As I ponder the state of the American Negro on the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address, and the anniversary of the death of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., I am perplexed and amazed at how television personalities and others, speak of the struggle for racial equality by the African American as something that has already been achieved. They speak of the civil rights movement, and the quest for black liberation in the past tense, as if Dr. King’s dream of equality has been realized. They use terms like blacks “were denied” and African Americans “have achieved” as though the majority of Black people in this country have overcome the scourge of racism and white supremacy. The factual reality of racial prejudice being alive and well in this country, belies these propagandistic lies and half-truths, which serve as a smokescreen to hide the ugly truth about the state of racial affairs in this country. Although many have bled, died and suffered for the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, the truth of the matter is that as Malcolm X once said, “ in America, democracy is hypocrisy.”
Although Jim Crow, a racial caste system where unequal treatment under the law was upheld for decades as acceptable and justified has fallen due to the persistent struggle of the last three generations, discrimination and racial prejudice continues in its reinvented form. By legal necessity, racism has undergone a make-over. While blatant in your face discrimination against blacks under color of law has receded, and discriminatory state statutes have been over-ruled by the supremacy of federal law, the spirit if not the letter of Jim Crow still remains in the hearts and minds of many white Americans. The evidence of these truths is overwhelming, and one need look no further than the federal legislation over the last decade which has served to extract and detract the safety nets and other social governmental programs designed to aid the African American in the quest for equality in education, employment, and housing. Government initiatives like Head Start, Aid for Families with Dependent Children, unemployment insurance, affirmative action, food stamps, and others have all been slashed and cut to the point of ineffectiveness, if not altogether eliminated. Likewise, federal campaigns like the War on Drugs, the War on deadbeat dads, and the War on crime, have all served to target and disproportionately impact black males resulting in the loss of liberty and economic viability.
Black institutions of higher education, once beacons of hope, and many times the only hope for education for millions of African Americans, now are closing at a rapid rate and struggling to keep the doors open, due to decreased endowments and support from state governments. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are suffering and dying, while white colleges continue to grow and thrive with their multimillion and billion dollar endowments from wealthy white benefactors, and state and local governments. These same state and local governments, which use to provide a pittance of support to Black colleges before desegregation, now turn a blind eye to their support and financial need. At the same time, there is an organized effort by white academicians and lobbyists to abolish our HBCUs under the twisted rationale that they are no longer necessary or desired, due to the advent of desegregation and the decrease in student enrollment on Black college campuses. A larger lie has never been told.
The truth is that white colleges were never constructed or intended to serve the peculiar and particular needs of the presumed “intellectually and culturally deprived American Negro.” This is a role that only the HBCU embraced and fulfilled with overwhelming success for nearly a century before the walls of separate but equal were abolished by Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka in 1954; and Governor George Wallace’ infamous “Stand in the School House Door,” requiring Federal intervention onto the campus of the University of Alabama in 1963. Even today in 2015, as the enrollment of more black students at white universities continues to rise, the Black student is only tolerated in a white college culture that neither nurtures nor embraces them. Black athletes are inspected and prized like specimens of cattle, or slaves on the auction block, being readied for the modern day equivalent of gladiators, for the purpose and privilege of financial exploitation, all to the glory of white universities. Meanwhile, the black and brown non-athletes are merely necessary evils in an Anglo-European culture that speaks not to the traditions and customs of the African American. Black students are forced to carve out, and establish a niche within a culture that is mostly inhospitable. Just like in the larger American society, Blacks are a subculture within a culture, trapped in the “double consciousness” of being not fully American and not fully African. We are caught somewhere in the middle of a bifurcated existence — displaced from our homeland and African heritage but unable to fully cross the bridge of acceptance in America, separated by the ocean of white supremacy.
Integration has failed, and the evidence is borne out by the fact that most inner city public schools are still segregated. Furthermore, its failure is documented by the increasing rates of black high school dropouts; where in some areas of the nation is as high as five out of eight for black males. Most inner city schools are filled with black kids and black teachers but controlled by the bureaucracy of white school boards and administrators. These white administrators and government officials intentionally live in the suburbs and send their children to predominantly white schools, while building new and pristine edifices outside the city limits, in newly incorporated townships outside the reach of urban blight and blackness. This takes place while the inferior inner city public education of the Negro serves only to perpetuate our dependence on, and further enrich the institutions that deny us equal citizenship. That’s not education. In the words of Carter G. Woodson, “that’s miseducation.”
The American Negro has defied all odds and survived the Middle Passage, over 300 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic and structural racism. The notion that the African American is dependent on the federal government due to laziness and a trifling nature does not square with history or the facts. This was disproven during slavery, the antebellum and post-bellum south, and through pre-and post-Reconstruction. Our equitable demands on the federal government are due to the inequality of opportunity in all phases of American society. The gap is too wide, and the economic disparities too entrenched and systemic to remedy with government programs and self-help alone. The chasm of white supremacy and racism is too deep. African Americans are owed reparations for the centuries of slave labor which transformed America’s economy into the richest in the world.
Slavery was the economic bedrock of this country. America was built and prospered on the free labor of our African ancestors. For this, the descendants of slaves should be paid for the trillions of dollars in economic prosperity which has benefitted the Anglo-European families and institutions, but has escaped the American Negro. Give us what is justifiably owed for the centuries of slave labor, and for the millions of wrongful deaths that occurred during and after the trans-Atlantic slave trade, so African Americans can have the dignity and independence that comes from economic empowerment. Give us what is owed and we can buy our own land, build our own institutions, and deal with Anglo-Europeans on equal footing. This is the only solution to the centuries-old problem of the inequality of the races.
So I ask the critical question of 2015. Over 150 years after The Emancipation Proclamation … over 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka … 38 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. … Six years after the election of President Barack Obama … Has the Negro made it? Has the Negro achieved racial, social and economic equality in this so-called land of the free?
Will King’s dream of a color-blind society ever be realized in America, where men are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin? The answer is an equally unequivocal and resounding, NO!
Okay, now that we’ve settled those questions now and forever, let’s begin the serious talk of a remedy for the centuries of free slave labor, murder and dehumanization suffered by the Negro, which spawned the greatest economic turnaround in world history. The answer is to pay the ancestors of those upon whose backs this country was built, and the time is now!
Editor’s note: Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at the-truth-teller.com. You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.