To the critics who have arisen in light of the recent wave of mass demonstrations, let’s get some things clear as to why we engaged in protest.
First, social protest is a means of raising public awareness about situations that may otherwise go unnoticed. Take for example the small town cases: Shaquanda Cotton, Jena 6, and Genarlow Wilson. Lest people forget how these cases arose from obscurity to national attention, review the plight of these youth.
Shaquanda Cotton was a 14-year old girl sent to prison for up to seven years for pushing a school aide in Paris, Texas- note that the hall monitor was not seriously injured.
Six black high school students faced up to 80 years in prison for jumping a school mate- note that the school mate was also not seriously injured.
A 17-year old boy was sent to prison with a 10-year sentence for having consensual sex with a 15-year old girl.
If there is one thing that these three cases had in common, it would be this: The majority of the American public agreed that the punishment for these juveniles were too harsh.
So, what do we do? Do we allow these things to happen and say nothing? Without public awareness, these children would have been condemned to long periods of incarceration and their lives destroyed without even given a second thought.
These are the basic facts. Whatever came afterwards was a reaction thereto.
But those who know realize that these were not unusual cases. This kind of stuff happens to black juveniles in America everyday. But there are some people who act as if they wish we were silent, simply because they are “turned off” by black people in the streets protesting injustice.
So, how did raising social consciousness come to be labeled a “black protest”? This was an American problem. Just because the mass of demonstrators were black, this is only incidental to the fact that most whites are not as outraged when the problems affect black people more than whites. Therefore, we are left stranded to solve our communal problems the best way we can with little or no white support.
On the other hand, there are some blacks, similarly situated as whites, who do not see the problem either. They perceive the only urgent American problems are those that affect their security and well-being. For the lesser folks, their problems are a product of their own creation.
They reason: Shaquanda Cotton was a student who stayed in trouble and her problem was due to poor parenting. Therefore, they would just as soon allow her to be slammed in prison for seven years of her life over a minor shoving incident. Had the school hall monitor only allowed her into the school to reach the nurse’s office where she could received her medication, specially prescribed to help her to manage her temper tantrums, the child would not have been criminalized in the first place.
Likewise, had three white students not dangled nooses over a schoolyard tree to intimidate black students from sitting under the tree, the Jena black youth probably could have gone the whole school year without this racially-instigated fight from which they would be charged with “attempted murder”.
And the actions of young Genarlow Wilson was no different than any average red-blooded American male teenager. Sex between consenting teens is simply something that happen everyday. So, why should he be sent to prison for 10 years as a sex offender?
This was the picture in small town America before the protests and all the reactions and counter-reactions and acrimony that followed. Simply put, these young people were doomed without some attention.
Whose responsibility was it to speak up for these children? How could the public be made aware of their plight when the mass media showed no interest? Only after thousands of people took to the streets did the media realize a story. It was the mass media that dubbed the mass mobilization as a "civil rights movement", only to turn around and set out to discredit and destroy it.
Black think tanks are created to solve community problems, rather than to go crying to the government for solutions. As Tom Hanks said in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, problems go up the line, not visa versa.
As I have found in my career, people who are incapable of solving problems are very good at pointing fingers to cover for their inabilities. They never propose real solutions because they have none. My attitude is like the old Black Panthers: Send the problem to us. We will solve them- not because of our sanctimonious self-righteousness- but because no other solution is forthcoming.
When black children went to school without breakfast, the Panthers fed them because there was a great need for surrogates to fill the gap and mentors to teach survival and self-sufficiency. Instead of being supported for their efforts, they were criticized and vilified by outsiders.
The children raised by the Panthers were never confused as to who fed and taught them. In fact, there is a whole generation of Black Panther reared children today who appreciate their upbringing and support. But the government saw fit to sabotage the breakfast program, rather than allow Panthers take the credit. Instead, they created government subsidized feeding programs in the public school system, then turned around and criticized government "handouts" in general- as if black people were the ones who originated begging for handouts. Black people were "bought off" to thwart their legitimate aspiration toward self-sufficiency.
Again, the problem of the neglected elderly was sent to the Panthers. Did they cry to the government for help? Not hardly, because the local and federal government was the problem. They hindered grassroots organizing and fundraising and called the Panther newspaper “hate propaganda”. Yet with the meager revenue raised through entrepreneurship, the black community leaders were able to feed the elderly- that is, until Meal-on-Wheels came along.
Whether bought off or silence through subsistence assistance, the original intent of feeding the hungry was getting done, and it made no difference if Panthers received the credit or not.
Therefore, I care less for those who stand on the outside and throw stones at black leaders who rise to the occasion of solving the community's problems. These critics say much and do little. But it is black propaganda pundits who poly-parrot white critics that take the cake. They existed in the 1970s, 1960s, all the way back to the 1860s.
They remind me of an interview a slave prior to the Civil War. With the mistress of the house standing benevolently over him, the slave answered a newspaper reporter’s questions, which proved to be a veiled attempt to counter the public notion about black people’s sentiments towards emancipation. When the newspaper reported asked about the slaves’ treatment, the mistress interjected by putting words in the servant’s mouth: “We treat you good, don’t we, John?” the mistress coaxed. John responded, “Yes ‘em. Y’all threat us good”. And when asked if he desired his freedom, the mistress inserted, “Our slaves need us. Without us, they wouldn’t know what to do. They would not be able to support themselves.” The slave John agreed. (So much for an unbiased free press)
Thus whenever I read a piece like Yolanda Young’s “Blacks' protests lack unity of purpose” and her use of phrases like “knee-jerk reaction”, “bloggers, radio personalities and rogue activists have hijacked the movement”, and “the modern-day civil rights movement is in disarray” because of a lack of “cohesion and transparency”, I realize the origin of the voice is not her own. After all, it takes a brain to originate thought, but it only takes a big mouth to repeat ignorance.