Say It Loud, I Am Black And I Am Proud. Yes, But We Also Cannot Be Black For A Living.
Today is the 20th anniversary of the worst urban riot or urban civil unrest in American history. Yet, 20 years later it is somewhat stunning to me how little some things have changed — and I am not talking about 'the majority of minority America.'
I am also not talking so much about America's inner cities, where many of these majority of minorities live — places where over the past 20 years or so, those who lived and often worked there were forced to effectively 'save themselves.'
What these communities were dealing with was not so much a sense of 'love' or 'hate,' the latter representing the active racism that marked most of the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's — but rather what I increasingly call 'radical indifference.' When some people do not care enough about you to hate you. 'Whatever…' is increasingly their response to the cries and challenges of the poor.
What I am mostly talking about here is the little change that has occurred, respectfully stated – in many mainstream circles.
I recall one editorial board meeting in particular, just last week, where in spite of the 2M plus people we have served (at Operation HOPE alone), or the 1.1B plus in direct economic benefit we can track, showing hugely impressive repayment and minority borrower performance rates, and even radical improvement of individual minority borrower credit scores at 100 point gaines or better (from say a 550 credit score to something north of a 650 credit score in 18 to 24 months), all this particular mainstream outlet wanted to discuss was age-old racial gripes, and the frustrations of the nameless thousands they said they had spoken to 'with no jobs.' What the…?'
Okay, the jobs crisis in our inner-cities and South Central Los Angeles in particular, is as legitimate as America herself, but the jobs crisis in my community did not begin with the Rodney King riots.
This global economic crisis has insured that even the reporter's own cousin cannot readily find a good job today, or maybe even any job, and I perhaps wrongly assume that the cousin in question would be as white in complexion and race, as the reporter in question. In other words, the global economic crisis, and the jobs crisis, impacts and has impacted all people, and not just black and brown people. That said, this is also true; "when mainstream America has a headache, Black and Brown folks have pneumonia — but we are all sick."
While a good deal of the media feedback that has surrounded the 20th anniversary of the Rodney King riots and civil unrest has been "fair and accurate," literally just chronically what happened 20 years ago in South Central Los Angeles, and other media outlets have even been very fair with respect to the real points behind the "Chaos to Community" Opportunity Bus Tour hosted by Operation HOPE and others, I was shocked by how many serious media outlets simply had no interest in hearing truly "thoughtful" commentary. Thoughtful commentary 'not about race or race relations,' from Black and Brown leaders I mean.
It is as if Black and Brown America has no expert voice, unless we are speaking out on race, and its effects on us and our communities.
It was obvious to me now that thoughtful Black and Brown leaders are still generally placed "into a box." And in so doing, either belittled, pitied, limited by that box (meaning, talk about race only please), or worse - totally ignored. The latter marked by a sense of what I increasingly call 'radical indifference.' Folks who basically don't care enough about you to hate you or disagree with you.
I remember one international interview from this week in particular, on a very respected global radio program, where the reporter literally just turned off once I sought to connect and tie what had occurred in South Central Los Angeles, to what had happened in the suburbs of Paris, France, or London, England, or Tunisia and the kick off of the Arab Spring for that matter. That at bottom, it was all about the lack of economic opportunity and financial dignity, wherever people lived. That you cannot have social justice, unless you have economic justice first.
At the end of the day, it was about the lack of good jobs, wherever they lived. And then, when I mentioned that even Hitler was able to rise up because of the economic collapse that followed World War I in Germany, well, this reporter had just had enough. He literally told me "we were wandering off too far." Translation: who am I to speak of world affairs and its interconnected parts? Just stay in my Black Box, and I will be respected just fine. Or alternatively, my favorite characterization of being referred to as "boisterous," simply because I am enthusiastic. As if you cannot make a fact-based case, be black, and smile about it all at the same time. Now I understand why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X who were both known to have a robust sense of humor, never showed anything but dead seriousness in the public space.
And so, let me make it clear as a bell that racism is a problem today, and admittedly that even part of what I reference here has a racial baggage overtone to it. One look at the Trayvon Martin case reflects that reality, but I was moved by the many mainstream responders who also wondered whether this same thing could have happened to their son, armed only with a pack of Skittles, yet shot and killed on a lonely street, on a dimly lit block.
My point on race and racism is this, (1) it is hugely complex and has been with us since the begin
ning of time, and (2) racism is sort of like rain. It is either falling someplace, or it is gathering. So we might as well get out an umbrella in a color we like, and start strolling through it — because it is not likely to change, so we must.
That does not mean we give up on improving our race relations, but it also does not mean we lie down and surrender until race relations and racism have been transformed. Let's focus on what we can do, together.
And this was the message from the 'Chaos to Community,' 20th Anniversary HOPE Opportunity Bus Tour on April 24th, 2012, in South Los Angeles.
That in spite of the fact that the federal government really did not show itself in South Central Los Angeles as it had in past crisis in America, the community found a way to salvage, save and rebuild herself.
That in spite of the fact that the private sector, rallied on by my friend Peter Ueberroth, then chairman of Rebuild Los Angeles, delivered 1B in private sector investment (when 10B was actually needed for rebuilding and revitalization), the broader community found a way to salvage, save and rebuild herself.
That in spite of the fact that even the LAPD of that era, then led by Chief Darryl Gates, effectively abandoned a community in full chaos in 1992, that one man — the Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, then of First A.M.E. Church, asked the community for calm, and the community responded in kind. Citywide rioting stopped within 24 hours of that call for community.
That today, the LAPD is no longer universally viewed as an occupying force, and that its leadership reflects the diverse community it actually serves; from John Mack, in 1992 president of the Los Angeles Urban League, since president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, to Earl Paysinger, a Black man who as assistant chief of police now oversees every officer within the LAPD, and champions programs that positively intervene in the lives of area youth before they get into trouble.
And so, with the Opportunity Bus Tour we decided to focus on the 'fresh paint and stucco' that is 20 years old or less, accented by little to no graffiti, littering or even loitering. That literally, in places and spaces where these quality, dignity rich investments were made by the private sector — the community returned the favor, by protecting them, encouraging them, and doing good and sustainable business in them. This is the story.
1B in private sector investment made 20 years ago, and they are still there.
At the end of the day, whether you are white, black, red, brown or yellow, in America you would prefer to just see some more green (currency that is).
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass) the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.