Fighting for dignity, empowerment and liberation, as I’ve noted before, requires that we build and destroy. In other words, we must create systems, habits, institutions, etc. But we must also overthrow oppressive systems and eliminate self-defeating habits and practices as well.
Listed below are “7 deadly Black Sins,” or practices that compromise our forward motion as a people:
1. Assimilation: Attempting to adopt the values, priorities and behavior of any culture when those things disarm and cripple us is not a good idea. We can learn from others without abandoning the values that serve our best interests.
2. Giving people a “pass” just because they are Black. Being “Black” in phenotype does not mean someone represents the best interests of our people. And if this person is an elected official, they should be exposed. Failure to adequately critique someone because they are Black is ignorant and leaves us open to being misled by those who look like us. Can you say, “President Obama?”
3. Excusing or tolerating our own mediocrity, failure and/or ineffectiveness. A people who have historically been the world’s most despised, brutalized, belittled, and unfairly treated, have no room for anything less than excellence. We value and reward excellence in our dancers, comedians, athletes, and other entertainers. We should extend the same standard to our teachers, leaders, professionals and others involved in work that can potentially push us forward or undo years of hard work and struggle. The standard of rendering excellent service/performance should be taught in our homes, places of worship, schools, and organizations. Specifically speaking, this translates to being prompt, informed, articulate, competent and observing best practices as it relates to honesty, following-up, and keeping promises, and apologizing when needed. We should also observe the principles of hard work, serious research, and making good decisions. When we fail to observe the standard of excellence, we become accomplices to our own ignorance, mistreatment and oppression.
4. Fighting other people’s battles before our own. There is no law stating that Black people cannot join outside groups or fight for causes that go beyond those that impact us immediately. Gender, class, imperialism, and environmental issues impact Black people too. We should develop the capacity to understand how various issues and interests intersect. However, joining with other people to fight their battles when we have tons of unfinished business ourselves, is irresponsible and foolish. When the people we join have more power, resources and influence than we, our unique perspectives and issues tend to be placed on the back-burner. Charity and empowerment begin at home.
5. Defending, internalizing or promoting negative Black stereotypes. Some of us are habitually late, violent, disorganized or prone to being divisive. This is just as true for other groups of people. We have no monopoly on bad character traits or self-defeating practices. Our oppressors taught us to doubt our value, competence and intelligence so that we would never be a threat to them and always be our own worst enemies. We must stop saying we can’t organize, be in loving relationships, be on time or work together. These are lies, and behaviors that aid in our own subjugation.
6. Conspicuous consumption of depreciating goods. Although Black people have a trillion-dollar purchasing power, we tend to purchase/consume things that lose value and are entertainment or vanity-based. Unless we want to continue enriching others and living in poverty and deprivation, we must change our values and practices. commercial purchases should not put us in serious and ongoing debt. Most of the things we buy should have the potential to generate income. We should also develop the habit of saving and investing resources in our education.
Being broke and financially impotent is not a virtue, but a serious impediment and disadvantage which contributes to the crippling outcome of poverty. This keeps us enslaved and dependent on others.
7. Trivializing education or intelligence. Learning is a habit/practice that our people have always valued. Learning makes our skill-set more diverse, broadens our thinking, and
makes us potentially more helpful and powerful. Regardless of whether we earn college degrees or we acquire knowledge through life experience, observation, and self-directed education, we should value learning and use what we know to improve our individual and collective conditions.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.