Gage Skidmore



The Crisis of the Current Negro Intellectual

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a symposium at my Alma Mata (USF) that discussed the brilliance of the late great Harold Cruse. Cruse’s two legendary books The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual and Plural but Equal were compared and contrasted at the talk. In his writings, the main theme and critique was leadership, and misguided leadership of the Civil Rights Era. When I arrived in San Francisco, I heard about Cruse’s work, but never dove deeply into it. It was not until I met one of my Mentors, Dr. James Taylor, who urged me to read the books that were written by Cruse. Before reading Cruse, my mind and my politics had begun to shift, but Cruse’s work, along with Dr. Amos Wilson, Dr. Claude Anderson and Dr. Khalid Muhammad pushed me over the cliff to see things differently. Each doctor had different approaches and beliefs but one common theme: self preservation and group preservation.

My attraction to their work came during a time when I was looking for answers. Since moving to San Francisco, I wondered “What happened to all the black people here?” and “How exactly did we get into this position?” In order to push myself to find answers, I turned my curiosity into a thesis for my master’s degree. What I found in my research left me vindicated but also disappointed. We are in a crucial time in American history. It is my belief that we are in the Second Reconstruction Era and if we are not careful, we will not only nosedive into a permanent underclass but also become totally wiped out. During the first Reconstruction Era, our labor was still needed to grow the country as it transitioned from agriculture towards an industrial age, but now our labor and lack of education in the information sector will render us obsolete. In order to understand where we are headed, it is important to trace what exactly happened.

In Cruse’s Plural but Equal, I found his sharp critique of black leaders of the two Civil Rights eras to be eerily similar to what I see in today’s black leadership. Cruse points out that both movements were split between a black capitalistic approach and a full assimilationist approach. When most think about Brown v. Board of Ed., it’s discussed as an integration trial and not as a separatist trial. The landmark trial ushered in the era that banned “separate but equal,” but somehow we are no more integrated geographically in some spaces before the ruling. The ambition of the integrationist African Americans may have won the case, but the consequences of doing so are still being felt.

Separatist African Americans’ original intent of the case was based on access to funds, not shared space. After the ruling, black owned hospitals, schools and other fabrics of black economic thresholds were defunded and disbanded, resulting in higher unemployment. As time moved forward, the battle between the two identity groups continued to battle each other. Dubois and Garvey were replaced by Dr. King and Malcolm X.

A common goal of both centered on black economics. Dr. King believed that African Americans could achieve economic inclusion and the full benefits within the country, while Malcolm believed in a separate economy, one of self-determination built by Africans. As Dr. King allied with “liberals” to achieve inclusion and pushed for Civil Rights legislation, Malcolm disagreed with that tactic. Based on my readings, I agree with both ideals. Malcolm’s scolding criticism against what he called “The White Liberal” still holds strong today. Dr. King would eventually join Malcolm’s assessment and abandoned working with liberals. After the passing of Malcolm X, King became more “radicalized.”

One of my favorite speeches by Dr. King was 1967’s “The Other America.” In it, King describes the original Affirmative Action, which was a wealth distribution for poor whites and a lashing to white liberals. King states: “And I’m convinced that many of the very people who supported us in the struggle in the South are not willing to go all the way now. I came to see this in a very difficult and painful way in Chicago the last year, where I’ve lived and worked. Some of the people who came quickly to march with us in Selma and Birmingham weren’t active around Chicago. And I came to see that so many people who supported morally and even financially what we were doing in Birmingham and Selma, were really outraged against the extremist behavior of Bull Connor and Jim Clark toward Negroes, rather than believing in genuine equality for Negroes.”

