Before we can stand up in unity and acquire true power, we must be crystal clear about our condition. This becomes difficult when some of we Black folks enable our dysfunction with inaccurate or self-defeating ideas or beliefs. Let us strike a blow for liberation by dismissing some of the bullshit some of us say and believe.
1. Equality: This is a myth and misunderstanding. We want to be treated equally in terms of the law for example. However, we are not the same as other people. No other people has endured the level of brutality, scorn and oppression that Black people have, for as long as we have. Other people share aspects of our experience but not our experience in totality. We are not equal. Therefore, we don’t seek the illusion of equality, but the reality of power and fair treatment.
2. Multiculturalism: To facilitate the demise of radical political development ushered in by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, “liberal” whites introduced the concept of “multiculturalism.” Soon this idea infiltrated and influenced political and educational circles. It encouraged us to view ourselves as “People of color,” rather than “Black” people. It encouraged us to embrace and unify with Asians, Arabs, Latinos, American Indians, (white) women, the LGBT community and other traditionally oppressed or marginalized groups. But by linking arms with these groups, we linked our issues and interests with theirs. This weakened our political movement by creating diversions we could ill afford. This also gave members of these other groups the impression that our issues and interests are the same. It is not uncommon to hear people say things like “Gay is the new Black,” for example. As mentioned previously, our issues are similar in some cases, but not the same. I should add that significant elements of these groups we allign ourselves with, harbor deep and unresolved resentment toward Black folk!
White women do not receive the same treatment, respect or power as white men. Yet, they are not generally as poor, mistreated or mischaracterized as Black women.
The discrimination one endures for being Black differs in some aspects from the plight of the larger gay community. While they suffer from sexuality-based discrimination, we suffer from discrimination based on phenotype (skin color). One’s sexual preferences and activities are technically private manners which only become public when observed or suspected by others. One’s pigment (which is conspicuous at all times) is a different matter altogether. Furthermore, both white women and white members of the gay community enjoy larger rates of formal education, social mobility, political access and income than Black people.
I believe it is unethical and contradictory to mistreat any women or members of the LGBT community. Liberation must be total. However, our attention and priority must focus on Black people.
It is foolish and counterproductive to further fragment our already divided people by treating any of our folks as lepers or outcasts. I also disagree with using our scarce energy and resources to advance and defend non-Black women or others. Our primary concern should in my opinion, be our own survival, development and liberation. This is especially true given that white women and the larger gay community are far better funded, organized and powerful than Black people. Multiculturalism obscures these objectives and observations.
3. Trusting electoral politics: A common phase I hear from well-meaning Black folk around election time is, “Our people fought and died for the right to vote.” If we study our history, we know this statement bears some truth. However, this applies specifically to participants of the moden Civil Rights Movement who engaged in acts of civil disobedience for voting rights, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In describing our struggle in the United States, it is more accurate to say, “Our ancestors fought and died to be free, safe and treated fairly.” In saying this, we acknowledge that grassroots organizing, legal challenges, revolutionary activities, radical journalism, institution building, and scores of protests and demonstrations – more than voting – comprised our most effective tactics of choice. These tactics pressured sympathetic and adversarial politicians to write, pass and enforce legislation for Black people.
4. The definition of power: Our history clearly demonstrates both what power is, and how to acquire it.
Power is the capacity to advance/protect one’s interests, solve problems, and meet objectives. We often confuse this with “influence” which is the capacity to appeal to those in power in an attempt to shape or affect other people’s thinking or behavior in our interests.
To exercise power in relationship to adversaries, we must also demonstrate an ability to enhance or threaten their image, finances, safety/comfort, success and/or stability. If we cannot do these things, we cannot expect those on power to advance or protect us. We are naive to think they will do so on a moral basis.
My hope is that we will proceed forward as strategic and informed thinkers who perceive things/people as they are, not as we want them to be….
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 lead. 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.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School.
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.