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The Post-Ferguson Discussion Must Pivot From Concerns of Injustice to a Focus on Empowermen

In his excellent and scholarly review of the work of Frantz Fanon, Somali psychologist Hussein Bulhan makes a compelling case that emotive identity-based interpretations of systemic injustices must move beyond explanations and into the realm of directed and sustained action. That’s where I am and I believe even now the post-Ferguson discussion must transition away from whether the decision to not indict Darren Wilson was or was not a blatant injustice toward what is the appropriate path for African American empowerment in our pluralistic society, a society where black Americans continue to find themselves behind in every statistical category that matters. There is a necessary place for acute social analysis, and action without understanding is naïve and immature, but the current conversation is informed emoting and we need to pivot in a new direction.

Are we doomed like some ill-fated Sisyphus to repeatedly bind our dialogue to cries of injustice, frantically trying to explain the realities of systemic prejudices to a society that has no ability to even process what we are saying? I ask, are systemically oppressive structures eradicated by conversation and explanation? I submit the only way to move the dial on this dialogue is through a profound and measurable black progress which redefines what it sociologically means to be black in our society.

Here are two necessary steps to move us in this direction

1) Embrace that though both systemic and personal racism are problems in this country, racism is not our main problem

We have seen the enemy and he is us. Like any group in our country, African Americans have access to a level of liberty and possibility largely unequaled in vast parts of the world. There is no nation on the planet where black people have the potential to succeed and thrive like they do in the U.S., not in South Africa, not in Nigeria, not in Ghana. The environment for success without the blatant forces of institutional corruption is extremely fertile here at home. The path to progress must begin with not only the recognition, but the championing of the idea that African Americans have the ability and power to emerge as influential forces in every sector of our society, and that we refuse to be type-cast as athletes and entertainers. Indeed, the cultural forces in our community that values performance over production, must shift and be replaced with a cultural emphasis that values learning (even scholarship), entrepreneurship, management, trades, etc.

To this end, young African Americans of ability must rethink their vocations in light of where the real opportunities are and begin to function as a DuBoisian talented-tenth, not only representing “us” in mainstream institutions, but bringing proven practices into new institutions that create even further opportunity. As I think about much of the relevant social commentary from the early 20th century works of DuBois, Carter Woodson and Franklin Frazier, to the superlative late 20th century work of men like William Julius Wilson, I am now much more interested in making progress than making additional points; I am greatly saddened at the prospect of yet another generation of black scholars and leaders “explaining” our situation. I, for one, am ready to leave the social wretchedness of blackness and the vestiges of slavery, Jim Crow, etc. in the distance, and see a new era dawn that is in keeping with Fanon’s homme nouveau in his closing chapter of The Wretched of the Earth (If you don’t what I’m referencing here, get the book.)

2) Churches in urban communities or that target African American parishioners must train their theological and missional agenda on the following:

A frontal assault on consumerism as a trait countering what it means to follow Jesus. This is less about correcting the flaws of the prosperity gospel and more about what chains are really enslaving people and families in the community. The focus must not be on systemic victimization analysis such as predatory lending practices of payday loan sharks, except to guide people away from those institutions, and more on the spiritual emptiness of consumption and an identity that focuses on possession. It doesn’t matter that consumerism is a problem displayed in white families as well, what’s needed is a course of action that both moves black families toward empowerment and in alignment with the patterns of biblical wisdom.
A profound emphasis on industriousness and hard work as a key expression of biblical manhood and womanhood. Christian Hip Hop artist KB captures this brilliantly in his award-winning EP 100, and these themes need to be saturated in churches where there are large numbers of African Americans, especially young adults and teenagers. These principles need to be diligently taught to our children, discussed when we are sitting in our houses, we need to bind them on our hands and write them on our doorposts.
A renewed emphasis on responsible behavior and consequential action. I cannot know what Michael Brown’s behavior was like before he died way too early, and I know there are many black victims to police misbehavior, but the prophetic voices speaking out against the injustice of street crime are way too faint. The Boston Ten Point Coalition is an example of effective, church-based community action, and one of the key elements of their success which led to the “Boston Miracle” in the 90’s was their partnership with the police and the officers of the courts, and their acknowledgment that the most prolific victimizers of Black and Hispanic youth were not in uniform but on the street. The time has come to turn the tide on ideological battles with the police and help them to align with churches and pastors to see tangible changes in our neighborhoods. And this is not to excuse police or prosecutorial misconduct, or to ignore it when it happens, but to strategize simply save lives and make a difference on the block.
African American brothers and sisters of faith, if there is to be a new direction in our community, who will affect it if not us? We need a renewed and biblically focused agenda that is centered on us and then expands to deal with institutional prejudices. To be sure, what we witnessed on the streets of Ferguson, MO on Monday night was not social desperation expressed through the convulsions of criminal cries for help, like some kind of twisted just cause. Instead, Monday evening’s riotous stampede was a profound demonstration of a lack of influential leadership that would capture the minds and hopes of a generation of young people; where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast of restraint (Prov 29:18 ESV).

There have been excellent analyses of the flaws of procedure and undeniable prejudice from the moment Michael Brown encountered Darren Wilson all the way through the non-indictment announcement on Monday evening, and I would encourage the Brown family to employ every legal means at the disposal for redress. Moreover, accountability should be pursued for the conduct of the district attorney’s office during the grand jury hearings, and we can go further and restating what is acceptable actions from the police; all these should be pursued.

Yet, and though I recognize there is no dichotomy here, I pray that the energy around this issue be tangibly more constructive. I don’t want to win the argument, I want to win the streets and the homes and the future. Perhaps we can make our point while making progress, but a lot of points have been made over the past two hundred years but we haven’t made nearly enough progress.

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