Dr. King would be assassinated the next year, in 1968. After his killing, new militant organizations began to pick up where he left off. The Blank Panthers, founded in Oakland shortly before Kings passing, had a significant impact in the 1970’s. The Panthers operated as a mixture between King’s teachings of an integrated organizing force with a socialism economic framework informed by Malcolm’s militancy. The Panthers were able to create various programs that would later become a staple in America, like the Free Breakfast program. Like King and Malcolm, many of the organization’s leaders were murdered. The murders and jail sentencing of militant and conservative black movements slowly began to shift towards a more liberal framework. Towards the late 1970’s and 1980’s, the popularity of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton became staples in the black community. Rev. Jackson became so popular that his Rainbow Coalition threatened the Democratic Party in challenging Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1984. African Americans in the 1980’s were looking for hope. Unemployment in many urban cities was steadily on the rise, along with crime. As the industries changed and manufacturing jobs relocating to the suburbs, low skilled African Americans sought out income where the resources were available, i.e. the black market.

For many activists, the feud between Coates and West has been unfortunate. (Wikimedia)

The 1980’s and 1990’s would become dominated by the crack epidemic. If Dr. King’s death in 1968 hit the African American community like a stroke, then the crack epidemic should be considered a heart attack. The crack epidemic not only created a generation of African Americans addicted to the substance, it also destroyed the social fabric of the community. For some unemployed African Americans during this time, crack was seen as an equalizer to economic misfortune. Teenagers who entered this sector had surpassed the income earnings of the generations before them in a matter of months. Crack created instant teenage millionaires, but also created a continued legacy of African American genocide and a glorification of the thug culture. Historical African American communities turned into war zones only rivaled by Middle Eastern countries engaged in battle with the U.S. military.

In a response to growing carnage and deteriorating conditions of inner city youth, new African American leaders emerged. The most notable event from my childhood was the Million Man March on October 16, 1995 in Washington D.C. The event was led by Louis Farrakhan, leader of The Nation of Islam, which was once led by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. A renewed sense of militancy had emerged and overtaken the neoliberal ideology of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Farrakhan’s message was self-determination, black capitalism and a coordinated collective voting bloc.

For a while it appeared as though the African American Community had made a turn for the better. As the culture began to show signs of repairing, Federal policy targeting crack cocaine dealers and users would sweep away the misguided youth for decades to come and make prisons their primary homes. The million-dollar black market dried up due to increased police presence, but the consequences were harsh. The Clinton Administration introduced mandatory sentencing, three-strike sentencing and a list of other legislation that has impacted black America to this day.

As this generation began to find a new level of consciousness, it too had fallen victim to the times as had the ones before it. The late 1990’s saw the rise of the information sector. African American intellectuals were taught about multicultural studies and began to shed the trauma that had plagued them, but economics and skills needed to escape poverty had escaped them. Dr. Amos Wilson, a psychologist specializing in African American studies, stressed the importance of black ownership of all entities within the black community. Like Farrakhan, Dr. Wilson also had a cautionary tale of liberal politics and ideology. In order to combat racism and oppression, he advocated for ownership and education of self before al elsel. It is a travesty that many African Americans have not heard of nor read his work.

By the end of the 1990’s, African Americans had all but disregarded the ethos of militancy and self-determination. America on the surface pretended to be more inclusive. Hip Hop, which was birthed in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s by African Americans looking to tell the stories of their neighborhoods, became a source of commodification. The late 1990’s and 2000’s became a gold rush for African Americans entering the entertainment field. Athletes, musicians and actors/actress were signing record contracts and becoming overnight success stories. The success stories were in fact a facade. The over representation of Black Hollywood has created a generation of misguided and misinformed youth. The dominant culture now has become the ignorant culture.

When I describe it as ignorant, it is not in the sense of formal education being that this is the most formally educated generation in American history, but ignorant for ignoring reality and taking a pseudo black pride identity. There is a major disconnect between those taught liberal identity politics in college and blue collar/working class African Americans. It is my belief that the new working class African Americans are being led to the slaughter by the new Negro intellectuals, like Ta-Nehisi Coates. The community at the lower income strata have abandoned their realities to live in the perceived reality of those in the higher brackets. As of today, African Americans at all levels scream oppression and the open denouncement of the current President of the United States, Donald Trump. The majority of the community calls for his impeachment and considers him a reality TV star masquerading as a politician, but I often ask the question, “was that not what we had in the last President?”

