The round-table discussion of The Black Agenda in Spring held in Chicago offers some insight and possible food for thought both in what the speakers had to say and what they did not say. Here is my take....
First, the session as usual was full of polemics and elegant language which in my opinion the African American community never lacked. The oratorical excellence and the heart of the people around that table can never and should not be questioned. They mean well, doesn't necessarily translate into "they do well" though. High on history, but short on actionable points can define the Tavis Smiley gathering. Heavy on Obama-centrism, and over focus on the new found connection to the presidency is the ultimate undoing and the death by Obama stance that brother Smiley took.
Indeed, one thing the entire table seem to agree on is that since the election of Obama, the Black Agenda has somewhat stalled - with the the African American community in an unusual quandary as to how to deal with the new President- Pharaoh, Joseph or Moses? I think Joseph (sorry, Eric Dyson). And to get Joseph to act, his brothers had to leave the land of famine and ask of him to do right by his folks..and make it impossible for him to refuse them. Therein lay the crux of the discussions. What is being asked of Obama? Have we or we are just hoping? While the panel members identified the need for continued pressure on the White House (thank your Minister Farrakhan), they fail to identify how, and put such in actionable point.
The fact is, President Obama has very little incentive with sky high ratings to sign on to the Black Agenda without being pushed. But don't be deceived, that push will never come with protests and demonstrations like the Tea Party- for given the near unanimous votes by Blacks for the man- they own the President and his successes, failures and would hate to be the fodder for seeming problems with his base. The only available option thus appear is for the Black Community to elect legislators that can stand up to Obama, and Pelosi and Harry Reid. The way to ensure that is to guarantee a compromise free, corruption free, Black Agenda conscious congress people as represented in the Congressional Black Caucus.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. CBC members are by far some of the oldest in the non-term limited congress. Some are actively under ethics investigation, and have basically no leverage over legislation and leadership even though by pure virtue of seniority they may be committee chairmen or congress leaders. In short, the black community have substituted position for real power. For in certain instances, real power is wielded by being in opposition and pressing and getting your agenda. The corruption ridden, ideas bankrupt CBC represents the greatest albatross on the black agenda. From Congressman Rangel and Jefferson, to Congresswomen Walters and Kilpatrick- the embarrassing cases of abuse of power by black congress leaders that then weaken the agenda is bad for business and one too many. The result like in Louisiana and Detroit, is the black Agenda not just losing but getting foreclosed on, when non-Black congressmen then ride such discontent to represent AA districts. Shame. This fact, the panel basically fails to pin point.
Perhaps, the right action item for the AA community would have been that since that spring there should be a focus on the Democratic Party primary with the mission being to throw out a vast majority of incumbents- especially those in CBC. This is especially important if the black community generally votes democratic- the most important election then is not the General Election but the Primary Election where they can effect change and ensure true representation.This should have been the message: Tavis Smiley, missed an opportunity.
The second message which obviously came by way of near unanimous identification is the lack of singular focus on the most important black Agenda- getting the black male back to work. One do not need to be an economist to see how tackling this singular issue with a targeted jobs program, easy to implement since this population is localized around urban areas, and with more bang for the buck is not being taken up in Congress. An employed black male population will radically reduce overall unemployment rate which is good for Obama & Congress poll numbers. It is also good for crime statistics, increase birthrate invariably and boost the economic power of the black family and woman. Indeed, when President Obama talks of the "tide lifting all boats", it is the tide of eradicating Black Male Unemployment that does just that. Not giving bail out to Wall Street and Auto Companies- and hoping it trickles down.
In failing to create an actionable item to focus on this issue, Tavis Smiley also fails the community. Why for instance did Tavis not require every primary contender for democratic seat this November sign a covenant to support an Urban Jobs Program with multi-facet focus on infrastructure, community revitalization, technology enabled jobs and entrepreneurship (small business, government contracts) as part of next year's budget? Republicans use this tact on abortion, same sex marriage and their funny social agendas all the time. Why is the new CBC (usually a minimum of 40 congress people- far greater than Tea Part reps or Blue Dogs that wag the Congress) members not told to simply force the government to shut down if this program is not part of the budget? "Hey, refuse to vote for the budget cos if you do- Tavis Smiley will make you lose next time". Is that not a better message than whining every year at this summit?
