On the morning that Governor Nikki Haley signed the legislation to take down the Confederate flag of South Carolina, I was in Baltimore spending time with young adults aging out of the foster care system. Most of these young people in this program had previously been arrested for a crime. While I attempted to engage these youth in a discussion about the principles of financial/money management, they insisted on having a discussion that described their struggles during the years when many teenagers were only concerned with dating and graduating from high school. I listened and what I heard was astounding: tales of beatings since the age of 5; stories of being harassed/beaten/robbed by police officers outside their group home; and tales of being arrested for gun ownership at the age of 17 (many felt they had to own guns for protection against people in their own neighborhood). One young man described how his survival depended on how quickly he could learn the drug game because "my grandfather sold dope, my father sold dope, and I can tell you how much an ounce can make in Baltimore versus a few miles up the road in Cumberland".
We talked about several topics and issues of the day including economic empowerment within our communities. At one point I asked their opinions about the Baltimore uprising and police brutality. I asked them how they felt about the confederate flag in South Carolina coming down and one young man very candidly said, "F&%* the flag...give me a job!" I couldn't have said it better.
As I look at images of politicians gathered together behind the Governor and hear the news from political pundits and elected officials discussing the awful history of the Confederate flag, I must admit to having mixed feelings. Yes...I agree...you cannot be a patriot of THIS country and still support that treasonous, racist, and divisive flag. However, is this the fight that deserves our full focus?
• Between 1980 and 2008 93% of Blacks were murdered by other Blacks...why haven't we focused on this - not only with rhetoric but solutions?
• In Baltimore the unemployment rate citywide is 8.4% while most estimate the unemployment rate of those in the Black community is double that. This isn't inconsistent with the national average where Blacks have consistently had twice the unemployment rates of Whites. Why haven't we been focused on this?
• Blacks in Baltimore are more than 5x more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana even though Blacks and Whites use the drug at similar rates. Ninety-two percent of ALL marijuana possession arrests in Baltimore were of African Americans.
• There is a 20 year difference in life expectancy between those who live in the most affluent neighborhoods versus those who live six miles away in the most impoverished neighborhoods. How can a child control where they were born? Shouldn't we be talking about this and working to find solutions for change?
So I echo the sentiment of this youth whose statement reflected the disconnect that often exists in our communities. Yes...the flag coming down is a big moment; however, we have bigger moments that go overlooked in our communities everyday. Those who gathered behind the governor while she signed the legislation, and again when the flag eventually came down, will go back to their desk jobs and beg for campaign contributions while those youth and millions of impoverished across the country must continue to do anything they can to avoid becoming a statistic.
I offer this as an example: If the Confederate flag was flying on the Titanic, would it be more wise to use your resources to take the flag down or to try to prevent the ship from sinking? We all know the answer to this question. We have a sinking ship for Black on Black crime, unjust police brutality, unequal education, unemployment/ lack of job opportunities, and lack of exposure to those essential principles of financial empowerment that would enable our communities to move forward economically. Symbolic racism (the flag) is not equivalent to structural racism...those in the church were not killed with a flag but a gun controlled by a heart full of hate...hate can exist with our without a flag. Eliminating a flag must never stop our need to implement accountability within ourselves, our communities and with our politicians. So after celebrating the Confederate flag coming down, after you have caught up to the latest episode of Empire which promotes Black criminal behavior, and once you have scrolled through your Facebook newsfeed full of videos of Blacks beating up other Blacks and acting ignorant...I hope you can find the time to mentor a child, teach your expertise in a prison, volunteer to tutor at your church, start a business to create jobs in your community, improve your credit score to help put the check cashing facilities out of business, or do something that can actually add value to your community.
The flag is down but the work not only continues but becomes even more critical.