Thursday, January 19, 2012

We Are NOT Our Own Worst Enemy

And I don't give a f#@k what Bill Cosby said
'cause the problem gon' exist when Bill Cosby's dead
And I don't think the revelation from the supreme beings
residing or hiding out in Bill Cosby's head

-Jay Electronica “Renaissance Man”

A few days after Christmas, the blogosphere and social media sites were abuzz with images and news articles of working class Black people buying and even fighting over newly released Air Jordan sneakers. Predictably this news story led many to fall back on the dominant narrative that irresponsible purchases are the cause of Black people’s problems. Never mind the fact that wages have stagnated for the past forty years and most people have had to go in debt to keep this consumer based economy going. Why? Because, according to some, “We are our own worst enemy.” Unfortunately, most of us don’t view the problem as ‘the system’ because we have accepted the dominant narrative of Black pathology.

In large part, the blaming-the-victim ideology that has become so pervasive has its roots in White Nationalist archetypes of Africans in America. The lazy, shiftless, socially and financially irresponsible negro narrative came to full maturity during the Reconstruction period, following the US civil War. Similar to other periods when Whites socio-economic position feels threatened, they are manipulated into blaming scapegoats for their problems. Once Reconstruction ended, this narrative was employed to justify legal segregation, economic exploitation, and lynchings of Black people. More recently in the 1980s, right wing neo-conservatives manipulated working class whites and, I argue, middle class Blacks to blaming their tenuous position on poor and working class Black people (welfare queens, the inner city drug dealer etc.).

The causes and solutions to the economic crisis show the hypocrisy of the lazy negro narrative. For example, Black people are told one of their problems is they do not correctly save and invest their income. On the other hand, financial institutions and banks that partook in risky financial instruments received over $7.7 TRILLION (yes with a T) in bailouts from the Federal Reserve. How much economic development would half that amount have done for the Black community?

Or, a case in point, we are told our poverty primarily results from that fact that we are not financially literate. In fact, researcher Dedrick Muhammand has demonstrated that Wells Fargo and other banks conducted ‘wealth building seminars’ in Black churches then targeted Black people for subprime mortgage loans. Lastly (and my personal favorite), somehow our problems are attributed to young Black men wearing their pants below their waist i.e. sagging. (sigh) The bankers wear business suits and they’re the main culprits behind ‘The Great Recession.’ Any questions?

One way to challenge the dominant narrative is to not view events and people as isolated phenomena but instead attempt to find the connections between what appears to be unrelated events. Our problems are not disconnected from other issues like American consumerism. Also, instead of a focus on personal responsibility, let’s look at Ujima or collective work and responsibility. In other words how do Black people as a group resolve our problems? After making these adjustments we can construct a narrative that correctly identifies the problem: imperialism and capitalism.