic Fisk University, as noted in the article by the Thernstroms, along with several other HBCU’s, have either closed their doors or are fighting for their lives.
The irony of thousands of graduates, diplomas in hand, many of whom would not have had the opportunity to attend college were those schools not available, now having turned their backs on their alma maters by refusing to help them financially, is a sad commentary.
And now, the greatest of ironies is the fact that many HBCU’s are portrayed as segregated institutions because they want to carry on their traditional approach to educating Black students. My, how the tables have turned and how they keep turning, not to the benefit of Black people, but to the benefit of minorities and others.
The Great Debaters movie illustrated part of the proud history of Black people in this land; it also displayed part of the seedy side of American history. In full context, the movie illuminated the value of Black colleges and universities, not only in their ability to educate and graduate outstanding young people, but also in their dedication and determination to see that Black students attain the kinds of values and insights that will carry them to and through their chosen fields of endeavor.
The movie is not mere history, brothers and sisters; the same thing is occurring right now – to this day – at Black colleges and universities. So the logical questions that follow are these: Why are our Black colleges falling by the wayside? Why are so many of them financially strapped? Why are so few of their alumni giving back to their alma maters? Where are the billion dollar endowments for Black schools of higher learning?
Something to ponder, especially during this time of uncertainty, is the attack on HBCU’s from without. Painting them as bastions of segregation and discrimination, and insisting they be brought down from their previous lofty position among Black folks, are part of the latest strategy to turn us into a non-people. Is there anything Black people can and will have in this country that will not carry the connotation of separatist and discriminatory “in reverse”?
I am not suggesting that others cannot or should not attend HBCU’s. I think they should, but not to the degree that the tradition and culture are lost in bureaucratic red tape and governmental intervention. Black schools are our beacons of encouragement, bastions of pride, and havens of concern by teachers who sincerely want each student to be successful and will do what needs to be done to make that a reality.
So, don’t be lulled to sleep with yet another ploy to reduce Black folks to an even lower point of identity in this country. Support HBCU’s with your money and your intellect, much of which was obtained on an HBCU campus; and even if it wasn’t, you should support HBCU’s anyway. Heaven knows, we need something we can call our own, and we need to continue the line of Samantha Booke, Henry Lowe, James Farmer, and Melvin Tolson, all characters in The Great Debaters.
Why are we so scared of being proud of who we are? Why are we so reluctant to fight for what our forebears worked so hard for us to have? How are we so easily swayed to believe the nonsense of reverse discrimination, especially when Blacks have been the most tolerant, patient, accommodating, open, and accepting of all ethnic groups in this country? It seems we can be intimidated by just about anything that is promulgated by outsiders as “divisive” or “separate,” as in the case of Africa Town in Detroit. HBCU’s are among the few traditions Blacks have left in this country; we’d better hold on to them and stop settling for statues and street names.
The Thernstrom article aptly and rightly pointed to the fact that, “In a free society, many private and public institutions will have a distinctive profile. Group clustering is not necessarily unhealthy; indeed, it’s an inescapable feature of a multiethnic nation. No one worries that there are “too many” Jews at Yeshiva and Brandeis, “too many” Catholics at Notre Dame and Holy Cross, “too many” Mormons at Brigham Young. And so it should be with Howard, Fisk and Mississippi Valley State. That’s what democratic pluralism means.”
Long live HBCU’s. Thanks to the many who contribute their time and money to HBCU’s. And, kudos to Oprah and Denzel for making The Great Debaters. It was a pleasure. When you see it, please don’t miss the message.
All articles copyright by James E. Clingman. All Rights Reserved.