by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
My ‘spider sense’ has been tingling for the past few months.
It hasn’t been the type of warning that comes when you feel immediate danger (as when you walk down a dark street), but instead the kind that signals a foreboding future. In this case, I think it has something to do with a shifting of sociopolitical winds that portends a cultural storm on the horizon.
I mentioned on television this past Sunday (Sunday Insight with Charles Sykes), that it seems as if America has reverted back to 1968. That may be the best way to discribe this gut feeling, although a case can be made that 1868 may be just as accurate.
A Black historian once assessed, that the Civil War was fought to determine whether America would follow the tenets of the Old Testament, or the New. The new covenant won out, but a strong case can be made that it has never been fully embraced.
For the decades following the civil war, America had the opportunity to bring the country together, to desegregate, if not integrate—through the Great Reconstruction. But deals that were made sent us down a different path to two separate Americas. Part of those deals negated the newly freed slaves from inclusion, and instead gave us Jim Crow and apartheid.
Fast forward at light-speed to 1968. Civil rights and the movement against the Vietnam War, and the chickens finally found their way back to the roost. Riots rocked urban communities. Protesters detoured traffic and forced a great awakening. Racial confrontations filled the headlines and cities burned. The country was as divided as it was 100 years prior. You could see it, taste it, feel it.
Well, if you are too young to remember ’68, hold on, because my spidey sense may be on the verge of repeating itself. The nappy hairs on the back of my neck suggest it is possible.
I’m not exaggerating.
Consider the following events that have fueled my fears:
Several weeks ago I stopped at a Fond du Lac gas station after attending a family wedding in a northwestern city where my niece became the sole person of color in her new hometown. A couple of white kids stared at me as if I was an alien when I entered the gas station to purchase a drink. Three of the patrons were armed!
For what? Has there been a single murder in Fond Du Lac County in the last decade? Is there a crime spree that hasn’t been reported? Are the cows and chickens staging a political coup? Are the Russians expected to invade that peaceful community?
Or, maybe it had something to do with the Confederate flags I’ve witnessed as I got closer to home.
Those images stayed in my mind for the remainder of my trip back to the ‘peaceful’ confines of Milwaukee, where “urban terrorists” frighten residents into putting bars on their windows, and parents make headlines by going to their teenaged children’s schools to fight other student. Last week, two nut cases give their son a gun to murder a man with whom he was fighting.
Should we fear for our safety walking the streets of Milwaukee as much as we do the arming of outstate farmers and rural John Waynes?
As you ponder that question, consider that more guns and ammunition have been sold in Wisconsin and around the nation in the last three years than in any decade of this country’s history. Similarly interesting, the number of Midwestern hate groups, neo-Nazis and paramilitary organizations have increased tenfold since Barack Obama was elected president. Why? And for whom are these people arming themselves for, or against?
If you watched the two national political conventions, or more importantly listened to the rhetoric that followed from talk show hosts, you had to come to the same conclusion I did: That the two extremes that dominate the political parties see entirely different Americas.
Are we back to the conflict grounded in whether this country will follow the Old, or New Testaments?
There is no gray or middle political position in America today. There is no political compromise. There is no one prioritizing the needs of the citizenry over the agendas of two warring political parties which, I can honestly say, truly hate each other. Civility has been replaced by the type of political and racial polarization I haven’t seen since…well…1968.
And the divide isn’t just about debatable political ideology or platforms. It is about two Americas, two entirely different visions. And it’s personal. It’s about race, class and…even theology.
What you saw and heard in Madison after Governor Scott Walker signed into law Act 10, (the bill that severely weakened public unions) and the pushing and shoving that nearly erupted into violence soon when protesters occupied the state house, is but the tip of the iceberg.
The recall campaign that followed allowed a quick glimpse of what the future might hold. Protests, death threats and minor skirmishes were met by calls to ‘take back our country.’
Take it back from whom? Who is ‘we?’ And where are you taking it?
Does the ‘we’ include the thousands who are arming themselves with guns and castle doctrines?
If those two potential threats are not bad enough, consider the greatest threat to our survival: The newfound gullibility of Black America.
Think about it without a cluttered mind, for that is half the problem.
The Black community is void of Black leadership. More often than not, someone else is leading us. They tell us who to vote for, where to spend our dwindling dollars, under what circumstances our children should be educated, or miseducated, and even who and what to worship.
We have allowed outsiders to redefine our culture; everything from a new definition of family, to our Christian beliefs.
A large percentage of us don’t value education as previous generations, nor do we pass on that hunger and motivation to our children; to empower ourselves through study. Our immature daughters are parents when they should be thinking of junior and senior proms.
A large percentage of our children are walking around with guns, and are ready to use them for the most trivial of reasons. We have allowed ourselves to be pawns of poverty pimps, and we have fully subscribed to the adage that if you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in writing.
Did I say gullible?
The same person who commandeered the Freedom Train, rewrote the Willie Lynch papers and not only “convinced” us we won the civil rights war, but that it really didn’t make a difference because we really are the cursed decedents of Ham—uncivilized, intellectually and morally inferior.
Did I say gullible?
If this theory is beyond your grasp, then I rest my case.
Forty years ago, we fought for educational opportunity, for Black history programs, for our slice of the pie. When I first started attending African World Festival, the majority of people were dressed in African clothes, greeted each other like brothers and sisters. We attended cultural programs. We followed the tenets of Kwanzaa and saw in it a pathway to our homeland. Today, Africa is again a “Dark Continent,” “nigger” has replaced “brother,” and “Two Quarters” and “Snoop Doggy Dud” have replaced Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X.
Did I say gullible?
Sure, there’s a community of culturally attuned, progressive African Americans here and elsewhere. There are those who value education, put community before political party, God before false images and who believe the Black nuclear family is the foundation. But our numbers are dwindling and those who are being led to nowhere by equally naïve peers, or worse, outsiders with a vested interest in our stagnation, are growing.
So yeah, my spider sense is tingling. In fact, it’s going berserk. It looks like 1868 or 1968 all over again. And I’m fearful it’s going to have a different outcome this time around.