There are manifold challenges and outright problems facing black America. Some can be addressed within the community while others are more complicated. But African-Americans have the power to begin work on meaningful change by simply refusing to accept form over substance.
I refer specifically to the largely hollow discussion over the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina. While removing the flag might make some guilty whites feel a bit better about themselves, provide another scalp for those who earn their living in the racial grievance industry, and remove a legitimate reminder of hate for some, it won’t actually help one single black family.
The removal of the Confederate flag is not going to raise the average net worth of a black American family. It won’t release a single African-American youth from a prison system in which he’s jailed because of racial sentencing disparities. It does nothing to address the fact that a black kid who escapes Detroit for California can’t get in-state tuition but an illegal alien can. Hauling down the flag will not raise the high school graduation rates for blacks or deal with the decline of historically black colleges and universities. Zero African-American families cry, “I am poor and the flag made me that way!”
When will African-Americans stop accepting form over substance? When will they start demanding reform of economic policies that hurt black families or a legal structure that unjustly and disproportionately targets African-Americans?
At every turn, I see us accepting form over substance. President Barack Obama said the N- word in a comic’s podcast but what was the point? Where was the substance behind it? There was none. It was as pointless as his much-heralded Beer Summit following a police dust-up involving Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 2009. Obama has the power to take substantive action; he could commute the inordinately harsh sentences of individuals imprisoned under Bill Clinton’s unjust omnibus crime bill, for example.
Even the President’s My Brother’s Keeper program looks like a flop. What started out as an opportunity to do something constructive for young black men and boys has fizzled into an essentially dormant website (at least it works!) on which the latest “News” item is dated July 22, 2014. It has all the appearance of a vacant lot on the Internet, overgrown with weeds, a small testament to form without substance, a digital Cabrini Green.
Blacks who want improvement in their lives and communities must start insisting on substantive change with tangible benefits. Let’s start with the Constitution itself; African-Americans should demand their leaders stop eroding their Second Amendment rights. Sorry gun deniers, but it is possible that the deaths of Cynthia, DePayne, Ethel, Clementa, Tywanza, Susie, Daniel, Sharon and Myra at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston could have been avoided if, like Jeanne Assam was at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs in 2007, someone had been packing. Even T.D. Jakes, among the best known, Holy Ghost-filled, miracle believing, black Pentecostal Pastor and his 40,000-plus congregants employ “a team of armed, unarmed, uniformed and plainclothes guards.”
Fighting poverty in the African-American community is a formidable issue but blacks' lives will not be improved through expanded public housing. They will, however, be improved by attacking the root causes of poverty. Programs that genuinely promote higher graduation rates among black high school students are a good place to start. Vocational programs to provide training and apprenticeships to young black adults would do far more good than incessantly telling youngsters to attend college, a strategy that unfortunately sets-up too many students of all races for failure and burdensome debt. Monetary policy that promotes investment in the black community should be on the list as well.
Most of my African-American friends and family could care less about flying a 150-year-old flag. What we do care about is actual progress for African-Americans through substantive policies that promote education, work and cohesive family life. But until blacks themselves start to demand substance from all leaders, they will continue to languish under the burden of meaningless form.
Indeed, the Confederate battle flag and all the hate and bigotry that it symbolizes for some, is grossly overshadowed by the majesty and optics of an African-American First Family, notwithstanding Obama’s politics. If you really want to taunt and challenge the Dylann Roofs of the world, take that 150 year old flag and fly it behind President Obama every single day. Now that would serve as a constant reminder of who really won the war.