By Doni Morton Glover
‘No one is going to do for you what you can and should do for yourself’
(BALTIMORE – March 3, 2012) – I want to take a moment and publicly thank Jamye Wooten – and others – for continuing to push the envelope when it comes to black progress via the political process. I must admit, sometimes I get weary. Sometimes, after witnessing first-hand the divide and conquer scheme work its magic on black Baltimore and black Prince George’s County (the 2 majority black jurisdictions in Maryland), I need a break from what seems like the Greek tale of Sisyphus; for every time progress is made, some way – somehow – the boulder continues to fall back in our laps. I have to detox my spirit from those of my race who have the proclivity to think ‘the white man’s ice is colder.’
In Wooten’s celebrated piece, Black Politics Beyond the Ballot Box, he does an outstanding job at reminding African Americans of the need for a collective black agenda – one that is first based on the needs of black people.
He reminds us that the Jews, the Koreans, and the Latinos all have a home-first agenda. The question he then raises – as I have over the years – is regarding the dilemma in black America. He poses the query, ‘Where is the black agenda?’
Election after election, black folks see the same old game. Time and time again, politicians who have no vested interest in the black community, aim specifically for the pulpit. They know that if they can get in the pulpit, black folks quite often have the tendency to forget everything, get caught up in emotion, and emerge with this newfound empathy for everybody else … except black people.
Case in point: Bill Clinton, the former US president, smoked a joint, received oral sex in the Oval Office, and played the sax – and he then gets the honor from a local Congressman as being the first black president. That was 1999. Never mind that Clinton locked up more black people than any president in history of this nation; that is not important to the psyche of black folks. And never mind that this country incarcerates at a rate higher than any nation on earth.
The point is that black people quite often vote for others because they are cute or have charm, charisma, swag – but not because they are beneficial to the causes of black people.
Lauryn Hill posed it best: “Why black people always got to be the one to settle?”
Juxtapose Clinton with Marion Barry. While there are those who want to remind us of the infamous incident of Barry in the hotel room with a suspect woman and crack cocaine, Barry is still the quintessential example in the DMV (DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia region) of a black politician who looked out for his people. He made sure every young person who wanted a summer job had one. He made sure that if a business came to Washington, DC to set-up shop, they brought jobs for the locals with them – already allotted. He made sure Bob Johnson had the political support necessary for him to become the billionaire he is today. And there are countless other stories of how Barry consistently and repeatedly used his bully platform to advocate for black people. And the proof is in the pudding. He generally always gets re-elected because he endeared himself to the people. Even more, Prince George’s County – which is the wealthiest black jurisdiction in the country – exists because of all of the people Barry made sure were hired and granted contracts.
Now, let’s shift northward to Maryland. When I turned on the tube and saw Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly high-fiving each other at the recent progress made on the “Gay Marriage” bill – I didn’t pay attention to the white politicians. I did, however, keenly observe the reactions of the black politicians present – one of whom comes from a noted black political family in Maryland. When I saw these black politicians lose their minds in celebration of the bill’s passage on television for all to see, I asked myself just why in the world weren’t they pushing a black agenda? Is our political acumen that meager?
By all indications, “Gay Marriage” is not the number one issue in the black community. It may be the top agenda item in other communities, but – according to those I’ve talked with – straight “and” gay – black folks need jobs, affordable housing, new schools, health care, and recreation opportunities – especially for young people.
Be clear: I am for ALL people getting their due benefits. And that’s exactly why I, as a servant of the community, push a black agenda.
Time and time again, when I have raised these pertinent concerns – I hear every excuse in the world as to why black folks cannot get their needs addressed. Every time, somebody else’s agenda supersedes ours. Like Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
A classic example is the Baltimore Grand Prix. We can invest $7 to $10 million of tax money and ‘Recovery’ money into a “Hot Wheels set” for the Inner Harbor, but we cannot find $300,000 to fill a shortfall for the recreation centers that have saved innumerable lives in Baltimore over the past 40 years alone. No! Instead, we take our buffoonery and chicanery to a whole other level: For the first time in recent history, Baltimore has decided to privatize the recreation centers.
I say, something is fundamentally wrong with that equation where, at the end of the day, the state is more willing to give the city a new juvenile jail … than a new school.
So much for a city that claims to understand the needs of its people. So much for politicians who claim they are going to be more transparent than their predecessor. So much for politicians who claim to understand leadership, and yet have no sense of history – especially black history.
When I consider the legends of the past – from Rev. Vernon Dobson to Harvey Johnson to Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Mitchell to Victorine Adams – on up to Bea Gaddy: those were black politicos who understood the needs of black people. The cadre of leadership over the past 13 years has been far from the shores of that norm. Seemingly, the black politician today is only black on the outside. On the inside, he or she is a beaten soul – acquiesced to and more concerned with the matters of the broader white community – yet numb to the needs of the people – and yet always crying that black folks don’t vote – let alone contribute to a black politician’s campaign.
