How Black Lives Really Matter

It seems that almost weekly we are confronted with another report of a black man gunned down by police, whether recent or held back for over a year for political reasons. This young person becomes a new martyr for the #blacklivesmatter movement, the victim of a racist system in which the white majority are, on some level or other, culpable. And out of this explanation of the violence comes not a single positive message towards improvement or workable solution. Nor is the fact that the majority of young black men are killed by other young black men addressed -- it may be time for #blacklivesmatter to do some soul-searching and look inward.

The message from the movement is inevitably, consistently, one of divisiveness. Indeed, according to the influential intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me:

In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.

But who is the one doing the destroying, and was it just the black body being destroyed?

Following the Great Migration after the Civil War -- the journey of thousands of blacks to the North -- and beginning in the early 1910s, the Harlem Renaissance began to take form. From this movement sprung a successful Black community structure: the arts and institutions flourished, and a middle and upper-class of employees and business owners that had not existed before for the black community appeared.

Something started changing towards the end of the 1930s, though -- those middle and upper-class black men and women began to leave. Whites did harm the blacks, but not in the way that the #blacklivesmatter movement and Mr. Coates would have you believe. Blacks were harmed by the best and brightest of the community being given access to “white” middle-class jobs, “white” neighborhoods, and “white” opportunities. The business owners, artists, and those who had worked for a better future fled to Brooklyn, Queens, and other suburban neighborhoods in New York.

This exodus left the Harlem of that time without the butcher, baker, tailor, and other small businesses that were the then economic fabric of Harlem. When these were removed, so to were the role models and social institutions that were cultivated over years and years. In their place rose leaders like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael who preached the belief of the black as victim -- defensive, reactive, and filled with rhetoric damning whites more than affirming blacks.

There is an oft-used quote from Booker T. Washington describing this succinctly, that there is:

…another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the black race before the public…partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays.

And here now we find more words-of-wisdom from Mr. Washington ringing true:

Among a large class, there seemed to be a dependence upon the government for every conceivable thing. The members of this class had little ambition to create a position for themselves, but wanted the federal officials to create one for them.

Today, this change in attitude from seeking prosperity to victimhood is mirrored in modern calls for reparations. Where are the members of the black community who are trying to create their own positions -- the butcher, baker, tailor, small business owner, and role models of years past?  If you can fight your way through the rhetoric and negativity, you might find them.

From 2002 to 2007, the number of black-owned businesses increased 60.5 percent up to 1.9 million in the U.S., and sales from these businesses totaled out at over 100 billion, making it one of the fastest growing segments of the American economy. By 2012, the number of black-owned businesses reached 2.5 million, and the number is growing. Instead of looking up to leaders who continue to foment strife, anger, and division, who interrupt speeches and chant for the death of police, why not these men and women who forging their own path, not content with their current station? Something tells me there is a reason few have heard these numbers -- anger and pessimism is easier, and being provocative gets better ratings.

If #blacklivesmatter really, truly wants to effect change -- and if black lives really do matter to them – it is time to do some soul-searching. It is time to realize the irony in railing against the results of overextended government while supporting those who would continue the overreach.  It is time to change the course from continued irate displays and disruptions to looking for a positive message and something legitimate to work for -- like the 2.5 million black business owners making their own way. Hope for the future for black youth, who sadly pose the biggest threat to the future of black youth.

Government hasn’t helped, the protests haven’t helped, the anger hasn’t helped -- it is time to forge a new path, and perhaps look to the past for answers. It’s time for a cultural shift, and a new renaissance.

F. F. Fiore is a screenwriter and the author of MURRAN, from which this article is inspired.