More recently, the Congressional Black Caucus and other civil rights groups have received strong financial backing from telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Comcast. These firms support regulations that would be barriers to the goal of universal Internet access, stifling economic opportunity for black communities. We can’t expect our civil rights organizations and political leaders to help blacks rage against the corporate machine when they are part of it.
And what about Jay-Z and other hip-hop stars? For all their influence on American culture, they haven’t tackled big challenges such as poverty, police brutality, voting disenfranchisement and the racist prison complex. Jay-Z hasn’t shown up at any Occupy gatherings, but his clothing company appears to be trying to capitalize on the protest wave. Rocawear is peddling “Occupy All Streets” T-shirts for $22 a pop — with no plans to donate profits to the movement.
Beyond a lack of leaders to inspire them to join the Occupy fold, blacks are not seeing anything new for themselves in the movement. Why should they ally with whites who are just now experiencing the hardships that blacks have known for generations? Perhaps white Americans are now paying the psychic price for not answering the basic questions that blacks have long raised about income inequality.
New Jersey comedian John “Alter Negro” Minus says he won’t participate in the Occupy protests because black people are being besieged by so many social injustices, he can’t get behind targeting just the 1 percent.
Banks’ bad behavior “just gets lost in the sauce, so to speak,” Minus said. “High joblessness and social disenfranchisement is new to most of the Wall Street protesters. It’s been a fact of life for African Americans since the beginning. I actually think black people are better served by staying out of the protests. Civil disobedience will only further the public perception that black people like to cause trouble.”
Is there a chance that the movement can become more diverse? Leslie Wilson, a professor of African American history at Montclair State University, is not optimistic.
“Occupy Wall Street cannot produce enough change to encourage certain types of black participation,” Wilson said in an interview. “The church cannot get enough blacks out on the streets. Some students will go, but not the masses. Black folks, particularly older ones, do not think that this is going to lead to change. . . . This generation has already been beaten down and is hurting. They are not willing to risk what little they have for change. Those who are wealthier are not willing to risk and lose.”
Black America’s fight for income equality is not on Wall Street, but is a matter of day-to-day survival. The more pressing battles are against tenant evictions, police brutality and street crime. This group doesn’t see a reason to join the amorphous Occupiers.
But if the Occupy movement does not grow in solidarity with other constituencies of exploited and oppressed people, and if black America does not devise new leadership strategies to deal with today’s problems, the truth of Frederick Douglass’s wisdom will hold — the powerful undertow of race and class in America will keep both blacks and whites from being free.
Stacey Patton is the author of the memoir “That Mean Old Yesterday.”
Read more from Outlook:
Occupy This: Six other targets for the movement
Why Occupy Wall Street will keep up the fight
Does America need Wall Street?
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