Being black in America means experiencing incredible highs and depressing lows. It means experiencing slavery, than emancipation, then reconstruction, then the lynching era, then Jim Crow, then the Civil Rights Movement, then institutionalized segregation, then Obama and now Trump. You see the pattern? After great victories, there are painful defeats. It’s not new. We’ve been here before. The methods may have changed, but the cycle remains the same: You are oppressed. You are freed. You are oppressed again. You are freed. You are oppressed again. You are freed. You are oppressed again…you get the point? This cycle is consuming, debilitating, historical, political, spiritual, and most of all it is capable of being broken.
That’s the good news. In spite of all of the ups and downs that Black America has faced collectively, you don’t have to keep going around this volatile merry-go-round. You can choose to stop riding any time you want. Yes, we just elected a racist, misogynistic, divisive, arrogant, extremely privileged unapologetic white man to be the 45th president of the United States of America. Yes, he is calling for more law and order while we grapple with the fact that the police that were called to serve and protect all Americans, keep shooting and killing unarmed black bodies with regularity. Yes, the KKK is coming out the woodwork to celebrate and get behind our new president, but none of those things, in my opinion, warrant deep discussion. What we need to be focused on is how we can put ourselves and our families and thus our communities in a position to thrive within an ever-increasing threatening environment. Below, are my suggestions for succeeding in spite of the challenges we face:
1. Recognize You Live in America
America has always been structured to favor certain groups over others and historically our country has proven it will do that by any means necessary. If it means stealing land from the Native Americans and then taking the least desirable portions of that stolen land and “reserving” it for the surviving people that they stole it from, America will do it. If it means bringing enslaved Africans across the Atlantic ocean and instituting a system of slavery that lasted in practice for over 400 years, America will do it. If it means putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps and seizing their homes, assets, and identities, America will do it. If it means euthanizing young Black and Latino mothers throughout several states without telling them, America will do it. If it means building private, for-profit prisons and filling them with black and brown bodies, America will do it. America has proven time and time again that when it comes to maintaining its advantage, it will do it at your expense, at my expense, or anyone’s expense that stands in their way. Ask the people out there fighting in Standing Rock what America is capable of. Yes, it is disgusting, disappointing, disheartening, and devastating, but this is part of the package when you are a citizen of America. There are a lot of freedoms and opportunities, but there are also a lot of restrictions and obstacles. Knowing that will equip you not to be so shocked or devastated by the challenges. In other words, control what you can control. For the most part, we can control ourselves. We cannot control America.
2. Get Healthy
I need you to get healthy, emotionally, mentally, and physically. It is hard to fight when you have to spend so much time fighting your self. You have to deal with your hurts. If that means getting counseling, get it. We cannot continue to pretend to be strong, we must be strong and in order to be strong means being healthy. Mental illness and depression do not have to define you. Life is hard. Life hurts. Life can be heavy. I have experienced it firsthand. I know the pain of losing loved ones,ending toxic relationships, being betrayed and mistreated, but you can not build a home surrounded by your pain. Actually, let me take that back. You can build a home surrounded by your pain and that is happening within countless households all over the world. Yet, in order to live the life that you truly wan to live, you will have to figure out a way to let go of your hurts and heal. I know I am not mentioning much about physical healing because I strongly believe that if we can heal emotionally and mentally, we will eliminate most if not all of our physical challenges.
3. Avoid the Compulsion to Blame White People
I really didn’t want to include this suggestion. I didn’t want to be pegged as one of “those people that blames the victim.” I didn’t want to be seen as an Uncle Tom or be confused with asserting respectability politics. Yet in spite of all of these fears of being misunderstood, I have to urge you not to blame white people. It is too easy and it is too divisive to do that. Admittedly, white folks have done some jacked-up stuff to black folks. The Tulsa massacre of all of those black people happened. The Tuskegee experiments happened. The Wilmington massacre happened. Flint water crisis is happening. Thinking about these things get me mad all over again, but to give my energy, my passion, my intensity to blaming white people rather than improving me is senseless. It doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the role white people have played in developing these systems of oppression, but as soon as I begin to blame them I lose. By blaming white people for my predicament I make them not only responsible for my demise, I make them responsible for my success. This means I am empowering them to not only keep me oppressed, but I am empowering them to give me their permission to be free. No one, absolutely no one, needs to grant you permission to be free.
