First things first: there is no magic wand or time travel machine that will erase the last 400 years of American history.
No president’s speech or federal law will ever expunge the wounds that have long been inflicted on Black families and communities.
And, despite the current movement to remind America that our lives matter, we are far from having the U.S. ever make up for all the pain and suffering experienced by Black slaves and their descendants.
We can keep waiting for our proverbial change to come — but we do so at our own peril.
Instead, it’s time for us to do a self-check and tackle a series of important questions that our vital to our collective future in this country — starting with this one:
When do we as Black Americans stop defining ourselves as victims, and start preparing ourselves to lead?
Because, in case you have not noticed, there is no twenty-first century version of “40 acres and a mule.”
4 Powerful Questions for Black Introspection
To truly flip the script on this country, we should start by asking:
- When do we, as Black parents and families, address the often toxic social structure and culture of violence in our poorest neighborhoods?
- When should we take personal responsibility for our behaviors — and adopt the community responsibility for changing them?
- When will we, the vibrant Black Community, accept responsibility for healing our collective and generational trauma?
- How do we build a framework for our own economic, educational, and political success?
For our people to thrive, it’s important to heed legendary rapper Ice Cube’s salient advice from back in the day — before we wreck ourselves, we need to check ourselves.
Because what we have allowed up until now is definitely not working.
The Numbers Tell Our Story
Everyone has heard this shocking statistic:
69% of Black children are born to unmarried women.
Marriage, of course, is no guarantee of successful family life, but single-parent, one-income homes result in 31% of Black children living in poverty.
And where poverty and single-parenting abound, underfunded schools, food insecurity, lack of stable housing, and lack of access to healthcare usually follow — laying the groundwork for financial struggles that can last for generations.
But, generational poverty is more than just a shortage of money, being late on rent, stressing over money, or feeling overextended. It’s a debilitating mindset — the endless, pervasive feeling of powerlessness in every aspect of your life.
It’s how instant gratification — like $100 sneakers — can become a higher priority than long-term goals — like making the honor roll.
It’s why violence, bullying, and the authoritarianism of gang life appeals to so many of our neglected youth. Wielding some semblance of power — even at risk of jail or death — becomes worth the consequences.
It’s how relationships — familial, parental, and sexual — come to be seen as temporary or transactional alliances, rather than permanent commitments.
Orlando-based mental health counselor Mildred Holmes, MA, LCPC, sees the long-term results of generational poverty in her practice every day:
“I counsel so many Black men and women who have escaped the poverty of their childhoods, but still carry the trauma of family dysfunction and exposure to violence. Financial stability is important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. We have to educate ourselves about our history and how it affects us even today. We have to develop the skills and the insights to treat each other better.”
Only We Can Truly Fix The Problem
The terms “personal responsibility” and “black-on-black crime” are sometimes code words used to blame Black Americans for our own problems — and for white supremacy to hold itself faultless.
But the unvarnished and painful truth is that it’s up to us — and only us — to address the poor choices and failures in our families, our neighborhoods and our schools.
Because leaving it up to others to fix our problems has been catastrophic.
The racial disparity between Black and white youth in custody has increased 22 percent since 2001.
Homicide is a leading cause of death for Black Americans of all ages; for people aged 10–34, homicide rates are more than 11 times higher for blacks than whites.
Overwhelmingly, we commit more violent crimes against each other than any other ethnicity.
And while there are more opportunities and resources available to us now than ever before, far too often, we squander them. As Holmes explains:
“Systemic racism has caused and exacerbated many of these issues, but the solutions begin in our own communities. We have to start talking about these things, honestly and transparently. We have to provide support to families who are at risk. And we have to support each other in demanding better behavior from each other.”
3 Ways to Jumpstart our Healing
Our society may have a sacred responsibility to protect and nurture, provide equal treatment under the law, as well as equal access to political and economic power for us all.
But, government responsibility cannot replace our personal responsibility as individuals, parents and family members, and role models to our youth.
As a community, we must take aggressive steps to change these patterns, and we must begin to do so now. Here are 3 things we must do to jumpstart that change:
- Define ourselves by our strengths, rather than by our oppression. We are survivors of history, not eternal victims of some cosmic force. Bigotry and exploitation is found in every period of history and in every culture around the world. It’s time to view ours in that perspective.
- Develop and take aggressive action in places where crime and violence are running rampant. Personal responsibility grows, in part, from believing that what we do matters — that our lives have meaning beyond our day-to-day challenges. People who feel powerless — as far too many of our Black youth do — have no other goals beyond momentary pleasure. It’s time to model to them how much our Black lives do matter.
- Realize that our collective trauma is real and harrowing — and it requires community healing. What happens to our community as a whole is our collective responsibility. And we must confront our community’s aversion to applying mental health therapies. Reducing the stigma associated with seeking professional help is the first step toward healing.
“No matter how many 10-point plans we propose or how many government programs we launch, none of it will make any difference if we don’t seize more responsibility in our own lives,” Barack Obama said during his historic 2008 campaign.
As a man who grew up without a father, or a Black role model of any kind, Obama spoke from personal understanding as well as political strategy.
While the fight for racial justice continues to be critical to our survival, all-consuming rage is not a viable leadership strategy.
Our ever-growing patterns of parental neglect and community indifference are destroying our children and our future — and the time to stem that cancer is now.
As Jesse Jackson used to say, nobody can save us from us, but us.
So, let’s get to it.