What is the goal of the black community? Economic power or political
power? Political power is a group experience; it is usually acquired through
a structured organization, run by clearly defined leaders, for the purpose
of meeting mutually agreed upon goals. People can join together for political
power under many different organizations and groups. You can be a member
of a political party or an ideological constituency. You can work toward
your political means as a member of groups like the Concerned Women for
America, National Organization for Women, John Birch Society or your local
church. This is a proven, successful way to ensure political power. But
does political power ensure economic power?
Have you ever noticed that Japanese "communities" do not seem to worry about how many Japanese Congressmen there are? Ever wonder why you do not have a Korean Congressional Caucus? It seems odd to me that "Arab Americans" and "Jewish Americans" with such strong and traditional political priorities seem more interested in economics in America than politics. Why? Because economics, not politics, is the path to achieving real personal freedom.
However, economic power empowers the individual, not social leaders. The social leaders of every group are only interested in political power because that empowers them. If the individual becomes powerful, that individual does will not need a leader. That is why we have so much focus on political power, not the power of self-determination.
While we prepare ourselves for the season of black cultural awareness, let us also prepare ourselves for independence from our cultural chains. While we celebrate the make-believe festival of Kwanzaa in December, honor Martin Luther King Jr. in January and clothe ourselves in African costumes during February, let us remember the reason some of us still feel oppressed: the drugs, crime, high taxes, bad schools and welfare are due more from lack of money than lack of political power.
I do not care how you define the "black culture." If the culture has no strong semi-independent economic base, then it resembles a plantation, not a community. The civil rights movement was very much about gaining control over economic means, and not so much about gaining political power as an end in itself. Of course, voting rights were a very important issue during the civil rights movement. But the March on Washington, boycotts, demonstrations and civil disobedience often focused on jobs.
Jobs were the reason Martin Luther King traveled to Memphis the week of his assassination. Jobs were the inspiration for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the motivation behind the passage of affirmative action laws.
Civil rights are of little help if the individual cannot secure income and take advantage of the right to live and work where he pleases. Economic freedoms are not decided by political parties or a social culture, it is decided by the individual willing to sacrifice all he has for all he desires. That is freedom and that is America.
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, not necessarily those of Project 21.