The Crisis of The Current Negro Intellectual

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a symposium at my Alma Mater (USF) that discussed the brilliance of the late great Harold Cruse. Cruse’s two legendary books “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual” and “Plural but Equal” were the compared and contrast. In his writings, the main theme and critique was leadership, and misguided leadership of the two Civil Rights Era. When I arrived to San Francisco, I heard about Cruse’s work but never analyzed it deeply. It was not until I met one of my mentors, Dr. James Taylor who urged me to read the books that were written by Cruse. Before reading Cruse, my mind and my politics had begun to shift, but Cruse’s work, along with Dr.Amos Wilson, Dr Claude Anderson and Dr. Khalid Muhammad pushed me over the cliff to see things differently. Each Dr. had different approaches and beliefs but one common theme, SELF PRESERVATION and GROUP PRESERVATION.

My attraction towards their work came during a time I was looking for answers. Since I moved to San Francisco, I wondered “what happened to all the black people here?” and how exactly did we get into this position. In order to push myself to find answers, I turned my curiosity into a thesis for my Masters degree. What I found in my research left me upset, vindicated but also disappointed. I was upset at the policies that were set that eventually led to the displacement and continued displacement of African American’s in urban cities, I was vindicated because some of my core beliefs and criticism of the community itself were in correlation with prior scholars and upset that the community still has not learned from previous mistakes. We are in a crucial time in American history. It is my belief that we are in the Second Reconstruction Era and if we are not careful, we will not only nosedive to a permanent underclass but we will be totally wiped out in the country. During the first Reconstruction Era our labor was still needed to grow the country as it transitioned from agriculture towards an industrial age, but now our labor and lack of education in the information sector will color us obsolete. In order to understand where we are headed, it is important to trace what exactly happened.

In Cruse’s Plural but Equal, I found his sharp critique of Black leaders of the two Civil rights era to be eerily similar to what I see in today’s Black leadership. Cruse points out that both movements were split between a Black capitalistic approach and a full assimilationist approach that dabbles in socialism. When most think about Brown V Board of education, it’s discussed as an integration trial and not as a separatist trial. The landmark trial ushered in the era that banned “Separate but Equal” but somehow we are no more integrated geographically in some spaces before the ruling. The ambition of the integrationist African Americans may have won the case but the consequences of doing so are still being felt. Separatist African Americans original intent of the case was based on access to funds, not shared space. After the ruling black owned hospitals, schools and other fabrics of black economic thresholds were defunded and disbanded, resulting in higher unemployment. As time moved forward the battle between the two identity groups continued to battle each other. Dubois and Garvey was replaced by Dr. King and Malcolm X. A common goal of both centered on black economics. Dr. King believed that African Americans could achieve economic inclusion and the full benefits within the country while Malcolm believed in separate economy, one of self determination and built by Americans of African descent. As Dr. King allied with “liberals” to achieve inclusion and pushed for Civil Rights legislation, Malcolm disagreed with that tactic. Based off my readings, I agree with both ideals. Malcolm’s scolding criticism against what he called “The White Liberal” still holds strong today. Dr. King would eventually join Malcolm’s assessment and abandoned working with liberals. After the passing of Malcolm, King became more “radicalized”. One of my favorite speeches by Dr. King came in 1967 which is now known as “The Other America”. In this speech, King describes the original Affirmative Action, which was a wealth distribution for poor whites and a lashing to white liberals. King states

“ And I’m convinced that many of the very people who supported us in the struggle in the South are not willing to go all the way now. I came to see this in a very difficult and painful way in Chicago the last year where I’ve lived and worked. Some of the people who came quickly to march with us in Selma and Birmingham weren’t active around Chicago. And I came to see that so many people who supported morally and even financially what we were doing in Birmingham and Selma, were really outraged against the extremist behavior of Bull Connor and Jim Clark toward Negroes, rather than believing in genuine equality for Negroes.”

