Identity Crisis (Still) within the Black Community

Yesterday, I had the privilege to participate in a 2-hour town hall discussion, the focus of which was on ways to improve the condition of people of color in the United States.  It was refreshing to hear the perspective of individuals that I have never met and would likely never engage, except for the common interest in the future direction of the black community. I use the word community, however, after a lengthy (approximately 1-hour) discussion about this very word concerning black folks I realized we continue to struggle with some fundamental identity issues.


Who are We?

The question of who we are is not about labeling ourselves, reinventing ourselves or guiding others so that we are addressed in a politically correct manner. The heart of the issue has everything to do with unity. What exactly is it that binds us together? Is it color and if so are we Black or People of Color? Perhaps a shared experience - slavery, loss of culture and homeland - is the most dominate rallying point. When we speak of the Black Community or the Black Population does that conjure up a particular image, and do you see yourself in it? Undoubtedly, the answer will vary depending on who you ask which is part of the challenge. We are a diverse group, and there isn't one category that neatly captures us all and defines who we are. So how do we unify when we have such different perspectives and backgrounds?

Unity is Built Over Time

I think most folks would agree that as a people group, at least in the United States, we are a work in progress. A people in the process of reprogramming ourselves. The reason we spend so much time discussing fundamental issues is that, early on, control mechanisms were put in place as a means to divide and conquer us, both physically and mentally. We weren't thought of as human beings, so stripping away our language, culture, and unique identifiers like hair styles were of little consequence to our oppressors. And separating families was a common occurrence. Unity would have been great for us as a people, but bad for slave traders and plantation owners. Even after the horrors of slavery ended, we had to contend with institutional supremacy (and still do). Yes, over the years, there have been calls for unity, but they've gone largely unanswered. The focus has been more so on survival or personal achievement; not realizing that personal and community advancement should be tied together.  

Given the history of our people in the Caribbean and the United States, you can understand why we are just now beginning to get how important unity is for our future. The trauma of slavery and institutional racism have never been dealt with in the U.S., and definitely not in a structured way within the black community. Many of us refuse to think about, read about or reflect on slavery in a meaningful way; even though it impacts us, even today. Dr. Joy DeGruy addresses the wounds of the past that have yet to heal and how we can move forward in her book Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome. Furthermore, there is a distrust of each other in the community of color. Again, much of this originates from slavery. When something, whether it be knowledge or an opportunity, comes from someone within the community many of us are leery of it. But the same information will more readily be accepted by an authority figure, usually from outside of the community.  Therefore, we have challenges seeing the value of who we are and what we can share with each other for the benefit of all. The current climate in the U.S. is a wake-up call, and folks are beginning to wonder what can be done to change their condition. Now more than ever, I believe the message of unity has become more appealing.

Heroes and Sheroes

Brothers and sisters are leading the way in the efforts to effect economic change within our community. These early adopters break up the hard ground and do the heavy lifting that is required to clear a path and pave the way for others. Pioneers are not in it for glory or recognition. They have a passion for changing the world, and it drives them to invest Herculean effort on behalf of people they do not know but genuinely love. They also realize this work is equivalent to a long-distance run that will take time and endurance. Folks like Dr. Boyce Watkin, Dr. Claude Anderson, and Brother Lou are sharing financial knowledge that we as a community need to pay close attention to and implement.

I hope you can see yourself in this work - as a pioneer. If you and I are honest about the current condition of our people, we must admit that relying on government programs or waiting on other folks to solve our problems is a waste of time. So is waiting for one charismatic man or woman to emerge and lead us. Today, right now, you and I (along with countless others just like us) have the ability to effect change. We can use our talents, brains, time, and money wisely. I encourage you to research the links I have provided and begin to engage in the work that will build up our community. Together, let's do the work that needs to be done, instead of debating about what we should call ourselves and why.