MLK Day 2020: Defining the Next Narrative for Black America

Illustration for article titled MLK Day 2020: Defining the Next Narrative for Black America
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It’s time for black leaders to end our Stepin Fetchit approach to racial equity. Overemphasizing our failings has unified friend and foe in defining black people by poverty, pathology, and problems. While we’ll never ignore those conditions, they have never defined us.

The next narrative for black America must more accurately define us by our aspirations and contributions before noting our challenges so that our fundamental importance to the world is properly understood.

Fact is, Black America has championed “liberty and justice for all” even more than the Founding Fathers. I recognize the audacity of my statement, but America must reconcile this truth in order to commission black people’s centrality to the very concept of “free society” here.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

These are great words by great men, said Frederick Douglass. Yes, their “ALL” was all white able-bodied heterosexual male landowners. Perhaps that’s why doing the bidding of that small minority group is still so easily disguised as patriotism today. But it is not.

True patriotism is faithfully standing, or kneeling, for the soul of a nation and holding it true to its highest aspirations. That’s what black people have done in America since before this country had a name, and we still do.

A 2019 BMe Community poll of black leaders captured their unwavering belief in their own cultural, economic and political abilities and in the credo of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But does America believe in its people’s inalienable rights as much as black people do?

Since 2016, the Supreme Court has ruled against voting rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, and women’s rights while upholding corporate rights, gerrymandering, and bigotry.

Yet those same black leaders when asked to set top priorities for a black agenda, said they want black people to:

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  • Love: Culture that teaches the historic contributions of black people throughout the diaspora, plus mental, physical and spiritual wellness; wherein all black people can feel connected, accepted and loved by all black people.
  • Own: Economics that increase our financial literacy, asset-ownership and ability to pass family wealth down to future generations while decreasing unfair resource allocations.
  • Vote: Politic that removes all barriers to voting, ends corrupt policing and consistently turns out the black vote.
  • Excel: A narrative that defines us by our aspirations and contributions making it impossible to ignore black excellence.

The freedom to love, to own, to vote and to excel is as American as apple pie and as black as a panther. We have always been the key to America living out the true meaning of its creed. So, to be anti-black is at heart to be anti-America.

So, consider this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that black people have always been assets to this nation. That we arrived to “The New World” literally as assets, and that our imprisoned labor is the foundation for the immeasurable wealth of this nation, many of its founding fathers, greatest universities, industries and cities. That we were the first to die for this country, have defended it in every war since, and continue to enlist, serve and protect this homeland at the highest rates.

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In fact, we have always been so valuable to America that battles are still waged daily to determine who gets to own us. Who owns our attention, our creativity, our enterprises, our finances, our neighborhoods, and our narrative. All of which have been artificially undervalued, disenfranchised, redlined, suppressed, imprisoned and enslaved in violation of America’s greatest promises to the world of liberty and justice for all.

We, therefore, claim our rightful status not only as Americans but as champions of liberty and justice with every right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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We invite all leaders to define black people by their aspirations and contributions before noting their challenges and investing in them for their continued benefits to society. This doesn’t ignore any of black people’s challenges, but it stops ignoring our worth and worthiness.

It makes our common ground across the races much easier to find and the hidden hand of systemic injustice much easier to see.

It orients us to go beyond problem-solving to fulfilling our highest aspirations as a people and a nation.

It makes it crystal clear that none of us is our lowest deed, worst condition or most dangerous potential, so it’s morally wrong to define anyone that way. If we can predictively police, then we can imaginatively invest to make such policing unnecessary. The choice is a matter of who you think we are.

Do you paint black people as niggers in the public mind, no matter what excuse you give for doing so, by consistently focusing on the most denigrating aspects of our lives? Does your narrative, for instance, conveniently and consistently omit that black Americans are exemplary in business creation rates, donating to charities, fathers actively involved in raising their children, and serving this country in uniform?

Or can you admit that we, the black people, have endured crimes “that would disgrace a nation of savages” yet remain stalwarts for liberty and justice? We have fought for those sacred responsibilities, died for them and earned them so many times that to deny liberty and justice to black people is to doom this nation to a hypocritical and schizophrenic existence detached from reality, courage, sanity, and justice.

Twenty years into the new millennium, it’s time for a new vanguard of leaders who tell a more accurate story of black people. One that defines us by our aspirations and contributions then calls out the redlining, gerrymandering, stigmatizing and other systemic injustices used to betray us. If you agree, then join with other leaders in the Next Narrative for Black America. #NextNarrative

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Trabian Shorters is a New York Times bestselling author, philanthropist, and founder of BMe Community, a network of innovators and leaders who invest in aspiring communities.

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