By James Clingman
As the end of another tumultuous year approaches, Black people again find ourselves in the relative same economic and political position as we were the year before, and the years preceding. In 2007, leading up to 2008, when the ultimate level of political history had finally come to fruition, Black folks and others were citing the mantra, “Hope and Change!” Quite frankly, we got more hope than real positive change—for Blacks, that is.
Just as our emotional bubble was inflated to its maximum capacity, now the air is coming out and we are heading back down from our lofty height, about to burst in a very short while. Instead of saying, “We are the change we’ve been looking for,” in light of all the unrest and injustice, I and others say as we have said for decades, “The change you are looking for is in your pockets.”
Slowly but surely, albeit very late in the game, Black folks are learning that economic empowerment is the key to our progress and prosperity in this nation. Decades of instructions from wise elders, scholars, and activists seem to be taking hold on the minds of young people, despite the tired messages coming from some of our current leaders.
It is way past time that Black people acknowledge our situation, admit our mistakes, and work cooperatively to improve our economic situation, from which we can then build true political power. It’s not the other way around, and fortunately the young generations see and understand that reality.
Although we still get our “marching” orders from political icons and media talking heads, many are determined to blaze a new trail that leads us to economic empowerment. The sad part is that all we have to do is look back at the past 60 years and we can see how wrong and misguided we have been in our quest for parity and fairness. Now, there is an enlightened, determined, and unwavering group of young people who are neither intimidated by the powerful nor swayed by the mis-leadership of the old guard and political gatekeepers. From the looks of it, they are in it for the long haul.
While Ferguson has brought about an awakening of sorts, the solution-based messages we still hear are, “March” and “Vote.” The NAACP, as big and bad as it purports to be, has just concluded a 120-mile walk from Ferguson to the Missouri governor’s office, the same guy who insulted them with his decisions in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. Walk 120 miles? The only thing we will get out of that is sore feet and worn shoe leather. Oh yes, the businesses along the route will benefit economically; I can hear them now saying, “Y’all come.” We will be counting the miles, and they will be counting the dollars. It’s no wonder the younger generation is marching to its own drummer. They look back and see all the marching we did and ask, “Why are we still being subjected to the same things they marched against back in the day?” Can you blame them?
While many in my generation and older are still hoping for change, young folks have come to the conclusion that the change they can and should control is in their pockets. They are committed to implementing economic solutions to address the problems they face, not only in Ferguson, but across the nation. They know that politics alone will not solve their problems; they know that the hue and cry from folks like Congressman John Lewis, who is now saying, “Republican voter suppression efforts played a crucial role in driving voter turnout to historic lows in 2014,” is ridiculous.
Lewis is calling for more involvement in the voting process rather than more involvement in the economic process of leveraging Black spending throughout the year. He suggests that Republicans went into the homes of Black folks and forced them to stay away from the polls during the past election. While there certainly are efforts afoot to curtail and suppress the vote, Black folks still have the right to do so. Many chose not to vote because of nonsensical remedies put forth as relief for the inequities that exist across the board for Black people in this country. They didn’t vote because they are frustrated by the past.
The old political agenda is not the primary agenda of our young people. We fell head over heels for politics to solve our problems; they are using economics. I believe young folks, the “new guard,” are saying: “No more symbolism; we want substance; no more speeches, we want specifics; no more rhetoric, we want results; no more dallying, we’ll use our dollars; and no more hope, we’ll use our change.”
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.