Real Talk | The fortitude to face reality

Real Talk | The fortitude to face reality

While in San Francisco attending the American Psychological Association's annual conference last week, relatives and I visited the world-renowned City Lights Bookstore. Outside the store in Jack Kerouac Alley, among several engraved quotations, I discovered a potent observation by Maya Angelou. Befitting her 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, Angelou declares, "Without Courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency."

I'm haunted by Angelou's insight.

Her statement challenges us all.

The courage of which I speak is the fortitude to face reality, to pursue the conclusion of our analysis, to ground our hopes in reality.

This time next year, African-Americans will have been on the North American mainland 400 years. Yeah, like Bob Marley and the Wailers sang, "It's been 400 years ... 400 long, long, years." In the course of our 400-year sojourn in Pharaoh's land, we black folks have essentially pursued three strategies (for liberation).

We have fought for "freedom, justice and equality'" or integration. We have struggled to obtain self-determination, the power to govern the processes that shape our lives. And we have strove to radically transform the U.S.

It's time to rethink our hope of becoming full participants in the "American dream." The possibility of "integration" or the desire for incorporation into the U.S.'s economy, society and culture as equals is no longer viable, if it ever was.

After 400 years, it's time to face reality. Malcolm was right, "The system in this country cannot produce freedom for the Afro-American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system, this political system, this social system" to provide black people with "freedom, justice and equality."

In a society based on individualism and profit in which wealth and whiteness matter most, African-Americans are poor and black. Moreover, anti-black racism ties each black individual's fate to the group's fortune. Presently, African-Americans possess a tenth of white Americans' wealth, $17,000 to $171,000. The black/white wealth inequality gap is a consequence of historic and continuing racial oppression. It structures the gaps in life expectancy, health, homeownership, education and all other quality-of-life indicators.

Eliminating these gaps is the goal of all three strategies for black liberation.

A 2016 report by the Corporation for Economic Development and the Institute for Policy Studies estimates that given current trends, it will take 228 years for black families to achieve parity with white American families' (in terms of) wealth. That is, it will take another nine generations for blacks to be incorporated into capitalist America, as equals.

I consider this an optimistic estimation. It does not seriously take into consideration a political system based on one person, one vote, the systematic anti-black racism built in the society's institutions or the possibility that a significant sector of the white population might find repression or even genocide a preferable option.

What policies and laws would have to be enacted to turn the U.S. into a just society? A society in which racial oppression and class exploitation don't exist?

Even if we reduce the concept of equality to its lowest standard, "equality of opportunity," what would it take to abolish the persistent and pervasive domination, discrimination and degradation of African-Americans and other darker peoples?

At a minimum, it would require a steep progressive overhaul of the tax system, free education from pre-school through post-graduate education, universal health care and the implementation of a societywide affirmative-action program that gives preference in jobs and education to blacks and other darker peoples on a class basis for several generations.

How could such humane policies be enacted under the current majoritarian individualistic voting system with the electoral college?

At a minimum, it would require conversion to a consociational state, a political system based on proportional representation and empowerment of minority (racialized) groups.

That dream is a nightmare to most white Americans.

It is impossible in a society committed to the myth of the market to create racial equality. Given that, continuing to believe in integration is irrational. It's time to explore alternatives.

In an intriguing fable, "The Racial Preference Licensing Act," critical race legal scholar Derrick Bell proposes that white racists be permitted to discriminate in public accommodations. But in exchange for that privilege, they must pay a substantial percentage of net income into a fund for African-American community development.

In other words, the act would contribute to the development of what W.E.B. Du Bois called "a black nation within a nation." Du Bois envisioned blacks building on the strength of their indigenous culture and institutions to construct a semi-autonomous nation within the U.S.

Given the present situation, trajectory and the historic needs and aspirations of the African-American people, it's time to summon the courage to rethink solutions to racial oppression. It's time to explore autonomous arrangements such as proposed by Bell and Du Bois. To consider a consociational state, or a more complete nationalist solution, or the transformation of the U.S. into a society based on the principle of from each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her needs.

Sundiata Cha-Jua is a professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois and is a member of the North End Breakfast Club. His email is

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