Dr. King was assassinated the next year in 1968. After his assassination, new militant organizations began to take off where he left off.

The Blank Panthers, Founded in Oakland Ca, shortly before Kings passing in 1966 had a significant impact in the 1970s. The Panthers operated as a mixture between King’s teaching of an integrated organizing force with a socialism economic framework but with Malcolm’s militancy. The Panthers were able to create various programs that would later become a staple in American culture like the free breakfast program, but like King and Malcolm, many of the organization’s leaders were murdered. The murders and jail sentencing of militant and conservative black movements slowly began to shift towards a more liberal framework. Towards the late 1970s and 1980s, the popularity of Rev Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton became staples in the black community. Rev Jackson became so popular that his Rainbow Coalition threatened the Democratic party in challenging Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1984. African Americans in the 1980s were looking for hope. Unemployment in many urban cities were steadily on the rise along with crime. As the industries changed and manufacturing jobs relocating the the suburbs, low skilled African Americans sought out to earn income where the resources were available, the black market.

Jesse Jackson 1984 Presidential Campaign

The 1980s and 1990s would become dominated by the crack epidemic. If Dr. King’s death in 1968 hit the African American community like a stroke, then the crack epidemic should be considered a heart attack. The crack epidemic not only created a generation of African Americans addicted to the substance, it also destroyed the social fabric of the community. Conservatives point towards the creation of the Welfare state as the deciding factor and Liberals claim that they Welfare state didn’t go far enough, but both can agree on the impact and long lasting impact of crack has had on the community. For some unemployed African Americans during this time, crack was seen as an equalizer to economic misfortune. Teenagers who entered this sector had surpassed the income earnings of the generations before them in a matter of months. Crack created instant teenage millionaires but also created a continued legacy of African American genocide and glorification of thug culture.

Los Angeles Teenage Gangs
New York Teenage Drug Dealers

Historical African American communities turned into war zones only rivaled by Middle Eastern countries engaged in battle with United States forces.The industrial cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles indicates the horror.

Chicago 1990, 1991, 1992: Homicides: 851, Homicides: 928, Homicides: 943

New York 1990, 1991, 1992: Homicides:2,245 Homicides: 2,154 Homicides: 1,995

Los Angeles 1990, 1991, 1992: Homicides:983 Homicides: 1,025 Homicides: 1,092

In a response to growing carnage and deteriorating conditions of inner city youth, new African American leaders ascended. The most notable event from my childhood was the Million Man March on October 16,1995 in Washington D.C. The event was led by Louis Farrakhan, a member of The Nation of Islam, the organization that was once led by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. A renewed sense of militancy had emerged and overtaken liberal ideology of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Farrakhan message was self determination, black capitalism and a coordinated collective voting block. Minister Farrakhan’s event was so popular that even Rev Jackson and Rev Sharpton both spoke at the event. For a while it appeared as though the African American Community had made a turn for the better. As the culture had began to show signs of repairing, Federal policy targeting crack cocaine dealers and users would sweep away the misguided youth for decades to come and make prisons there primary homes. The million dollar black market became dried up for due to increased police presence, but the consequences were harsh. The Clinton Administration introduced mandatory sentencing, three strike sentencing and a list of other legislation that has impacted generation after. As this generation had began to find a new level of consciousness, it too had fallen victim to the times as the one before it. The late 1990s saw the rise of the information sector. African American intellectuals were taught about multicultural studies and began to shed the trauma that had plague them but economics and skills needed to escape poverty had escaped them. Dr. Amos Wilson, a psychologist specializing in African American studies had predicated what was to come. Minister Farrakhan had gained the mainstream attention, but Dr Wilson message still rings true until this day. Dr. Wilson preached ownership of all entities within the black community. Like Farrakhan, Dr. Wilson also had a cautionary tale of Liberal politics and ideology. In order to combat racism and oppression, he expressed ownership and education of self before all. It is a travesty that many African Americans have not heard or read his work.

