So yesterday evening as I was diligently packing a 400 calorie lunch (it takes about 45 seconds), I almost caught a heart attack and an animal cruelty case! A mouse scurried from behind my dog's bed and ran into my coat closet--a closet I refuse to ever open again.
Right this moment a black person is somewhere lamenting some political, social, or economic need that black people, as a community, are not having met by government. Regardless of socio-economic status or geographical location, black people are not just concerned with the overarching business of the “people” of the United States but are also worried about their own community and where they believe they are being overlooked.
Unfortunately, most strategies used by individuals and also black or urban-targeted organizations are outdated, reactive, and lack particular direction or expertise. From the “nappy-headed ho” Don Imus incident to the most recent flap about Harry Reid’s comments regarding Obama’s complexion and speech patterns, blacks are discussing what’s being said rather than what is or what could be done. Furthermore, black people do not seem to be pursuing positions or entrepreneurial efforts that would assist black people in gaining advantages in the long-run.
For example, there is a detrimental deficiency of lobbyists, lobbying firms, trade associations, think tanks and researchers to staff them in the black community. Over the years these institutions have become the premiere places from which information is collected for inclusion in Federal and State legislation, Federal Rules, and even articles published via media outlets large and small. These institutions typically serve predominantly white constituencies (though they may have black members), and largely employ them as well.
To bring this to a ground level, say you are reading an article about the statistics regarding a successful black woman’s likelihood of getting married. You notice that there is a statistical breakdown of the location and marriagibility of black men but none for black women. You also note that though the numbers show what percentage of black women are single but fail to show how many of the successful black women even want to get married or have been married previously but now are widowed, divorced etc.
The (sub)standard reaction to this has been to blame the media for shallow reporting. Some may even accuse the media of undertaking a widespread effort to cause panic in the black community (cause they have time and resources and interest in that *scoff*). But others, like myself, would say that if there were black think tanks dedicated to the issues of marriage and family in the black community (a good example of this would be something akin to the Heritage Foundation, an organization that has been wildly successful in advancing its agenda) those numbers could have been readily provided to the media with proper context and messaging.
But alas, such a Foundation does not exist.
Another good example is the conversations surrounding the healthcare debate. I have heard numerous black people complain that the bill lacks the sort of provisions that would assist the black community in overcoming some of the gaps between the care they receive versus what whites receive. Many have blamed this on the “healthcare lobby” which, admittedly like all other ‘lobbies’ is lacking in color. Would black people have supported President Obama’s stance on lobbying if blacks had their own firms and were actively involved in decisionmaking? Moreover, would President Obama have worked so hard to reduce the influence of special interest groups if those special interests were more diverse?
I can’t help but wonder how the black community, with such a high number of purported “thinkers” and politically conscious members can suffer from a dearth of people participating DIRECTLY in advancing the type of research and governmental influence (lobbying) efforts necessary to help black people enter the coming age and serve both their foreign and domestic interests. And I still struggle to understand why long-supported and, in many cases, government subsidized, organizations such as the NAACP and others have failed to make related transitions.
As I write this article encouraging black folks to become BETTER political participators, President Obama is simultaneously attempting to both reduce the influence of lobbying firms (full-disclosure, I don’t agree with his position) and extending the government’s collaborative efforts with stakeholders to build policies that advance America as a whole.
However, because of the lack of black-focused groups, his administration will be hard-pressed to implement the types of policies most black people would support because there are very few to provide the information (i.e. make it easier and thus more feasible) for the administration to do so.
There are already many people who believe that President Obama has done “nothing” for black people thus far in his presidential term and that he should “already know” what types of legislation and regulatory action would be beneficial to the black community. I can also assume that these same people believe President Obama could undertake these efforts alone, that members of Congress alone write legislation, and that a fat man wearing a red outfit delivers gifts on December 25 of every year using a wooden sleigh pulled through the brisk night-air by cervids he calls by name.
Sadly, this is not the case. For every rulemaking effort, every legislative turn, and more, the public via established groups and organizations provide comment, research, and feedback. Government employees, executives, program managers, and legislators are all a part of the process, but are not, and could never be the process in its entirety. The feedback and information provided by think tanks and the like can not only steer policies but also help avoid unintended consequences.
A good example of an unintended consequence that could have been avoided with proper research would be the legal sentences for cocaine vs. crack possession and distribution. Black people, including the Congressional Black Caucus supported harsher sentences for crack offenders because they thought locking up violators would assist in diminishing the crack epidemic by taking those most likely to support it off the streets.
Today, we know that those rules have resulted in a conviction rate of black men disproportionate to the amount of black men who actually use or distribute drugs. Additionally, there have been issues with the execution of justice as well as arrests and other parts of the adjudication process.
I’m 100% positive a black think tank dedicated to judicial issues could have predicted that such legislation would have resulted in racial misapplication by looking at the history of black people’s involvement in the criminal justice system and the subsequent impact (recidivism, legal representation etc) on the community. They probably could have even suggested alternative legislation that would have helped end the crack epidemic that depleted so many black neighborhoods and families.
I have spent my career in Federal and State government, lobbying, and on the campaign trail. Over the years, I have watched black people show great passion for diversity and equal opportunity programs. As a result, many pursue jobs with limited advancement where the impact of their work is nearly singular and certainly more personal rather than broad-based. Examples of these positions would be human resources, teaching, civil rights, counseling, and other people-oriented jobs. Nothing is wrong with pursuing these careers or spear-heading your own efforts to own related-firms. However, until black people become key players in the political parts of the process, your value to it is the equivalent of watching Keith Olbermann and tweeting and emailing links to articles you agree or disagree with. In other words, you’re not very useful in the long run.
This shallow participation in and knowledge of our system of government and where, of course black folks fit into it, is part of the reason that black people are struggling to determine where they fit into President Obama’s priorities, and, arguably more important, the priorities at their local level of government (affordable housing anyone?).
I wish I had the answer for how to make widespread change of this nature, and also how to do it given the fairly small population of black people in the United States. I have seen firsthand the overlapping historical circumstances that make it difficult for black people to enter and be promoted within the types of institutions on which this article is focused. Further, some of the greatest black political minds with whom I’ve come into contact in my career (including me!) are working diligently toward national interests—not national black interests.
So, no, I don’t have the answer. However, I figured it was worth pointing out that while most black people wonder why they aren’t winning, I wonder when we’ll get into the game.
As I said in a previous post, HAPPYaboutTHIS would become a personal blog. I'm still planning to have the site redesigned so it looks prettier (i.e. has more pictures of me) and archived articles are easier to find. But right now this ain't so bad!