The Real Signs of ‘Black Power’

Stop waiting for another March on Washington. The civil rights movement is now about policy changes like outlawing stop and frisk

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Andrew Burton / Getty Images

Activists march against police stop-and-frisk tactics in New York City on Feb. 23, 2013

As modern black American history goes, this week qualifies as a hot one. Just this morning there were already two things to rejoice about. Attorney General Eric Holder announced real steps to shorten the drug sentences that so many people — a disproportionate number of them black — suffer from. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law-enforcement reason,” Holder told us.

That is an eternal complaint from black advocates nationwide. It isn’t for nothing that Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, on just this subject, won the NAACP Image Award in 2011. And here, our attorney general is behind just what the book decries, even calling for more money for drug-treatment programs.

Black Power.

(MORE: Michelle Alexander on the Zimmerman Mind-Set)

Also Judge Shira Scheindlin decreed New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy is illegal. It has meant that in many New York City neighborhoods young black and Latino men have to expect to be halted on the street for no reason on a regular basis.

If I wanted to create generations of pissed-off young black men thinking that the only society they’ll ever know is an alien landscape, New York City’s stop-and-frisk policies of the past 10 years are precisely what I would come up with. Well, now a lot of those cops will have to carry around body cameras. Rookies will be paired with veterans, and the whole outfit will have an outside monitor, Peter Zimroth.

Black Power again.

Or at least so one would think. And yet in a couple of weeks, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the general mood will be one of pessimism and head shaking. Oh, sure, we’ve made some progress. The mantra goes “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.” But we’re supposed to think that the way to go is eternally longer than the way we’ve come. But if shortening prison sentences isn’t really important, and keeping inner-city black men from feeling like they live in a police state is just window dressing too, then what is it that we are actually waiting for?

The answer, for many, is something like another March on Washington. Something dramatic. The film clips, the power of the Rev. King’s delivery, the iconography, have taught us that for black people real change has to happen at high volume, with words like march, national and transformation.

(MORE: McWhorter: Was Zimmerman Telling the Truth?)

But when King spoke, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 hadn’t happened yet, and there was little sign that they were about to. The prospect of an America without legal segregation and disenfranchisement was barely imaginable to some. In that moment, civil rights was indeed dramatic.

These days are different. America is much more diverse than it was. In 1963, television had just made black America’s plight visible in a way it hadn’t been before, but 50 years later, no one needs to be taught that too many black people are poor. And mainstream America is never going to truly, deeply “understand” racism on some sociology-class level — if that’s the “dream” anyone has, he or she needs to wake up.

Civil rights today is things like the ones that are happening right now. Besides shortening prison sentences and keeping unnecessary profiling from turning black men against productive living, the next step is freeing black America from the myth that the only way to have a decent existence and raise a family is to get a B.A.

The op-ed pages tell us this week after week. But did your cable technician, ultrasound technician, mechanic, building inspector or bail bondsman go to college? And do you get the feeling those jobs are in any danger of disappearing anytime soon? Community colleges and vocational schools are Black Power too.

And for anybody who’s thinking that what happened to Trayvon Martin means we have no reason for hope, here’s something to think about.

Winding down the war on drugs, pulling back profiling to the kind that makes sense, and teaching people who aren’t up for college how to thrive without it are all the kinds of things that will improve the fortunes of young black men just like Martin, including making encounters between people like him and cops — even self-appointed ones — rarer and rarer.

There comes a time when we can say “We’ve come a long way” — and leave it there. It’s a kind of, yes, Black Power to admit it’s O.K.

MORE: Top 10 American Protest Movements

66 comments
JackArnold
JackArnold

There is no question in my mind that John McWhorter has as much contact with the black under class as Hillary Clinton does.  He is protected by distance, money and class.

He is not exposed to the thug culture on a daily basis and so minimizes its impact on the rest of us.


Openminded1
Openminded1

3 black thugs kill for the thrill of it. they kill a white 22 year old aussie out for a jog and think its funny, there is the reason for stop and frisk. where is big mouth Obama the racist President? I did not hear him say that young man could have been me or my son, Where is loud mouth racist Al and jessie and the rest of the BS closet racist . Talk about a hate crime and racism what do you bleeding heart liberals call this one. No big deal just another whitey killed by some young bloods, out to show whitey whos the boss. So now 3 more black racist punks go to prison. Do not hear any whites protesting or rioting in the streets, wait that is only a black thing.

