What are ‘we’ going to do to save ourselves?

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Harriet Tubman, (H.B. Lindsley/Library of Congress via AP)

“We have to save ourselves, you are right. But let’s call out the blatant racism that’s keeping the poor and the wealthy of us from coming together with a comprehensive program to help uplift us.”

— A reader

My response: So we call out racism. Then what? When we were slaves, we at least understood that “we” were not the enemy. Racism is not our worst enemy. And yet, I have written plenty about it. Google me, read my body of work.

OPINION

I know racism exists. Hell, I’m a tenured full professor. My picture is in the newspaper each week. Still, it can be hit or miss whether I will be served at a restaurant just yards from my Michigan Avenue office. I am not immune. (See black face above.)

Racism. I faced my fair share as a student at my predominantly white university. I have seen it glaring like a red traffic signal inside newsrooms across this country, where I was sometimes the only black on a news desk. I have discerned it in the liberal masks and voices of colleagues.

Racism is in America’s DNA. It blows like the wind, rises like the sun. … So what.

I wish it were not this way. My mother prepared me. Assured me that the world would not be fair to me as a black man. Taught me not to make excuses. Told me I had to be twice as good. It’s like “Welcome to the NFL.” You’re gonna get hit — get up, get stronger, get better, keep moving, keep fighting.

My grandfather, grandson of a slave, didn’t sing the racism blues. Today, at age 95, he still chooses to sing a different song. Despite hardship and discrimination, he rose. We rose. And still we rise.

To say that we must rise does not ignore racism. It says: We must not succumb to the snare of destroying ourselves, our own people.

We seem, however, to be at an impasse, waiting for that old Freedom Train to pull into the station with our oppressor as the smiling conductor, waving us aboard.

Harriet Tubman didn’t wait for “Massa.”

“I freed a thousand slaves,” she once said. “I could have freed a thousand more, if only they knew they were slaves.”

If Ida B. Wells were writing today, would she not call out black thugs and gangs and parental irresponsibility? Or simply blame slavery and racism for the black fingers that pull the triggers that slay our children, leaving them lying in pools of blood like road kill?

Did the Tuskegee Airmen make excuses, lean on the crutch of do-nothingness, moaning and groaning over the realities of being black in America?

Would brother Malcolm X, in all of his fiery condemnation of the existing racist forces and policies against the black man be dismissive of a call for self-determination?

Would Dr. King March on Washington today, live in a pristine meadow far from the pastoral ghetto?

Or would he be found in the hood, promoting his nonviolent campaign where our sons lynch our sons with greater frequency and ferocity than the Ku Klux Klan?

If “they” gave us drugs, who sold them to our mothers and grandmothers? If “they” gave us guns, who made us turn them on each other? Have we not become co-conspirators in our own demise?

Our uplift begins with knowledge, with education and a shift in this “powerless, woe-is-me” paradigm. This is a state of emergency. We must fight on all fronts. It’s not either or.

Racism we will have with us always. But what are “we” going to do to save ourselves, my brother?

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