By the end of the 1990s, African Americans had all but disregarded the militancy and self determination that was built up in the early to mid 1990s. America on the surface pretended to be more inclusive. Hip Hop, which was birth in the late 1970s and early 1980s by African Americans looking to tell the stories of the neighborhood become a source of commodification. Rap/Hip Hop became the get rich quick scheme for young black males. The late 1990s and 2000s became a gold rush for African Americans entering the entertainment field. Athletes, musicians and actors/actress were signing record contracts and becoming overnight success stories. The success stories were in fact a facade. The over representation of Black Hollywood has created a generation of misguided and misinformed youth. The dominant culture now has become the ignorant culture. When I prescribe it as ignorant, it is not in the sense of formal education being that this is the most formally educated generation in American history, but ignorant for ignoring reality and taking a pseudo black pride identity. There is a major disconnect between those educated in liberal identity politics and blue collar/working class African Americans. It is to my belief, that the new working class African Americans are being led to slaughter by the new negro intellectuals. The community at the lower income strata have abandoned their realities to live in the perceived reality of those in the higher brackets. As of today, African Americans at all levels scream oppression and the open denouncement of the current President of the United States, Donald Trump. The majority of the community calls for his impeachment and considers him a reality TV star masquerading as a politician, but I often ask the question, “was that not what we had in the last President?”

I often catch flack for my denouncing of former President Barack Obama, but as my ancestors that have come before me, It is necessary I take a stand against parasites to the community I identify with. Garvey was hated, Malcolm was hated, Dr. King was hated and so on, only to be vindicated after they passed away. When I discuss the ills about the Obama administration it is not out of spite, it is out of love for my community. The Obama administration holds a special place for me due to my age, it was the first administration I could participate in the voting process. I must admit that in 2008, I voted for Obama to become the 44th President. We were coming off President Bush, who showed no intent of helping African Americans in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The Bush Administration also was responsible for African Americans being duped and misguided into unstable homeownership which attributed to the financial crash in 2007. The community was once again looking for leadership. Where Rev. Jackson had came short in 1984, African Americans made sure to rally behind a candidate with full support in 2008. Sen. Obama was charasamatic,energetic, supremely well spoken and used his pigment to correlate with the Black youth. We felt he was just like us. He was able to unify the split between the elders and youth, so on November 8th, 2008 we came together to vote elect Barack Obama as the 44th President of The United States.

President Obama Victory Speech 2008
Rev. Jesse Jackson during President Obama’s victory speech 2008

With the election of President Obama, African Americans finally had representation at the highest level, or so they were led to believe. As the country entered into the heart of the recession, it was African Americans who felt the brunt of the pain. If the African American community needed the most resources and attention during the economic downturn, the community was ignored outright. President Obama was able to use his skin-tone to cloak his lack of support for the community. In times of economic hardships, countries tend to impose austerity measures and the United States responded the same. President Obama appointed Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education. Their relationship stems from being in the same circles politically in Chicago. Duncan was the former head of Chicago Public Schools in 2002. As the head of Chicago Public Schools, Duncan had a history of closing and opening schools. Duncan claimed that it was a proven successful model, but this was not the case. In reality it had little to no impact. Duncan’s impact as Secretary of Education is best summed up by George Schmidt in The Black Agenda Report. Schmidt describes the moments after after Duncan’s appointment

“Duncan and Obama soon announced their intention to close and privatize (in their language “turn around”) what they called “5,000 underperforming public schools ” across the country, with the “underperformance to be mostly indicated by low scores on standardized tests. Using a pot of almost $4 billion in stimulus money, the Obama administration allowed consultants from pro-privatization foundations like Eli Broad, Gates, Walton Family and others to write the guidelines for its signature education program, Race To The Top.
Under Race To The Top federal education funds were awarded to states and school districts not on the basis of student need, but based upon how many standardized tests were given, how quickly they could tie teachers’ salaries and jobs to test scores, how many “failing” schools were identified, closed and re-opened as charters. The nation’s corporate media conglomerates played a vital role by popularizing the narrative that public schools were “failing” but not covering the waves of coercive testing, teacher firings, parent protests and school privatizations unfolding across the country.”

