Photo Bio Series: Black Power Revisited (cont.)
The following is the continuation from part X of the Black Power series published Friday, August 9, 2006. This excerpt is taken from literature written over 40 years ago. I hope the reader finds the articles as interesting as I have found them.
Stanley M. Elkins shows a fascinating comparison of the effect of plantation life on blacks and concentration camps on Jews. The most remarkable aspect of the concentration camp prisoners’ behavior was its childlike quality. Many inmates- many of them mature, independent, highly educated adults-were transformed into fawning, servile, dependent children. This child-like behavior, moreover, was in part a reflection of an even more fundamental change in which some prisoners identified with their SS guards and accepted the Gestapo value system. They imitated the guards in many ways-sewing their uniforms to look more and more like the SS, imitating their mannerisms, absorbing their German nationalism, and anti-Semitism (Even some Jewish prisoners became anti-Semitic), and outdoing the SS guards in brutality when placed in supervisory positions over their fellow prisoners. Many of us have seen the actions of the same viciousness by Negroes placed in high positions, especially Negro police officers.
One of the reasons for the recidivism of convicts is due to the fact that they were completely dependent upon the institution. During their incarceration, all decisions were made for them. Consequently, when they are released, they cannot cope with decision making. We need look no further than the apathy, aimlessness, submissiveness and dependence all around us to see the awful skill of the slave masters.
In many prominent Negroes, this dependence in white benevolence is clearly evident. The striving to be like whites is an example of it. For sustained dependence elicits emulation. It is seen in Mr. Rowan’s article. His slavish fear is that whites might withdraw, leaving us helpless. Oftentimes it seeps out subliminally in unguarded moments.
In the cause for our own freedom, we rarely occupied the command position. We were not allowed to call the plays. We sometimes barked the signal, but the plays were always sent in form the white bench. In much the same way that football coaches send in plays for the inexperienced quarterbacks, people in the stands think the quarterbacks had contrived the strategy, but those in the game know better.
Professor James O. Wilson wrote in Negro Politics, “Negroes tend to be the objects rather than the subjects of civil actions. Things are often done for, about, or to or because of Negroes; but they are less frequently done by Negroes.”
When Black Power insists upon independence-or control of its affairs-it evinces a gratifying maturity. It says in effect, “We have come of age, we are men, we can order our own lives, we can take care of our own business.” It says, “We don’t need you, white man.”
This is the bold declaration of men, of real men, independent men! Silberman sees the need for independence. He said, “If Negroes are to gain a sense of potency and dignity, it is essential therefore, that they take the initiative in action on their own behalf.” He went on to say, “For the moment, at least, it is far more important that things be done by Negroes, than that they be done for them, even if they are not done as well. Whites will have to learn that most difficult lesson of parenthood; let the children become their own adults-whites, that is to say, will have to abandon their position of command and the habit of speaking for Negroes and acting for Negroes.”
There is nothing new about the desire to become independent. When A. Philip Randolph threatened to march on Washington in 1941 to protest discrimination, in employment, he said that there were some things Negroes had to do for themselves. But going back even further, all the way back to March 16, 1827, in the first editorial of the first black newspaper in America, Freedom Journal, one finds these words, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.”
Black Power is saying, “We wish to plead our own cause.” If some pusillanimous soul evokes the fear of failure, we can only answer with Jomo Kenyatta, Prime Minister of Kenya, “If there’s going to be a mess, let it be a black mess.”
Third, closely related to independence, is a healthy desire to negotiate; not beg, not ask, but negotiate. Black Power says, “We will sit at the conference table as equals and negotiate. The days of begging and bowing are past and gone, never to return.”
The fear of many that Black Power completely eliminates whites is false. In a new era, there are three ways which whites of good will can contribute:
They can go back to their own kind and tell what great things are being done, which is similar to Jesus sending healed demoniac back to his own people to show what God had wrought in him.
They can serve in subordinate positions- as Loren Miller puts it. They can enlist in Negro officiated armies.
Lastly, they can coalesce-as equals with blacks in endeavors of mutual interests.