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African American Progress in America: Equality vs. Exploitation

A few weeks ago, I observed my son playing a video game in which he was able to determine the individual characteristics of an action figure. This included the selection of weapons, apparel, etc. As my son was engaging in this menial process, I overheard him express concern as to whether or not he was able to select the skin color of the character he selected. Despite the fact that my son was simply playing a video game, I found myself contemplating as to whether or not and how I was going to address this issue. Inevitably, I found myself becoming disappointed with regards to how the topic of race has evolved in the US. All too often, it appears that public discussions regarding the subject are either ignored, scripted, unsubstantiated, or melodramatic. In light of such, I decided to approach the topic of race in a manner that I believe would foster interest and self-reflection; I questioned my son as to whether or not blacks are guilty of engaging in racist behavior.

In response to such, he gave me that perplexed look that any parent of a teenager is accustomed to. In an effort to elevate his thinking regarding the possibility of such, I decided to enlighten his perspective regarding the African American history in the US. Specifically, I shared with him the difference between the Civil Rights and the Black Power Movement which clearly represented two different definitions and approaches related to black progress. One was based upon the ideas of equality; the other was based upon the notion of race-based exploitation.

Origin of movement
The goal of the Civil Rights Movement addressed the need for social equality, which is a principle based upon the premise of morality. The goal of the Black Power Movement was geared towards efforts to resist forms of racism; which is a race-based ideology. Despite the laudable intentions of this pursuit, the movement unfortunately evolved into the practice of promoting the very ideas of racism it initially stood in opposition to. This is similar to white supremacy in that the movement exploited race in an effort to gain unmerited opportunities.

Development of movement
The development of the Civil Rights Movement required engaging in public acts of civil disobedience in response to instances of racism. There was also an emphasis on the expression of dignity through responsible behavior, social consciousness, and collective advocacy. Development within the Black Power Movement was based upon the notion of black pride and identity. From this premise, racial identity was prioritized over individual effort. In fact, individual effort was often synonymous with selfishness. In general, racial identity was characterized as a disposition and behavior that stood in opposition to conventional values. Examples of such include educational pursuits, conservative dress and demeanor, and articulate expression. Unfortunately, blacks who engaged in these conventional values were often categorized as sell-outs, Uncle Toms, or attempting to “act white”. In essence, racial identity was often based upon engaging in stereotypical behavior (i.e., Ebonics, athleticism, etc.).

Methods employed
In order to reach their respective goals of progress, the Civil Rights Movement encouraged and valued individual responsibility and collective sacrifice. To the contrary, the Black Power Movement espoused personal victim-hood and the collective exploitation of one’s race in order to foster progress. This obviously requires the practice of invoking guilt as well as the possibility of being accused of racism among whites.

Social character
In terms of social character, the Civil Rights Movement included individuals of all races, religions, and backgrounds. This served as verification of its moral basis. However, the Black Power Movement frowned upon the notion of including individuals representing a diversity of races. In many cases, this approach was often perceived as disloyal and inauthentic. This serves as verification of the movement’s race-based philosophy.

Cumulatively, the Civil Rights Movement resulted in the passage of legislation that opened doors for minorities in the US. In essence, the law represented both substance and symbolism with respect to progress. On the other hand, the Black Power Movement resulted in opportunities for minorities that appear to convey progress. This includes policies and programs which strategically place minorities in high profile positions in order to project an appearance of equality. In essence, this practice amounts to symbolism without substance, a type of cosmetic progress.

As parents, let us commit ourselves to sharing the complex and varied topic of racial progress in the US. This will require discussing more than one dimension in relation to historical progress. In addition, this task must involve offering a critical and controversial approach to the development and integrity of minority progress. Finally, our dialogue should foster an approach that reinforces the reality of progress through the medium of responsible behavior and not the detrimental aspects of entitlement, victim-hood, or manipulation on the basis of skin color.

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