Obama polices not only had an impact on the public schools but on higher education, especially HBCU’S (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Obama operated as classic Neo-Liberal by ignoring racial history and taking a broader approach. Just months after taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama did not push to renew a temporary $85 million pot of money earmarked for HBCUs by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund states

The first Obama budget in 2009, during the height of the recession, removed a two-year Bush-administration program that annually funded $85 million directly to HBCU schools. At the time, the administration pointed to its increase of Title III direct funding to HBCUs from $238 million to $250 million, while also increasing Pell Grant limits for students as mitigating factors. But those increases aside, it still meant that HBCUs were to lose nearly $73 million in funds. Even Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, criticized the decision, pointing to $9 million in whaling-history-museum funding that had been maintained in the Obama budget.

His reasoning? He had opted instead to put a larger sum into general grant programs that put more federal money into the coffers of the nation’s institutions of higher education. By doing so, the federal educational resources were reduced from 3.5 to 2.8 by 2013.

In 2011, the Obama administration tighten federal requirements for the Parent Plus loan program. The new legislation had a large impact on HBCU students. I started college in 2011 and I remember during my second year, friends of mines could no longer afford to come back. My personal experience correlates with the findings of The United Negro College Fund.

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) estimates that about 28,000 students at black colleges — nearly 10 percent of the students at HBCUs — lost their Parent Plus loans during the 2012–13 academic year.

With the high cost of college and little to no serious work experience, the youth was left to fend for themselves. Those coming from a lower economic strata turned to the black market or became totally unemployed.

One of the biggest accomplishments the Obama Administration holds up as a major accomplishment is its rapid decline of unemployment levels and job creation. Publications are quick to point out that under his administration 11.3 Million jobs were created.

The unemployment rate looks incredible at first, until you dig deeper and see why. As unemployment dipped, Individuals not participating in the labor forced reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The official unemployment is defined as people who do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the past four weeks, and are currently available for work. Historically, the official black unemployment rate has always been double that of whites. Even with that said, African American youth encounter is more drastic. As reported by Real Clear Policy

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey gathered data on the jobless rate of non-institutionalized men, 20 to 34 years old, averaged over the period, 2010–2014, for 34 major US cities. The data paint a grim picture for black men, particularly in the Midwestern industrial and the Mid-Atlantic cities. Like Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C. all had black jobless rates above 45 percent. In these cities, more young black men were either jobless or imprisoned than employed.

As the access to education became more expensive and unemployment became harder to obtain, the negative impacts which is violence took hold of young Black men and women in urban cores. Chicago became the poster child of American violence but, other cities experienced massive levels of bloodshed. The Mayor of Chicago is Rahm Emanuel who rose to popularity to win the election in 2011, due to his role as Obama’s former Chief of Staff. During his tenure as the Mayor, the city has decreased homicides over the years, but again when we dive into the details the numbers are grim.

In 2016, Chicago ended the year with over 808 homicides. Of those 808, over 78% of the victims were African American. The clearance rate was a dismal 19%.

Chicago is just one of many places where African Americans are being slaughtered at such a high level. In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, they found that African Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans to be the victims of a homicide. What’s quite interesting in their chart is the rapid rise in homicides in the years considered to be rebound years from the recession.

The Trend is still continuing upward. After Obama left office in 2017, the crimes in Baltimore have surged to an all-time high. Out of the 343 Homicides as of 12–29–17, 288 are African American. How did we get here? Perhaps we should also look into a lack of identity and sense of belonging along with the increased unemployment and our cultural regression.