CalebMurdock
CalebMurdock

@Openminded1 How stupid you are.  I'm a "bleeding heart liberal" and I think the crime is horrific.  Everyone thinks the crime is horrific.  But most other people are smart enough not to use an incident like this to brand the whole black race as inferior, which is what you seem to be doing.  Maybe there ARE black thugs in the world, but it doesn't change the fact that black people suffer a great deal of prejudice in this country.  There are plenty of white thugs too, you know!

Openminded1
Openminded1

@CalebMurdock @Openminded1 First of bleeding heart, I am black just like Obama half and half. You are reading this from a black man which to blacks makes me a uncle tom or traitor, but I am neither I just say it it like it is. I have lived in both worlds and I tell you now blacks today live thru much less prejudice then you think. It is called race card BS, they know to use it and make head lines . Whites do not use the race card. Blacks are far more racist and violent then whites. Whites commit crimes even violent ones but not toward blacks to often.  I spent 30 years in law enforcement I have seen and felt the hate. never had a white person try to kill me. Had many blacks try in 30 years. The fact is blacks commit far more violent crime then whites by far and most young blacks hate whites. Are there good blacks of course there are many. But  as a hole they are there own worst enemy.

CalebMurdock
CalebMurdock

@Openminded1 @CalebMurdock I don't believe you are black.  I have read all your posts and you have too much knee-jerk racism against blacks to be black.  You want us to believe you are a black person though you have no understanding of how poverty and prejudice can result in insensitivity and violence.  You want us to believe you are a black man who thinks that whites are better than his own race.  Sorry, I don't buy it.  Even that famous anti-black black man, Clarence Thomas, has more sense than you do.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@CalebMurdock @Openminded1 Believe it or not i do not care moron, I am just like Obama half and half, and what you are saying is stupid, should I only be black and forget my whiteness like Obama/ My Mom was black and dad was white and he stayed married to my mom on till his death they were married 39 years. If he were black most likely that would not have happened just like for Obama. You just can not fathom a black man saying something about the black race, why not whites talk about whites. you seem to have a double standard are you sure you are not black. maybe you date black men and feel obligated to defend your lover I do not know, what I do know is you are stupid and way to naive. I love my blackness but I also in love my white dad and my whiteness on like the racist obama who seems to forget he was raised in the white world by a white mom no black dad to be found.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@CalebMurdock @Openminded1 Ps you must be black you are putting C. thomas down, why you think he is a uncle tom, because he live in the white world and likes white women, what black guy does not like white women, most of the NFL and NBA do too. I understand why you like black men we are well hung its ok shows you are not a racist right.

CalebMurdock
CalebMurdock

Destroyerkahn, there are lots of reasons why crime is dropping, most of them sociological.  Crime would have come down anyway.  You say you are not a racist, but you don't seem to have much empathy.  I am white, but I can understand the humiliation and anger that people feel who are treated like criminals by the police.  Why don't YOU understand it?  And let me pose another question to you:  If it is okay for the police to randomly stop and frisk pedestrians, why isn't it okay for the police to make random searches of people's homes?  Crime rates would drop even further if that happened.  The point is, the Constitution is supposed to protect us from living in a police state.  Also, the psychological damage of being treated like a criminal by the authorities is worse than whatever crime that is being stopped.

Dan_Canes
Dan_Canes

Do you really believe that Stop and Frisk is only being done to Blacks and Hispanics? I grew up in the early 70's and was stopped almost on a daily basis by cops, and I'm white! I grew up with that kind of stuff in my blue collar neighborhood! At some point you just have to let it go move on. I've also been a victim of racial profiling because I've had long hair in the past, that's profiling!

CalebMurdock
CalebMurdock

@Dan_Canes Sorry, I don't believe you were stopped on a daily basis when you were growing up.  Exaggerating doesn't help when you are trying to make a point.

cbcinatx
cbcinatx

Isn't the pairing of  "skin color-power" popular among paramilitary racist groups?

jodyschmidt2010
jodyschmidt2010

Not sure if I represent a larger voice here, but I'm a little intimidated by the idea of a polite law enforcement person who smiles courteously while he cuffs you and takes you away. I guess too much 1970s television got me used to the idea that the gruff nasty cop is more likely to satisfy his urge to kick ass by balling someone out for a while then maybe citing him for something and possibly being flexible and letting him run off if all he did was tag up a wall or break a window. Maybe I'm delusional. Polite cops are NOT the answer in my book, but that is just my opinion. I prefer them disrespectful and brutish rather than polite but unwavering like Robocop. However, the unattainable ideal of polite AND judicious and moderate in application and enforcement? That would be cool, but very unlikely considering the nature of most people who want to be in law enforcement.

jodyschmidt2010
jodyschmidt2010

Oops! Wrong article. Had both open at once and posted this comment to the wrong one. Sorry!

