I have tried to write this in a way that made sense and was coherent and not angry but…I couldn’t. A rapper and musician from NY just called all black people cowards. Black people like my grandfather who was shot in the line of duty in the army and didn’t receive a purple heart until 1989. Black people like my uncle who went to Vietnam and fought a war that wasn’t his. Black people who live in states and cities where they are NOT the majority, and they know it. Black people who live in states like Alabama, where interracial marriage is still technically illegal, not because no one tried to change the law, but because attempts to change it are voted down. Black people who live in Mississippi, where a black man was killed simply because some white teenagers decided at a party that they should go “f*** with some niggers”. Black people who wake up every day with the weight of oppression crushing their soul. To suggest that these black people and the millions like them are cowards is a position born of arrogance and privilege.
Black people make up thirteen percent of the population in America. That numerical minority is reflected everywhere except in prison, where in 2009, Non-Hispanic blacks accounted for 39.4% of the prison population. Meanwhile only six are CEOS of Fortune 500 companies. Are you really so myopic to think that our problems as a race are going to be solved with a boycott? By refusing to go to work? Black Americans are not going to affect any positive changes by becoming homeless or by wasting opportunities to spread wealth and power throughout their communities because of one racist’s comments.
Racists have had positions of power for decades now, and when black people decide to take up arms and fight against the system, the racists are the ones who WIN. There can be no victory when we as a race of Americans forget that while we are black, we are also American. There can be no victory if the most responsible of our race, those who have taken advantage of the opportunities that the system has afforded them, throw those opportunities away because there are racists in the world.
The struggle that Homeboy Sandman refers to is one that neither he nor anyone of our generation truly understands. Our parents and our grandparents understand what a struggle is because they survived it. They went through a time when black people were rightfully afraid for their lives. Homeboy Sandman doesn’t understand that struggle and to be fair, neither do I. But do you know what my grandfather, my grandmother, and my parents all instilled in me at an early age, as a young black man growing up in Alabama? Survive. It’s not as glorious as getting gunned down fighting the police, nor is it as bold as quitting your job because you work for a racist. But it is the long-term plan that has ensured that Homeboy Sandman and millions like him are alive and it is the reason why we have the freedom of expression we have now.
I’m not saying to smile and dance and “yes them to death” in the words of Ralph Ellison, but I am saying to use what the system affords to point out the wrongs and oppression. If Chris Paul keeps his high profile job and uses his money to help send black children to college, or uses his celebrity to highlight the struggle of inner city black children to get comparable education to others, who is to say that he isn’t down for the “cause” or the “struggle”. To suggest that we all throw away our jobs the minute the world is revealed to be something different than what we want it to be, is myopic simply because it is planning to win only one minor battle instead of remembering the need to win the war. Survival is how we win the war. Throwing away our jobs at the first sign of racism isn’t the struggle. Remembering the need to survive, gritting our teeth, swallowing our pride and doing what it takes to win the war against racism is. Maybe that means letting the American system deal with injustices. Maybe that means suiting up and playing for an organization that is owned by a racist. Maybe that means not fighting everyone who calls you a nigger. Maybe it means instead of punching your coworker for saying something racist, you take it to HR and let the system deal with it accordingly.
Don’t throw away everything in an attempt to win a minor battle. Survival is how we win the war against racism.