the haves and the have nots
Over the past 40 years the United States has increasingly become a country of the haves and the have nots. This growing inequality of wealth and income threatens to undermine the very fabric of American life. As the middle class disappears, the so-called “American Dream” is becoming unreachable even for those working class whites accustomed to being the perceived rightful beneficiaries of America's wealth and vast resources. At the other end of the spectrum, America's traditionally despised and neglected populace, the African American, falls deeper and deeper into the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and hopelessness that has decimated the black community. This decimation is evidenced by the mass incarceration of black males and the rising tide of violence and lawlessness in black neighborhoods, oftentimes aimed at other blacks who become intended and sometimes the unintended victims.
Interestingly enough, the spiraling poverty and hopelessness of African Americans should come as a surprise to no one. In fact this ever worsening condition of blacks in America was predicted and warned against by officials in the highest levels of government. In July 1967 President Lyndon Johnson formed an 11 member advisory commission informally known as the “Kerner Report” to study civil disorder and to explain the riots that plagued American cities each summer since 1964. The Commission’s report concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, and one white— separate and unequal.” Unless the conditions were remedied, the Commission warned, the country faced a “system of apartheid in its major cities.” The Kerner Report went on to deliver an indictment of “white society” for isolating and neglecting African Americans and urged legislation to promote integration and to enrich slums primarily through job creation, job training programs and decent housing. President Johnson however rejected the recommendations.
In 1998, 30 years after the issuance of the Report, former Senator Fred Harris co-authored a study that found the racial divide had grown in the ensuing years with inner city unemployment at crisis levels. Opposing voices however argued that the Commission’s dire predictions failed to materialize due to a marked increase in the number of African Americans living in the suburbs. This false rhetoric has served to obscure the facts and drown out the few voices of truth and reason that have been in essence “crying in the wilderness.”
Another report (headed by former Senator and advisor to President Nixon, Daniel Patrick Moynihan) called, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” also sounded the alarm to the growing inequality and disparity of opportunity for African Americans. As summarized by Ta-Nehisi Coates, correspondent at The Atlantic, “the federal government was underestimating the damage done to black families by three centuries of unimaginable mistreatment as well as a racist virus in the American blood stream which would continue to plague blacks in the future.” (see “The Black Family in The Age of Mass Incarceration”) Coates continues with an excerpt from the Moynihan report which read, “in essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male, and in consequence, on a great many Nero women as well.”
Approximately 72% of all black babies are born out of wedlock. This fact alone triggers a host of catastrophic ripple effects in and around black communities. (see “Black Single Mothers Are Biggest Impediment to Progress”) This disintegration of traditional families leaves young, school aged, black children to be raised by the streets under the influence of rap music, reality TV, and the overwhelming impact of social media. Interestingly and alarmingly, this figure of black unwed mothers was only 24 percent in 1965 when Moynihan produced “The Negro Family” report. The number of black babies born out of wedlock has tripled since then, and continues to spiral out of control with no end in sight.
Although the problems of our communities have long ago reached epidemic proportions, it seems that no one seems to care. Those African Americans fortunate enough to have escaped the slums and ghettos of modern day inner city life, have mostly turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the acute problems of poverty and under privilege affecting the majority of blacks in this country. We have taken the attitude of extreme "me-ism"; if it doesn't affect me, then I'm not worried about it. I'm reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., however, when he said as I paraphrase: Injustice and inequality anywhere affects justice and equality everywhere. My question is this: If we, the few African American success stories, survive or thrive while the masses of our people and communities are ravaged by poverty and hopelessness, have we really succeeded? If we as black people don't exercise some care and compassion for our own people, how can we expect the white man to care? Power only responds or concedes to force that is equal to or greater than it. If we as Black people continue to do nothing to force change, then change will not occur.
The pipe dream that was "President Obama the Savior" should have taught us this valuable lesson. Even President Obama was able to ignore the plight and suffering of his own people's condition, as a result of not being held accountable to us, by us. President Obama sailed into office on the strength of 95% of the black vote in both elections but yet, has done nothing to address the concerns of black voters. Although black folk believed in the dream and the hype of the first black President, we failed to understand that Obama, above all else unfortunately is a politician. He is a politician who played on the emotions and dreams of the voting populace to achieve the objective of winning an election. What happens after the election depends on the concessions gained by the special interests or voting blocks that were demanded and secured before the elections took place.
The wealthy white gay rights lobby proved this point. Remember, President Obama was initially against gay marriage. He changed his course and opinion on the issue mid-stream, after extreme political and financial pressure by the powerful white gay rights lobby which held the keys to President Obama’s re-election. Consequently, President Obama had a “come to Jesus” moment and began to view gay marriage rights as human rights. Was Obama’s change of heart political astuteness or political correctness, all in the name of so called “equality”? You decide!
In the end, President Obama has now become known as the nation’s first “Gay President” having ushered in the era of a rainbow colored White House and the LGBTQ community as a protected class. Until black folk stop automatically voting for Democrats or other candidates because they are black without demanding accountability, and forcing them to earn our vote, the cycle of politics as usual and the inconsequence of black poverty, inequality and hopelessness will continue unabated.
Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at the-truth-teller.com. You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.