The Hottest topic of the last few years have been the issue of gentrification. African Americans since the recession have seen their neighborhoods and cultural centers become colonies for younger, white and affluent families and individuals. In order to understand what is taking place, we must understand how housing impacts our sense of community. Not only did the Recession take away from black geographical locations, it wiped clean their wealth. A large portion of American wealth is held within the equity of homes, and without one or defaulting on mortgage payments negative trends begin to take shape.In a report conducted by People’s Policy Project the negative impact of the Obama administration housing policies will have a long lasting legacy.

In a recent article by Forbes, if drastic intervention does not that place, the median wealth for African American will reach zero by 2050. The former Industrial Cities of Detroit, Chicago, New York , Philadelphia and Los Angeles have all seen massive levels of displacement over the last five years. During the gentrification, loss of wages and access to higher education, cities also experienced an old foe, police brutality. During the times of police brutality, African Americans always had a leader. If the community were to look to the president to calm the issue,they were sadly mistaken. In an act of defiance, President Obama, called young black men thugs after taking part in the uprising in Baltimore after the unjust killing of Freddie Gray by Police officers.

At this moment, it was clear; Obama was not the Black leader many had hoped he could and would be. Instead of reducing the weaponry of local police departments, Obama increased it. In a report put together by Open the Books, they found an incredible amount of military weaponry added to forces since the death of Michael Brown in 2014.
“Under the Pentagon’s 1033 program, enacted in 1997, the value of military weapons, gear and equipment transferred to local cops did not exceed $34 million annually until 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, when it nearly tripled to more than $91 million. By 2014, the year that Michael Brown was shot down — and when the full Congress, including 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program — Obama was sending three quarters of a billion dollars, more than $787 million a year, in battlefield weaponry to local police departments. In other words, President Obama oversaw a 24-fold (2,400%) increase in the militarization of local police between 2008 and 2014. Even with the scale-back announced in 2015, Obama still managed to transfer a $459 million arsenal to the cops — 14 times as much weapons of terror and death than President Bush gifted to the local police at his high point year of 2008.”

As the Obama administration continued its war on working class African Americans, a weird cultural shift also began to take place. Many African Americans from both class systems began to take on his persona. Looking back at this phenomenon, it makes sense. Throughout history the presence of an opposite polarizing figure was noticeable, now there is none. One of the most famed black intellectual, Ta-nehisi coates, slightly criticized the administration but often sung praises. Dubois had Garvey, Dr. King had Malcolm, Farrakhan had Rev Jackson, but Obama had nobody. The Neo-Liberal identity took hold of the Black community and it is now its more evident than ever.

African Americans today show a pseudo black power cloaked in the aesthetics of Civil Rights black leaders. The call for justice today are for acceptance of integration. The anticipation of the new Black Panther film is based off inclusion. In the Salon(a publication catering to African American issues) the author states “We needed” this movie.

It’s a very, very easy jump to see that it — and the regal, glamorous, powerful appearances of the mostly black cast — is an essential variation on the mainstream narrative about Africans and African Americans, one that points to the sometimes repressed, often uncelebrated value of black origins and the culture of the African diaspora. Basically, we all need this right now.

The movie looks great but what we need is an honest discussion about our future in this country. Are we here to ignore the realities facing our young brothers and sisters? Younger African Americans and some older have fallen victim to perception more than reality. Entertainers and entertainment is our escape from reality. The median black wealth is $1700, we have no time for falsehood. Social Media allows us to escape the world we live and create virtual realities where a Black utopian exist. There are plenty of ways to address the problems we face.

In order to change our conditions we must change our ways. We have to shed the Neo-Liberal identity, promote self accountability, promote community change and love and knowledge of self .As large populations of African Americans return to the south, Black politics and leadership is as crucial as it will ever be. I’ve seen good signs with the election of Randall Woodfine in Birmingham Al, and Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson Mississippi. At the moment, i’m all in on Nina Turner running for president in 2020 to dethrone President Trump. The thought of Turner as a President excites me. Perhaps she could do what Shirley Chisholm could not due in 1972, like how Obama was able to fulfil the aspiration of Rev Jackson in his 1984 campaign.