No More Forums About a Black Agenda

Talking about racism or special programs for blacks will not change the future of African Americans. Ending the war on drugs will.


I said I'd wait a year, and as of this week, I have.

Last March, there was an Event, with prominent participants, the theme of which was to call on President Barack Obama to put forth a black agenda. Holding his "feet to the fire" was a metaphor that came up here and there. I wrote the following:

"In March of 2011, late March to be precise, I am going to evaluate whether We Count! The Black Agenda Is the American Agenda has had any effect on the lives of black people.

"I'm going to be as fair as possible. Obviously I have a suspicion how this is going to come out, but I'm going to go at it from a scientific frame of mind. I'm going to do my evaluation putting myself in the mind of someone who wants to show that there was an effect. That will include that I will allow evidence that something is going to happen even if it hasn't yet -- as long as it can be shown pretty clearly that the We Count! 'discussion' people had in Chicago a year ago was a part of the reason why."

Well, here we are, and it's safe to say that this event had no effect upon the welfare of black Americans, or on the chances that the president will create legislation principally for blacks. Nor do I see any sign that the event will have such an effect in the future. It is a historical footnote. To the extent that things are better for blacks a year since last March, it would be because of stimulus spending, plans for Race to the Top funds aimed at schools, and other things in place before his feet had been brought anywhere near said fire a year ago.

I point this out not to disrespect its convener in any way. I sincerely assume that Tavis Smiley is as committed to helping black America as I am; this is not a hit piece on him or anyone else. My purpose is to point out that the time has come when discussion events on the state of black America like this, which occur all year every year across America, no longer serve the purpose we assume they do -- i.e., helping. I want to suggest a different direction.

It's easy to miss that these "forums" are no longer a new direction. There was a time when such events galvanized black people around a common purpose: eliminating segregation, gaining voting rights, battling redlining. After these gains, an idea settled in that we must not give up the fight. That was true, but too often we forget that in a long-term fight, tactics have to change with the times.

That is not happening at the typical event where some people decry racism (to applause), while others talk about responsibility and "stepping up" (to applause) and everybody goes home. Nowadays, after these events, often deemed "terrific" and "deep" by all concerned, how many poor black kids learn more, and how many fewer get shot? How many black adults know more about how to find and keep a job? How many fewer black men spend the prime of their lives in prison?

Participating in, or attending, one of these events feels more like being involved than staying home. But really, these forums are now rituals. They are like the smile that the Cheshire Cat left behind, attitude in the place of action. We can do better.

My suggestion: Making black America better will entail battling the senseless war on drugs. Police forces assigned to trawl black neighborhoods create thousands of young black people wary of whites -- and thus less likely to ever succeed in a world full of them. When drugs are illegal, you can make money from the markup that selling them entails, and thus, so very many young blacks step outside of legal work to do so -- especially when their schools are bad -- and end up in prison or a coffin.