Openminded1
Openminded1

@jodyschmidt2010 What the hell do you know about law enforcement moron other then watching episodes of adam 12 and TJ hooker. cops are human with the same emotions and put there pants on the same way as everyone else. If you run your mouth and disrespect one ,you might be cuffed, or you might get knocked on your ass, you may even get shot if you make the wrong move ,but in most cases that is the perps fault not the cops. Only the NAACP and the media turn the tables. Are some cops punks too yes of course, but they get weeded out sooner or later or get arrested too.

captainhurt
captainhurt

its fine, but really unnecessary to celebrate your "darkness" and "dna origins" and "culture".  I dont do any of those things. Its discriminating in the real sense to do those things. you are isolating yourself as "different" or needs "special attention". Once you do that, dont complain about different and special treatment. 

I have all kinds of backgounds, dna-wise, and i dont follow the lifestyle, education, or missions of my parents, and could care less what my grandparents were/did/suffered, other than curiosity. 

free yourself by STOPPING IDENTIFYING YOURSELF AS A VICTIM, LOSER, AND A DIFFERENT RACE,  STOP CALLING OUT (your ancestors) in rational discussions, except out of entertainment.

CalebMurdock
CalebMurdock

@captainhurt Captainhurt, you're a bigot -- and this is a white guy who is saying that to you.  The hallmark of bigots is that they have no empathy, meaning that they can't put themselves in other people's shoes.  When I lived in NYC, I had a couple black friends, and every time I dined with them, the service was really bad.  It's amazing how much prejudice they have to put up with -- prejudice and insensitivity from people like you.

captainhurt
captainhurt

@CalebMurdock @captainhurt 

"if identified as "white" and "black friends", then they are NOT really your freinds". 

:-)

its interesting how clueless some folks are as to why many people around do NOT like them or are put off by them. Some of these clueless folks are very intelligent in other areas, but for reasons of ego or lack of social intelligence, cant figure out what the other person sees. I've observed  these people are NOT looking honestly and closely in the mirror each day.  

While its not necessarily fair to each individual to associate a set of profiles and appearances and body language with certain predictable behaviors, it IS often helpful to do so. Everyone does it all the time. its called intelligence...pattern matching...intuition...wisdom...learning from life's lessons and from others. its your brain's automatic statistical engine that can accurately read danger and recognize a trustworthy profile or if scoping out freinds, simply "a person with the same values as me",  In the cities, people have to quickly assess these things to thrive.

Of course its important to distinguish unfounded stereotypes from real life statistical trends and experience.



Openminded1
Openminded1

@CalebMurdock @captainhurt The service was bad because blacks do not tip well as a whole ask any server around the country. A friend of mine did get a tip from a well know NFL player once he showed her his penis for a tip. She said put it away it is a health hazard . The moral of the story you want good service do not dine with blacks and it has nothing to do with racism its just know among servers blacks are lousey tippers.

CalebMurdock
CalebMurdock

@Openminded1 @CalebMurdock @captainhurt How absurd.  Do ALL black people tip poorly?  I doubt it.  Even if they did, I was sitting at the table and I'm lilly white.  You're a racist.  You look for excuses for racism instead of acknowledging the truth.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@CalebMurdock @Openminded1 @captainhurt You dummy liberal, as i said and I am black ,blacks tip very little if at all. Do some blacks tip well of course I am one. But as a general rule they do not tip well unless it is a cute white server or black server then maybe a young black guy will tip a little better. You look for the good in people very nice of you, stupid and careless but nice. If I were you I would not walk down the street at any time in a american black hood as lilly white as you claim to be. You may change your mind about how wonderful blacks are.

captainhurt
captainhurt

@CalebMurdock @captainhurt 

You keep talking about "RACE", and keep pushing discrimination by doing that. 

The article is about power, policy, and celebreties and old groups that promote race-based treatment, race-based policy (racist policy).