The State of the Black Union concluded in Los Angeles after the input of various scholars, activists, political leaders and pundits, mixed with the fear of the recession (or depression if you're just talking about black people--economically things have been nightmarish for African Americans for some time) with the optimism of President Barack Obama's election.
Founded by author/journalist Tavis Smiley, this was the 10th year for the event where 6,000 people attended panels, networked and discussed the state of the race.
The funny thing about the state of the race: it's bad.
Which brings us back to Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union event ... sponsored by ExxonMobile (The revolution must be financed!)
This event where esteemed people of intellect and great thought and caring and insight sat around and talked for hours upon hours is one that Smiley has made his pièce de résistance. The mantle upon which the ego is at rest.
Talk is good. We need to talk. I write. That's how I deal with my angst. That's great. Cathartic. But now what? As a non-activist, semi-satirical, novice blogger my goal is to look at something and try to find a different interpretation.
(It's what I do as an "artist.")
But I got nothing.
I got nothing but the same old same old. We sat and talked and Smiley has a book to sell about holding the president and the government accountable to the black community and it's great that we sat and talked, but now what? The NAACP is pushing to boycott the New York Post over Chimpgate. Glorious. Now what?
More and more I feel like people are fighting ghosts.
It's not that racism isn't real. It is real. It's a problem. But we often act like it's the only problem we know how to wrangle. Someone yells "nigger" in a crowded (or not so crowded) room and we have Al Sharpton on speed dial.
Case in point: the repeated sentiment I noticed from those who attended the event or watched the proceedings on C-SPAN:
"I would have gotten more out of a bit less discussion of historical context and more time spent presenting specific strategies and tactics that each and every motivated person watching the symposium could consider while working to make our country better. What should an 'Accountable' campaign look like? Technology was barely mentioned. Why not a dedicated 'SOBU Accountable' website with step-by-step, or should I say, click-by-click instructions about how to contact your congressman with a standard letter covering what needs to be said? Or a dedicated SOBU 2009 social networking site where members could share ideas about moving forward with 'Accountable' and share their personal experiences of what's working and what's not." AOL--Black Voices
Perhaps Tavis isn't the best messenger, but his question needed to be asked, if not only directed at Obama's Administration but to all Americans as well. Nobody on the national level is really talking directly about poverty - Edwards tried in the primaries but he couldn't deliver the message. Instead we're to assume that when elected officials talk about saving the working/middle class that poor folk are a part of that conversation.
Academic conversations, Ivy League and otherwise, are one thing (albeit important), but direct action/advocacy work and enacting legislation with the devastatingly poor in mind is a whole other thing...
That said, I think that Obama inviting Ty'Sheoma Bethea to his SOTU speech was effective. Keep the conversation going though - let's not be afraid to use words like "poverty" and "working poor" in the mainstream.
Everyone is frustrated and tired and angry, but everyone is always frustrated, tired and angry. That's been the general consensus since we got off the boat.
Some people are waiting for a hero to come and lead us to the next phase, to the "promise land."
News flash: They ain't coming.
The problems have evolved. Sadly, the people doing the most talking have not. It's going to take a little more fortitude and a lot more self-determination to break through this present corporately-sponsored malaise. Brought to you by a pack of Kools, BET and "apathy," I present to you the Post-Civil Rights Era, full of opportunities knocking, but no one going in. Books are great if the people you're trying to reach actually read. But the work of a Paperback Prophet is never done, so Smiley leaves his conference prepared to go on the road to sell his book "Accountable" across the nation.
You don't have to be Martin Luther King, Jr. You don't have to be Jesus laid up on a cross to die to save black people. Even during the Civil Rights Movement not everyone was cut out to march.
That's why the Obamas easily captured so many blacks' imaginations. Suddenly black people with degrees and jobs who marry and are successful and have children aren't myths, they aren't unicorns. They're real. And suddenly, they were everywhere. Wow. Little faces everywhere of successful black people. Where had these people been, one wondered? Had they been hidden in plain sight all along?
Yes! Yes, they were! They were always there. But how could you notice them when you're too busy ignoring that alarm blaring in the background? STATE OF EMERGENCY! It screams with nothing but bad, bad news. When all your energy is spent on looking down, because ... STATE OF EMERGENCY! You're too afraid to look up and see the problems, the big, scary, impossible looking problems.
Of course, you find yourself collecting pictures of Michelle Obama and looking up adoringly at the president. Someone, and I don't know who (maybe a parent, teacher or society), told you that this wasn't for you and now you're just learning that it is and it is wonderful. So, pardon you, if your mind was blown and the opportunities that were there, yet not there because you didn't know, are now real to you. That you now, in the most wonderful and Disney and clichéd way, finally "believe."
But now that you have gotten a good look at the potential. Now that you can hear the knocking over the blaring. Now that you've gotten a good earful of the speech. Now that you've gotten your latest inoculation of scholars and politicians and activists and paperback prophets talking about your present state of emergency LOOK UP!
For God's sake, look up.
The world is bigger than you. It's time to start acting that way.