“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Two Towers”
Many moons ago – during my first two years as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, I found myself in a dilemma. After stumbling around unfulfilled in the university’s famed school of public communications, I searched feverishly for a major and academic discipline that was a good fit for me. I wasn’t seeking status, material wealth, or to accumulate innumerable gadgets or trinkets. I simply wanted to better understand the societal forces at work which led to injustice and oppression, and to become familiar with ways to challenge and dismantle the above.
I fell madly in love with sociology. Finally, I could delve fully into research, discussions, and study concerning discussions of power relations, racism, activism, imperialism, propaganda, social change and institutions. I found answers to many of my questions, and developed even more queries. Those studies, in addition to my home training, life experiences, and several mentors along the way, formed the foundations of my political theory and activism which guide me today as a middle-aged man.
And yet, one need not have a background in sociology (or college education for that matter) to read the proverbial handwriting on the wall concerning Black people in the United States. All one needs to understand, as Minister Louis Farrakhan would say, “The Time and What Must be Done,” are good powers of observation, an ability to decode news and current events, and some relevant knowledge of history.
I do not exaggerate when I insist that we live in confusing and perilous times… perilous for reasons I’m about to explain, and confusing because so-called examples of “Black progress,” interracial pop culture, and certain technological advancements work to camouflage the perils we face.
On the surface, many can argue that Black people have made tremendous progress compared with the sociopolitical landscape that existed prior to 1965. For example:
- In 1963, there were 1.469 Black elected officials; At last census count, there were 10,500. And of course, we now have a Black president.
- In 1964, 2.4 million Black people had a high school diploma; By 2012, that number grew 10 times.
- In that same year, 365,000 Black people earned a college degree; 43 years later that number grew to 5 million.
However, we’ve also experienced key losses over the years:
- The number of Black-owned banks decreased by nearly 50% between 2001 and 2014. At last count, there are only about 25 such banks, and close to 60% of them are losing money.
- Over the last decade, Black-owned bookstores decreased 66%; There are approximately 54 remaining in the U.S.
- The number of Black journalists working for “mainstream” newspapers has declined 40% within the last decade.
- In recent years, 11 Historically Black College and Universities have permanently closed.
- The phenomenon of gentrification has displaced tons of Black people and changed the “complexion” of traditionally Black urban neighborhoods, leading to obvious implications in land ownership, homelessness, and political power.
- According to the NAACP, Black people represent almost 50% of all prisoners in the United States
- The unemployment rate for Black people has been double that of whites…a statistic that has remained the same for almost 60 years!
With our alleged $1.1 trillion spending power, high-profile millionaires, Black president, and the relentless distraction of sporting events, “reality” shows, social media, and various gadgets, we might be tempted to forget that we are living in perilous times.
For their part, most of the old-guard civil rights leadership, clergy, and Black elected officials have failed to come up with adequate solutions for Black people in these perilous times. This is predictable as most of them receive funding from white corporations and are therefore beholden to them. They too, are quick to remind us as we challenge the system, not to be too angry because “A change is gonna come.” “Don’t be irrational,” they say. “God or the universe will work it out,” they say. But what they fail to do is explain this society’s irrationality and mistreatment of us. Hence, as brother Farrakhan reminds us, their time to lead is OVER! Time and time again when calamities hit our community, these compromised leaders come in to help us “suffer peacefully,” but they are challenged!
But there is one thing even the most distracted and shallow among us cannot forget or ignore. There is one issue that exposes the weakness and incompetence of our leadership and the ruthlessness and tenacity of our enemies. This of course, is the constant assault and murder of unarmed Black people by police officers or white vigilantes (which according to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, occurs every 28 hours). The list of Black people killed by police since just 1999 is too long for many of us to fathom. This one ruthless act cuts across various Black community lines of division like complexion, religion, gender, educational attainment, income, age, employment status, etc.Whenever we learn of another cop killing a fellow Black person we all correctly think: :”That could’ve been me or someone I love.”
A string of highly-publicized death-by-cop incidents across the nation – culminating with the killing of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray – slowly gives rise to righteous Black indignation and resentment. These incidents also reveal to Black people just how despised and vulnerable we still are despite any claims of “Black progress” or improved “race relations” in the United States. We witness to our dismay how the corporate media prioritize the death or injury of white law enforcement agents over our own, forcing us to reassert the now popular slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” (Some of us) cringe at reports of our frustrated brothers and sisters challenging cops, destroying property, setting fires, and looting stores in in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. We seethe with anger with each reference to our youth as violent thugs by journalists, white citizens and even the POTUS, while debating the merit or intelligence of such actions ourselves. We keenly notice in contrast how those in uniform who kill us are depicted as “heroes,” “patriots” and “honest civil servants” despite their clear misconduct. Even the more tolerant among us are beginning to realize that cops serve a clear sociological function to monitor, intimidate, and brutalize us.
We tire of conventional approaches to this problem; For many of us, marches, candle-light vigils, proposed legislation, or ambiguous speeches by media-sanctioned and compromised Black civil rights leaders are no longer palatable. All of these emotions and occurrences lead to an increasingly hostile scenario for Black folk in this country. Based on my own observations I personally see bad days ahead, which prompted me to post the following on Facebook today. I am no conspiracy theorist, but rather as a good friend describes, an “early warning system.” I do hope those of you reading this take these words in their intended spirit…..VERY SERIOUSLY:
A NYC cop died today from injuries he sustained after a Black man shot him days ago. The New York Daily News article demonstrates a level of empathy and respect for this officer seldom accorded to unarmed Black people killed by police. Nevertheless, we are heading to very dangerous times which will likely include more rebellions, acts of police brutality, and violent retribution by vigilantes on both sides. Following this will be state of emergency declarations across the country and martial law to (“establish order”) which will eliminate civil rights for the public and inflame an already hostile environment. Black or other elected officials that don’t go with the program will be discredited, sabotaged and/or forced to resign. Negro collaborators will receive great media attention and praise. In the worst case scenario, known activists who are very vocal and effective will be arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. Pray/meditate/work for peace and justice, and learn emergency preparation and self-defense immediately. Take this how you want to, but you’ve been warned. Remember the lessons of Hurricane Katrina and the government response or lack thereof). Remember FEMA. Remember Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. Remember unprecedented government surveillance of our phones, emails, social media, etc. I apologize for offending anyone, but neither those who despise and mistreat you nor those collaborating with them will be your salvation!
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 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. 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.