4. Learn What You Need to Know
I can’t stress enough to you that ignorance has been the greatest culprit of Black America. We simply do not know what we need to know, and we rely too heavily on outlets (school systems, television-news media, churches) that will never tell us the full truth. Learning what you need to know is up to you. Google, read, ask questions, interview people. Just don’t remain ignorant. A few weeks ago I attended a workshop and one of the participants shared how during her undergraduate studies, all Business majors had to interview a former alum in marketing, finance, and economics. She said the business department wanted to make sure that each student was able to talk to someone from the inside before they made their decision about a major or career. She continued by stating how often the alums would develop relationships with the students and keep tabs on them. Wow. Can you imagine how different your life might be had you had the chance to interview someone before choosing your major in college or choosing your career? What might you have done differently? What if you could interview a group of men in their late 60’s and 70’s and ask them to share with you things they wish they would have done differently when they were 25, 30, 35. How could their responses help you? I know there is a great satisfaction in figuring things out on your own, but do we really have time to keep learning from mistakes when we could learn from other people’s mistakes?
5. Get Out of Debt
In America, black wealth barely exists. To compound this bleak fact, black college graduates amass much higher amounts of student loan debt when they graduate. Of course, there are some systematic reasons why the wealth disparities and student loan debts are so high, but we can only focus on the things we can control and when we eliminate debt, we are in a much better position to control our destinies. We are also in a much better position to help others when we are not bogged down by our own debts. Michelle Alexander wrote a book entitled The New Jim Crow which focuses on how mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow system that strips black men from their humanity. It’s a great read. In terms of modern day slavery, I would say that debt is the new way to enslave people. Although the process doesn’t happen overnight, nothing is more fulfilling than to be able to live a debt-free life and pass on to your children a financial DNA of debt freedom.
6. Give Back
Everyone has something to give that can help someone else. Too many of us read or hear the word, ‘give’, and we immediately think of financials. I want to ask you to broaden your concept of giving to include time, wisdom, and energy. No matter your financial situation or your education level, you have something that can help somebody else. People are waiting on your know-how. Young mothers need to hear from older mothers. Young fathers need to see older fathers. Our youth are starving for attention. Can you take the time to listen and engage them? Can you give your encouragement to someone who doesn’t see any way out of their situation? Who can you talk off of a ledge-a ledge that you once considered falling from. Give your leadership. We cannot keep waiting for the next Dr. Martin Luther King to save our communities when we are capable of doing it ourselves. Give your leadership to your family. Give your leadership to your community. We cannot place the burden of rebuilding and directing our homes and communities to athletes, entertainers, and television evangelicals. If we relax because Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, or Lebron James posts a message on Instagram, we have already lost our communities. It isn’t because we don’t need James and Kaepernick to be conscious and vocal, but by virtue of their profession and the constraints on their time, we need people within our neighborhoods and communities to get involved and give of their time, talents, and resources.
All over the Internet people have been posting the famous lines from Kendrick Lamar’s hit song, “Alright“: “we gon be alright.” No disrespect to Kendrick Lamar and I actually like the song, but why do we have to be alright? When I ask someone how they’re doing and they respond, “oh, I’m alright.” I immediately interpret that as “I ain’t dead so I am okay” or I interpret it as “I really don’t want to tell you how I am doing, and this is as much as you get.” Either interpretation falls short of good news. I don’t want us to be alright anymore. I want us to be great. I want us to be focused. I want us to be woke. Alright has got us to this point, but all in will get us to the next level. Let’s be all in as we navigate this new environment of racism and sexism that is being openly encouraged in our nation. In spite of what it looks like, we can and we will be successful.