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Where do we go from here? - A way out of the rising racial tensions in America

Eerie similarity of response to 1967 Newark riots (top) and response to 2014 Ferguson unrest
Les Fabian Brathwaite

The recent execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri evokes memories of the height of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s when it was open season on blacks in America. Many heralded the election and then re-election of our first, black American president as the end of racism. To make their case, they explained when we look beyond the White House we can see what great strides we have made in eliminating racism in America. Many black Americans now carry briefcases into offices into which we once only could carry brooms. We can now make dinner reservations in restaurants in which we once only could wash dishes. We can even employ descendants of folks who once enslaved us.

The fact that when we look at who lives in the White House, we seem to have accomplished so much but when we look into the streets of Ferguson, Missouri and many other places throughout America, we seem to have accomplished so little gives rise to the question, Where do we go from here?

The execution of Michael Brown should cause us all to carefully consider whether we really have come as far as many claim we have. When we do so, we will realize that we have not, in many respects, come as far as many claim we have. Consider the following:
• In 1968, 43% of black children were born in poverty and 40% are still born in poverty today – a decrease of only 3% in 46 years;
• Since 1968, the percentage of blacks living far below the poverty line (50% or less) has remained at 15%;
• In the late 1960s, 76.6% of black children attended majority black schools and in 2010, 74.1% of black children still did so;
• For the past nearly fifty years, the black unemployment rate has remained at between 2 to 2.5 times the white unemployment rate. In 2013, the black unemployment rate was 13.1%, more than 2 times the white unemployment rate of 6.5%; and
• The 2013 black unemployment rate of 13.1% is the same as the average national unemployment rate of 13.1% during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1939.

What these statistics and the riots in response to the tragic killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri show is that America, in 2014, faces a problem much greater than that of the murder of a young black man or the militarization of local police forces throughout the country. That greater problem is the creation of an economic underclass whose steady diet of failed and false political policies and promises over the past 50 years has produced a couple of generations of people who suffer from economic anemia; social disconnectedness from middle class, mainstream America; and a sense of hopelessness about a collective future that no one seems to care about unless there is an upcoming, presidential campaign.

As the statistical comparison of our condition now and in the 1960s shows, black Americans are disproportionately represented in this economic underclass. And it is in black American communities throughout this nation that this problem incessantly rumbles, often unnoticed by most, beneath the veneer of a progressive American society. From time to time, that rumbling flow of the lava of inequality and despair erupts like a violent volcano – as it did in the aftermath of the beating of Rodney King in 1992 and the execution of Michael Brown last week – spewing forth sparks of outrage and ashes of unrest.

Before the sparks fade, the ashes settle, the lava cools and we return to another period of socially acceptable racism and inequality among an economic underclass, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Where do we go from here?’

For fifty years, we have ridden the wagon fueled by false promises from Washington only to return to the same place on which we got on that wagon – a place where our young men are gunned down in the street; our women and children are attacked by armed officers of the law brandishing blazing guns and unleashing fearsome attack dogs; and our collective economic and educational futures just as strongly gripped by the stranglehold of racism as it was 50 years ago.

Where do we go from here? We go from riding in the wagon fueled by false promises from Washington to walking away from using our hard earned dollars to support a political and economic system that perpetuates our plight. Since we face economic conditions in 2014 that are about the same as they were fifty years ago, we must resort to one of the most effective tools of fifty years ago – the economic boycott. It was economic boycotts of American businesses that leveled the political and social playing fields in the 1960s and it is economic boycotts that will level the economic playing field today.

Therefore, what we need from national organizations and leaders that have descended upon Ferguson, Missouri is to organize an economic boycott of American businesses. When the cash registers become silent, the online orders decline, and the stock prices tumble, the voices from Wall Street that resonate in Washington will begin to cry out that once again, their corporations are too big to fail. And when Washington, in response to those voices, begins to develop policies for addressing our economic underclass we must take advantage of the opportunity to get off the wagon fueled by false promises, make sure those policies are effective and build a rocket on which everyone is welcome to ride into a future of economic equality.

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