African-American progress has been in distress. The dismantling of the voting rights act, the Marissa Alexander imprisonment, and attacks on Affirmative Action have been legal and symbolic setbacks. Senseless atrocities like Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Jordan Davis, Jonathan Ferrell, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Victor Steen, Ezell Ford, Mike Brown and more plague the black community and serve as reinforcement that African-Americans still must stand guard for our own social justice.
I am a black man that feels privileged that I have been able to rise out of urban decay, gain a great education, and start my own business. I am also lucky to have lived long enough to do it without having my potential cut short by centuries of harbored fear and unwarranted hostile treatment from law enforcement.
As a teenager my mother had a conversation with me that no mother wants to have with her son. She had to teach me that many police officers are afraid of me. Police officers, many of which do not look like me or understand my culture, may have a fear that I am inherently dangerous. As a result, I have to be exceedingly careful when I interact with them. I must try hard to not anger them. I must never reach for anything that is not in plain view, even if the police officer asks for it. I must always announce every trivial act that I will perform, such as “I am getting my ID out of my wallet from my right back pocket” or “I am getting my insurance information from my glove box.” My mother feared that if I violated the rules for how to talk to police, I may be killed by them.
Nearly every black man I know gets a feeling in the pit of their stomach when there is a police officer around following our cars, watching us with their hands on or near their weapons. We know that they can harm us and then attempt to justify it through appealing to the same fear & stereotypes harbored by many Americans who do not understand Black people. After African-Americans are slain, the media is typically prompt to search social media profiles for status updates and pictures that confirm their preconceived negative perceptions and to criminalize us. They call us “suspect” or “rioter” instead of using our names, engaging in the same racial plausible deniability that has directly harmed the image of African-Americans for decades. This lowers the value of our very lives, maybe even as low as three-fifths of other human beings, making it easier for some to believe that we deserved the crimes committed against us.
Police brutality isn’t the only element that has hurt African-American progress. From devastating historical events like the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre, the Counterintelligence program, and more, there is a long history of stifling oppression that African-Americans have endured.
Does Black America deserve this? Is there any justification for why America has been backsliding on its promise for equal protection under the law, liberty and justice for all, being the land of the free, where every man (and woman) is created equal with certain unalienable rights? After the innumerable contributions of African-Americans to America’s prosperity & culture, there is a blatant lack of reciprocity comparable to our efforts.
Amid all of these tragedies, we are being re-awakened to the fact that if African-Americans are to prosper, we must do it on our own. That means buying more from black-owned companies, using black-owned services such as banks, cleaners, car washes, groceries, insurance companies, and starting more businesses. We must support our primary schools, HBCUs, and other institutions of positive advancement. We must become even more active in strengthening our neighborhoods through our own efforts. We must hold local, state, and federal government accountable for treating us with dignity, respect, and protection. Most importantly, we must change our minds. We have to know and live the principals to uplift our community in our everyday lives, believe that black products & services are just as good as any other, and stop making excuses for not fully supporting the Black community, especially some of us with social status or a college education. We can focus our well-justified anger at recent events to the benefit of our community. We must realize that we are the change we have been waiting for to reach our full potential as a community, and it takes all of us.
We have always had the strength to survive and thrive. It’s time to stop being reactive to tragedy after tragedy, and be more proactive in reaffirming our potential, power, and community. African-Americans do not deserve what we have been getting. Now is the time to create the outcomes we do deserve. Here are some things you can do, right now:
Brian Williams is the founder/CEO of PurchaseBlack.com, an ecommerce marketplace focused on African-American products from the businesses that sell them. He got his MBA from The University of Texas where he studied African American business success. Brian’s primary concern is leaving his community better than he found it, and doing all he can to make a large, positive impact through business. @PurchaseBlack on Facebook, IG, and Twitter, blog.