It is amply clear that the new discrimination and social agenda for African Americans today is the economic one. Economic disparity is a different mammal from pure social interactive disparities that are obvious and glaringly immoral like Jim Crow laws. Hence, the tact must change. I think only Minister Farrakhan - self evident from his life work, gets this point. Forget about jobs by the way- focus on entrepreneurship. With 40 million people, and a trillion dollar in GDP- the AA community is an economic powerhouse that is asleep. If she were a nation by the way, she will be among the top 8 economies in the world! To even the field of this disparity, the AA community need a combination of political force and personal responsibility (more on that).
Nothing illustrates my point about economic disparity and political force (and how Tavis could have helped advance this) than the near unanimous complain about the State focus stimulus program (versus it being city targeted). Granted, the bad design of the program is obvious and indefensible. But wait a minute. Where was the CBC when this law was being passed? Why would the CBC cede the representation of their Agenda and their community to an inexperienced President often surrounded by the "boys"? Would Obama and Pelosi not have compromised and have a significant and targeted urban component to the bill had the CBC refused to vote for it in January last year? But no, half of them where high on having a black president and handing him his first legislative victory and now Tavis is complaining? Legislating is what legislators are paid to do! Not aping the President. I believe every CBC member should lose their job for the badly designed (as far as the black community is concerned) stimulus; we need some fresh blood in Washington! Take my Representative Sheila Jackson out first. I volunteer her. But too late- the primary season is over now..locked in Tavis!
Speaking of personal responsibility, it is why I perceive that Minister Farrakhan's life's work best illustrate the right response to the economic disparity the community faces. One one hand, work to hold the feet of the fire that be to fire- on the other, advance economic self empowerment by focusing on business ownership, entrepreneurship, building generational wealth etc. Jobs will last until the next recession, but a well focused enterprise will last three generations. In any case, it is a fact that when the staff cutting programs, it is brothers and then sisters, that tend to get the pink slip first. So why bother with jobs? I say give us business people, entrepreneurs, clusters etc. Screw the jobs. (Caveat: to get this going though- Unlike Minister Farrakhan-the community must face the reality of how Black-Jewish partnership can help strengthen the arm of economic empowerment: Heck, Mr. Taylor Lewis (of TLC Beatrice Corp)- late Billionaire and Author of "Why should white men have all the fun"- illustrates what Jewish-Black partnerships can do to create wealth).
In being personally responsible for our economic success, one may note that following figures: the median wealth for single black mothers in their prime is $5. That is an astounding figure. Even most mothers in dirt poor sub-sahara African countries are far richer than that- when one factors in their natural land assets by inheritance. Now, the far reaching unanswered question is why are these women "single black mothers"? It is clear that Black Men by far are a major contributor to the poverty of our race. Our penchant to create single black mothers either by not taking responsibility for our sex lives, or for the product (children) of such when it bears us is strikingly playing into the hands of poverty. Clearly- wealth in America is better sustained when the family unit is strong. And herein lies the elephant in the room of this panel. Why was their a refusal to raise that point? That we Black men , can singlehandedly reverse the poverty of our race in America by:
a. Taking care of our credit and all records (basically, avoid the prison house and debts)
b. Going to school, and getting that education as far as it can take us (you earn more)
c. Saving and investing in hard (not depreciable) assets (homes, land and perhaps equity not cars)
d. Owning our own business and focusing on entrepreneurship (not mere jobs)
e. Have protected sex and/or stay married to the mothers of our children
These simple five rules of life will go farther than any government program in turning around the fortunes of our community. Granted we all make mistakes, but the great thing is that we are talking about here are personal responsibilities. So even if we screw up occasionally, only us can still fix it. Here, Tavis just went dead silent on us. Where are the actionable items?