What Do We Do After Baltimore?

"We can also make reference to all of the illustrious Black kings, queens and warriors of the past, and cite everything that Black people have accomplished throughout history. But what's the purpose of having all that knowledge if we don't use it to move ourselves forward?"
Eric L. Wattree


This quote reminded me of Frantz Fanon. Six weeks after the riots in Baltimore what's changed? Modern day attempts at social movements end up being the equivalent of someone yelling in a quiet theater, sure the yelling snaps us to attention and forces us to focus on the disruption, but as soon as calm is restored we find ourselves fully immersed in the distraction on the screen. Likewise, as soon as the camera crews leave the epicenter of the hostilities we, as a nation, refocus on our individual distractions.

I've noticed a formula for quelling social unrest. First, conduct an investigation into the events that led up to the riots. Second, conduct an investigation into the policing habits of the municipality where said riot happened. Third, restructure the police department and/or local government through special appointments to appease the community. Lastly, take as many photos as possible with civic leaders and wait for the status quo to resume itself. 

One cruel irony of our generations push for social change is our inability to sustain momentum after the national media leaves. We have the benefit of technology, but it seems like we're wasting it posting twerk videos. Yes, We use Twitter and Facebook to organize events and circumvent the media's ability to dominate the narrative, but what do we do once people are on the ground? Our lack of central planning has resulted in a bag full of mixed demands. What's our modern program to capitalize on the nations attention once we have it? After the national media moves on who holds the politicians feet to the fire? There's a plethora of people willing to participate in televised interviews, debates, and forums, but how many of those same people are willing to do the hard work of developing a cogent set of demands? 

I'm glad more public intellectuals are focusing on these issues, but their ability to affect change seems diminished when compared to the past; likewise, the black church has seen membership shrink to the point that many pastors are literally preaching to (just) the choir. Academic journals and fiery sermons are important, but if their message doesn't reach beyond their walls it's like they didn't happen. This limitation is one area where the university and church have a lot in common, No matter how much you lecture, how many sermons you deliver, or how much work you publish, It's in vain if it doesn't improve the quality of a child's life. 

We have to avoid the trap of focusing too much on our past. We have to use the lessons learned from the past to help shape our future, but we can't be so focused on the accomplishments of yesterday that we neglect to do today's work. The reality we face is different than our parents and grandparents. Fifty years ago you could feed a family with one blue collar income, not so much these days. Many of the advances our predecessors made socially and politically have been negated by the harsh economic realities of our time. More Black men and women hold higher degrees now than fifty years ago, but too many of them are looking for work, if that's the reality of our talented tenth, what can the average brother or sister with a high school education look forward to? As long as the real economy doesn't work for minorities the underground economy will remain a vibrant, yet dangerous choice.