Black America has no voice. Not because no one wants to lead, but because no one is willing to follow. No one is wiling to sacrifice. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, whose own voice is now often eclipsed by The Reverend Al Sharpton, has seen his sphere of influence grow terribly constricted, the old school Classic Coke Jackson seeming to struggle to find relevance. My frustration with the NAACP, the black church, and, I guess, everybody (since I seem to be the only one peeved about this) is there is not only no leadership in Black America, there is, sadly, no accountability in Black America.
There once was a time when black people
were often called shines,
as in shoe-shine boys. We were mostly minstrel players, clowned
up in white face paint, shuffling along to entertain white folk
who’d toss pennies into a hat. Then, somewhere along the way,
there came Marcus Garvey. W.E.B. DuBois. The Honorable Elijah
Muhammad and The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then
scarier guys like Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey P. Newton
and Bobby Seale. Politicians like Julian Bond. Andrew Young was
elected Atlanta’s mayor. Minister Louis Farrakhan. And, of
course, The Reverend Jesse Jackson.
So, here’s my question: why are we back to being shines again?
Why do we look ridiculous, sound ridiculous, and revel in
hyper-sexualized glorification of negative behavior? Even such
perceived negative role models as Stokeley Carmichael or
Cleaver, despite their threatening disposition, were not clowns.
I imagine even if those men were indulging in recreational sex
and drugs, that behavior was not lauded as the high mark of
black culture, nor was it packaged and systematically
disseminated to children. I was only a child myself at the time
but, my guess, America—white and black—likely feared those men
and women, who presented themselves soberly as leaders in an
Respect, in many if not most cases, stems from fear, or at least reverence, which is itself a type of fear. Students pay attention to teachers because they have a fear of or at least reverence for the teacher. The teacher who can give them a failing grade or expel them. Or a respected professor with knowledge the student needs. Without respect, a teacher cannot teach. Without respect, the preacher cannot preach. The leader cannot lead.
Such reverence, however, begins with submission to an authority figure. The bible teaches us the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom [Proverbs 1:7]. The erosion of our values, the devaluing of our heritage and history, breeds ignorance which, in turn, breeds contempt. For me,. this feels like the Lost Generation, a Bart Simpson generation of people living in an information age—with more knowledge available to them at the click of a mouse than my generation could ever have dreamed—who nonetheless choose ignorance. Who make a virtue out of ignorance and defend their right to be ignorant. Generations before, white men kept us enslaved with whips and chains. Now they do it with CD's and music videos. And the end product of our own ignorance, of our acceptance and ingestion of this cultural poison, is the silencing of our own voice.
Black America has no voice. Not because no one wants to lead, but because no one is willing to follow. No one is wiling to sacrifice. We've been pacified by Lil Wayne and Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, 2Pac and Scarface. And even such benign charity as Destiny's Child's Beyoncé has gone full-on hoochie verging on skank. Forget Jesse Jackson, forget Al Sharpton. Forget TD Jakes or even Barack Obama. The voice of Black America is in our popular culture, which is dominated by glorified criminality and a devaluing of the black woman. In the eyes of white America, I imagine we look like clowns. Clowns and minstrels. Tiger Woods, the billion-dollar golden child, just as dumb as can be, laying up with white women and leaving messages—messages—on their voicemail to change his name in their cell phones. Mike Tyson, once the most feared man in America, clowning on Dancing With The Stars. Angry mobs of Tea Partiers—who might as well go on and cover themselves in white sheets—carrying brazenly racist placards and applauding calls for a return to Jim Crow literacy tests. These people aren't even nervous. Why? Because they know black folk don't watch the news. Black folk don't read. There's no Black Panther Party to be nervous about any more, and the Crips and Bloods are too busy slinging dope and throwing shots at each other to care much about angry mobs of puffy white folks calling the President of The United States epithets as close to the N-word as they dare. To many of these folks, we're all a bunch of clowns and shines. Because they look to Black America and see this idiot Lil Wayne with his pants sagging. They see Beyoncé, a talented, intelligent, smart businesswoman who's built a multi-million-dollar empire from nothing—rolling around on the ground in Daisy Dukes pouting and writhing and begging for sex. They see a nation of gangsters and prostitutes. And we celebrate and award these people, making them rich and encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. Where is the black voice?
Bishop Jakes, Bishop Long, Bishop Morton, Bishop Whomever: where's our multi-million-dollar ad campaign against violence, against profanity? Where are these MegaBishops with all their cash and all their supposed power, standing up and shaming these little baggy-pants rats, spending millions on ads on BET to look young Black America in the eye and tell them God Is Real And He's Gonna Jam You For This? I realize many of you revere and admire these men, but my respect for them is directly proportional to what fruit these men produce. To whom much is given, much is required [Luke 12:48] and these men, these powerful, influential men, could be doing something—are in a unique position TO do something—to stem the tide of Black America's circling of the drain. But they do nothing. They shop for Rolls Royces and hawk their latest special offers on their weekly broadcasts. The day is coming, I assure you and them, that they'll have to stand before God with nothing. No ring, no Rolex, no Rolls. And they'll be required to tell God why, when God had provided them with every resource to combat this evil, they chose to do nothing. These men's bloated bank accounts are like megaphones enabling them to speak in thunder and strike with lightning bolts. Focus On The Family spent almost three million dollars to speak their mind. Jakes, Long, Morton —where was their Superbowl ad shaming this evil, antichrist, black "culture"? Why do they remain silent?
We have no voice. In 1966 we had, maybe, three TV channels. Today we have a blitzkrieg of non-stop news and entertainment—with no single coherent voice speaking for Black America. What we have is a cacophony of competing, overlapping yammering from politicians to preachers to actors, singers, rappers. We have a zillion reality TV series, each one worse than the next. We have American Idol. We have a generation of nitwits—white and black—growing up embracing the notion that underachievement is somehow cool.
How did we move from being a united community that made white folk nervous to being a splintered collection of disparate voices who aspire to nothing, know nothing about ourselves, and are no longer much of a political or economic threat to anyone at all? How did we go backwards from Malcolm X to Stepin Fetchit? How did we lose all of those gains, ending up right back here, with America dismissing and ignoring us, with Black America being good only for sports and entertainment figures?