Ferguson: the protests, the die-ins, #boycottBlackFriday and #Notonedime. The Black community has mobilized en masse for the first time in a long time. The amazing collective response to the decision not to indict Darren Wilson has earned a page in the history and a spot in the legacy of the Black experience.
But whenever I witness, learn about, or participate in these acts of revolution/defiance/civil disobedience, however large or small, I begin to worry that it creates a pattern of behavior where we solely unite around shared oppression. The only time there is any sense of urgency and organized mobilization is in the midst of a crisis, at which point, it’s too late because the tragedy has already occurred. The marches and protests that occur in the aftermath are important but that’s not enough. Those things don’t translate into real changes. Instead, that amount of expended energy can lead to a collective burnout leaving nothing left for the everyday real work.
Whenever the discussion of community building comes up, many Black people argue that it is our inability to organize that holds us back from making any real strides in creating thriving communities on a large scale, as if we’re inherently defective in that area. But I think that any failure we exhibit in organizing is a manifestation of something deeper. I believe it is because we have created a Black identity that revolves around our collective legacy of pain and suffering. Those things are important to honor but it doesn’t sustain us long enough to stay committed to everyday community-building. If we focus solely on the pain to the exclusion of our unique and more positive cultural aspects & experiences we will ignite some amazing but short-lived fires. Fires that will fizzle out once we’re back living our everyday lives and the dust has settled. Rendering all the protesting and marching a total waste of time and energy.
It is my belief that if we’re really serious about Black community building, we have to unite based upon an identity that is rooted in more than just our shared anger and outrage over particular events and situations. I don’t like comparing one cultural group to another since each has a unique history and experience, but I’ll make an exception here- the Jewish community bonds not only on their collective history of discrimination but also on their collective belief in something positive- being the “chosen” people, and it seems to be working well for them. I share that to make the point that to sustain our commitment to building our community requires more than basing a Black identity on being constantly pissed off-though that is a real part of it. It means other and more positive things, too. And we need to examine those elements that make Black culture Black, however subtle or nuanced they may be. I think that is one important way we’ll be able to keep the momentum for community building going on a daily basis.
But that’s not going to be easy for a variety of reasons. First, to define Black culture would require looking at all of the communities of the African Diaspora. And it’s simply not possible for one person to create a list of all the differences and similarities within every Black cultural community. But that’s why I am a such an advocate for conducting family genealogy because I believe that is a great place to start to reclaim one’s power and identity. If we start with ourselves, then we can grow from there. Secondly, it requires unlearning the pattern of seeing our differences in a negative light. We are used to our differences being used against us as an excuse for discrimination, hate, or even death. And while that was largely a reflection of the oppressor’s character, it doesn’t mean we haven’t internalized it. In other words, we have to learn to like being Black. We have to trust Blackness. We have to learn to be able to deal with the negatives without it overshadowing the positives. If you can’t think of any positives, I suggest you find some. Thirdly, we live in a world that, at it’s core, encourages sameness. Sameness is safe. Differences can get dangerous and can get divisive. But if we don’t let the exploration of differences take us down the path of categorizing them into a hierarchy, we should be good. A healthy dose of arrogance and preference for your in-group is cool. Hell, it’s arguably necessary for group survival. It’s when it’s used as a reason to encroach upon another person’s livelihood that it becomes a serious problem. I do not want to present problems without offering suggestions and solutions on how to tackle them. So here are some ways we can keep the fire burning and make the commitment to community building real:
A wise person once said “I ain’t gotta do sh*t but stay Black and die”. Seemingly simple words except for one thing: we never determined how to “stay Black”. Hopefully, that will begin to change. Photo cred: I do not take credit for this photo. I initially found it on a .gov photo search but didn’t note the url. Happy to link it once when I find it.