Flashback: 2008: General Election Day: Blacks in Sandtown, one of the city’s most economically depressed areas, were lined up out the door and around the corner at 7 am in order to vote for Barack Obama – something no one had seen before. Call it an anomaly. Say what you want: I know what we can do … when we want to.
Repeatedly, the keen political observer has taken note over the years on how the Sunpapers demonizes the strong black man and the strong black woman who unabashedly stand up for black causes. Consequently, many otherwise strong black people choose anything but public office. After all, who wants mean things written about them in the paper? So, they become, it seems, afraid to speak up for black people – even when other groups and their leaders unapologetically do.
As Wooten points out: Jews, Koreans, and Latinos make no apology for advocating for their causes – first and foremost.
Blacks, on the other hand, are so forgiving, so forgetful of history, so void of a reason to feel like black people are worth fighting for. If you ask me, the black politician in Maryland today is more concerned with his/her own political well-being than that of the people. If you ask me, the black politician today is selfish beyond reproach. To me, the black politician’s moral compass is so out-of-sync and disconnected from the needs of the people that he cannot find his way to the parking lot. Some say it is simply fear.
And that’s exactly where I become perplexed – for I was taught that fear is merely false evidence appearing real.
The black community is as American as any other ethnic group in America. We are more American, in certain ways. Consider how we had to fight for the right to fight for this country. What the …? Consider how a black man was the first one to die in the American Revolution. Consider how a black man discovered the North Pole, gave us peanut butter, and invented the cell phone. Yet, how is the black man rewarded in America? He is sent to prison more disproportionately than any other segment of society. And I don’t think it is a mistake. I “do” think there is a conspiracy of some sort when black men alone comprise over 40% of the nation’s prison population when black people as a whole comprise only 12% of the US demographic.
Something is fundamentally wrong. This dilemma needs immediate attention. If it were Jewish men or white men who outnumbered all other prisoners, there would be a State of Emergency declared.
I think too many black people – collectively, that is – suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and/or have residuals of slavery too deeply-rooted in our DNA such that sustained progress is a serious improbabilty. I think too many have remanded themselves to the status of second class citizen. I’m not sure the masses ever recovered from 400 years of racism, rapes, lynchings, and Jim Crow – let alone the barrage of 21st century rap videos and the age of super-materialism by America’s top consumer.
And I think the black church has been more caught up on having the best facility, that we no longer have the church as the nuclear center it once was. I think many churches are so engulfed in prosperity theology that the primary mission of saving souls has been replaced with saving the pastor’s condo at the Ritz-Carlton.
Those leaders – church, social, cultural – who once were … have died off. The legacy we once had has been dropped by the wayside. The glory of the past has been replaced by designer names as it is no big thing to see a black preacher driving a Bentley or a black politician without a black agenda.
And the only relevance MLK has today is once a year around the 18th of January where we hear a line or two from the “I Have a Dream” speech.
While the state of Maryland is supposedly the best state in the nation for public education, both Baltimore and Prince George’s County are at the very bottom of the totem pole. On the contrary, we lead the way in areas such as HIV/AIDS infections.
The solution, my friends, is real simple. We have to return to those basic values taught by our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents: Love. We have to re-embrace concepts such as forgiveness. And we have to heal centuries of pain, abuse, and mis-treatment. We have to learn to love ourselves …. once again. Preachers, community leaders, and citizens alike must arrest the American brand of “doin’ me” and the associated selfishness – and replace it with a “we” mentality. I know we can do it. I just know we can.
I simply refuse to believe that God would put my people here to lose – especially when every other group in America is making progress.
We, as a people, have the wealth of one of the top 20 nations in the world. With nearly a trillion dollars in annual disposable income, black people run things and don’t even know it. We are, in fact, beggars sitting on bags of gold.
My dream is that we do, in fact, recognize our value and significance to this country in every aspect: mentally, physically, spiritually, economically, and politically.
We are at the very foundation of any- and everything American.
In the words of film director Spike Lee, we need to “wake up” from the daze.
I know the greatness within my race. I have seen the progress made when black folks are committed. In my humble opinion, the most black progress was made during the Schmoke era in Baltimore. And while some might say I’m too Romantic about those days, I just can’t forget the many programs that were made available in places like historic East Baltimore and Sandtown. I was a journalist at that point, and can readily recall how entities like the Baltimore Empowerment Zone made a difference. I remember when the hi-rise projects were razed and replaced by single family mixed-income developments. I remember the days of sharing and caring for the majority population in Baltimore such that a summer job for a kid was pretty much a given.
And so if it happened before, it can happen again. That’s what I believe. I just do.
I also believe that C. Anthony Muse speaks best on behalf of my people in the current US Senate race against Ben Cardin. I just do!