VOICES OF THE VILLAGE
By Lissa Jones
In his struggle against apartheid in South Africa, for which he was killed, leader and activist Steve Biko, defending a group of Black South African men unjustly charged in a South African court, found words to describe what I believe in my heart to be the essence of Black Consciousness:
“My Lord, Blacks are not unaware of the hardships they endure, or what the government is doing to them. We want them to stop accepting these hardships, to confront them. People must not give into their hardships, they must, even in this environment, find a way to develop hope. Hope for themselves, hope for this country… Now I think that is what Black Consciousness is all about, without any reference to the White man, to try and build up a sense of our own…humanity, our legitimate place in the world.”
In spite of the blood our ancestors shed for our collective freedom, today too many of us are afraid to say “Black” or “African American”; we prefer the more noncommittal “people of color.” Too many of us carry shame about our Blackness. Too many of us demonstrate a concern for self over the welfare of our sisters and brothers — America’s “rugged individual.”
Too many of us have adjusted to an ideology that reminds us daily, subtly and directly that we just don’t quite measure up, that we should be ashamed for having been tricked, kidnapped and enslaved, and that we are fools for resisting our condition.
This ideology preaches that President Barack Obama is an exception to the rule for Black men. This ideology manifested itself in a gross loss of decorum when a seated U.S. Congressmen shouted “Liar!” at the first Black President of the United States, the only time such a thing has ever occurred in that hall, broadcast across the world for all to see: disrespect.
Steve Biko also taught us that the “greatest weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” In essence, once one of us is sick with the disease of oppression we practice it on others, mostly unconsciously, spreading the disease like wildfire. If Willie Lynch really delivered his speech, then we have been infected since 1712, or 299 years.
Today, we are not unaware of the hardships we endure or what the government is doing to us. We need look no further than the geographic boundaries of the Twin Cities to see the realities in racial profiling, arrest and incarceration statistics. Whether the BMW your son is driving belongs to him through “legitimate means” or not, it’s a racial profiling magnet.
The real blip of it is that this reality is the same for the young man driving a ‘”bucket” and just trying to make it. The number of our babies living in “out-of-home placement” or aging out of foster care is alarming.
Our health statistics show shorter life expectancies for us. We get that. The statistics everyone loves to cite reflect the lives of our people, something the numbers fail to show. This is the reality for too many of us.
The movement for Black Consciousness calls us to stop accepting the hardships, like being followed at Macy’s while someone who looks like the clerk following you robs them blind — though at first I laugh to myself, as it seems to serve them right! That is, until I remember that the cost will simply be passed on to me, the consumer. Ain’t that a blip?
How can we learn to confront our hardships together? To see that the ideology we are up against oppresses us all no matter the money we make, the address where we reside, the clothes we wear or the cars we drive?
Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers told us that we have to separate the “Revolutionary” from the “Reactionary” in the Black community in order to get the real work done. In other words, leave those who are just talkin’ to talk; you’ve got to get the “doers” in the mix to take on the meaningful work.
Do you use your title or position to improve conditions in the village? Do you use your podium to speak for Black humanity, rights and justice? Do you preach unity from the pulpit and practice it in the village?
What are you doing, with whatever you have, to help confront and change our condition?
We need the whole village, together, every one of us. We have everything we need right here. As was true when our people lived in Africa, we were artisans and farmers, builders and laborers and intellectuals.
We need to learn our history to heal ourselves, to repair our relationships, to drop our false pretenses, to refuse Willie Lynch, to recall an old language that spoke justly of our humanity, our legitimate place in the world — and then spread it like wildfire.
Join the movement for Black Consciousness!
Lissa Jones welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.