By James Clingman
Black life, for the most part, has become a myriad of frustration, doubt, hopelessness, desperation, despair, struggle, and fear. We fear one another; we fear the police; we fear discrimination; we fear racism; we fear injustice; and we fear for our children’s safety on several fronts. We have news shows that are nothing but “views shows,” that make every effort to drag us into the no-win world of political group-think, while we meander through life looking for the ultimate illusion of equality on various fronts.
Politically, we are bombarded with images, empty platitudes, and impotent strategies to alleviate our many societal problems. Promises, inspiring messages, and microphone bravado are the tools of today that keep us relatively docile and in a perpetual state of fourth-class citizenship in this country.
Much of what we see is meaningless, but we seem to thrive on useless and shallow responses to our plight; and we settle for the same from our “leading Blacks.” Amazingly, we continue to fall for the same games and head-fakes, the same illusions, and the same rhetoric year after year. It’s all about the “optics,” as the politicians like to say.
For instance, politicians like to show their concern by doing meaningless things like rolling up their sleeves when they visit a city and grab the microphone. They like to wash pots and pans in homeless shelters. They like to serve in food lines. They like to eat hamburgers in public. They like to play games to give the impression they are one of us. They like to dance in conga lines in Africa. They like to be with celebrities to show they are “in.” They like to stand beside manufacturing robots to show us they are innovative. They like to stand on top of rubble and declare their grit and determination to avenge us.
Optics compels our leaders to do dumb and meaningless things to get us to believe they are busy and engaged in the struggles of the common man. And it works. Does that mean we are dumb if we accept their empty gestures? Why do we care if they can play golf, if they can dance, if they ride a bicycle, if they jog, if they can play an instrument or sing, if they eat a cheeseburger, or if they shed their ties and roll up their sleeves as if they are going to do some real work?
Optics is nothing more than an illusion. A great example is what took place immediately after police shot and killed Kajieme Powell in St. Louis. The mayor called his staff and they conducted an impromptu job training sign-up right there at the site where the man died. I truly hope those who signed up, all 80+ of them, will not only be trained but receive jobs – but I kinda doubt it.
When civil unrest occurs, the solutions are mainly centered on placating the offended group with more recreational opportunities, job training, diversity and sensitivity training, and other shallow remedies that are only supported by the optics of it all. After a brief period of time, everything usually goes back to normal, especially when it comes to the economic side of things.
Most politicians are, indeed, just political. They have their go-to guys and gals who will calm the masses but fail to neither offer nor implement economic solutions to the problems many of us face on a daily basis, including Black people being killed by other Blacks and by police officers.
I long for the day when Black people will stop falling for the optics and the antics, and start getting down to the business of economic solutions, not as a panacea, but at least as a tried and true way of making real progress when it comes to our survival. If we continue to use the same tactics in response to our ultimate demise, we will never be respected and we will continue to be the least regarded and the least protected people in this country.
If we keep spending the overwhelming majority of our $1 trillion annual income with businesses other than own, with no reciprocity, there will be no reason for those in charge to change. If we maintain status quo when it comes to crises, we will continue to get optics rather than substantive change. If we rely on optical illusions to control our direction we will end up in an even more dreadful place than we find ourselves now; and our children will have absolutely no hope at all.
Optics and optical illusions are mirages and pipedreams that keep us from using our economic means in pursuit of our safety, our progress, and our liberation. And we are delusional if we believe otherwise.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.