I catch flack for denouncing former President Barack Obama, but like my ancestors, I find it necessary to take a stand against dangers to the community. Garvey was hated, Malcolm was hated, Dr.King was hated and so on, only to be vindicated after they passed away. When I discuss the ills of the Obama administration, it is not out of spite, but love for my community.

With the election of President Obama, African Americans finally had representation at the highest level, or so they were led to believe. As the country entered into the heart of the recession, it was African Americans who felt the brunt of the pain. The African American community needed the most resources and attention during the economic downturn but the community was ignored outright. President Obama was able to use his skin-tone to cloak his lack of support for the community. In times of economic hardships, countries tend to impose austerity measures and the United States responded accordingly.

President Barack Obama in 2014. (Pete Souza)

President Obama appointed Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education. Their relationship stems from their being from the same circles politically in Chicago. Duncan was the former head of Chicago Public Schools in 2002, where he had a history of closing public schools and replacing them with private charter schools. Duncan claimed that it was a proven successful model, but this was not the case. In reality, it had little to no impact.

Obama polices not only had an impact on the public schools but on higher education, especially HBCU’S (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Obama operated as a classic Neo-Liberal by ignoring racial history and taking a broader approach. Just months after taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama did not push to renew a temporary $85 million pot of money earmarked for HBCUs by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund states: “The first Obama budget in 2009, during the height of the recession, removed a two-year Bush-administration program that annually funded $85 million directly to HBCU schools. At the time, the administration pointed to its increase of Title III direct funding to HBCUs from $238 million to $250 million, while also increasing Pell Grant limits for students as mitigating factors. But those increases aside, it still meant that HBCUs were to lose nearly $73 million in funds. Even Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, criticized the decision, pointing to $9 million in whaling-history-museum funding that had been maintained in the Obama budget.”

His reasoning? He had opted instead to put a larger sum into general grant programs that put more federal money into the coffers of the nation’s institutions of higher education. In 2011, the Obama administration tightened federal requirements for the Parent Plus loan program. The new legislation had a large impact on HBCU students. I started college in 2011 and I remember during my second year, friends of mine could no longer afford to come back. My personal experience correlates with the findings of The United Negro College Fund, which estimates that about 28,000 students at black colleges — nearly 10 percent of the students at HBCUs — lost their Parent Plus loans during the 2012–13 academic year. With the high cost of college and little to no serious work experience, the youth were left to fend for themselves. Those coming from lower economic strata turned to the black market or became totally unemployed.

One of the biggest accomplishments the Obama administration holds up is its rapid decline of unemployment levels and job creation. Publications are quick to point out that under his administration 11.3 million jobs were created. The unemployment rate looks incredible at first, until you dig deeper and see why. As unemployment dipped, individuals not participating in the labor force reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The official unemployment is defined as people who do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the past four weeks, and are currently available for work. Historically, the official black unemployment rate has always been double that of whites. As reported by Real Clear Policy: “The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey gathered data on the jobless rate of non-institutionalized men, 20 to 34 years old, averaged over the period, 2010–2014, for 34 major US cities. The data paint a grim picture for black men, particularly in the Midwestern industrial and the Mid-Atlantic cities. Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C. all had black jobless rates above 45 percent. In these cities, more young black men were either jobless or imprisoned than employed.”

As the access to education became more expensive and employment became harder to obtain, violence took hold of young Black men and women in urban cores. Chicago became the poster child of American violence but, other cities experienced massive levels of bloodshed. The Mayor of Chicago is Rahm Emanuel, who rose to popularity to win the election in 2011, due to his role as Obama’s former Chief of Staff. During his tenure as the Mayor, the city has decreased homicides over the years, but again when we dive into the details the numbers are grim.

In 2016, Chicago ended the year with over 808 homicides. Of those 808, over 78% of the victims were African American. The clearance rate was a dismal 19%.

Chicago is just one of many places where African Americans are being slaughtered at such a high level. In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, they found that African Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans to be the victims of a homicide. What’s quite interesting in their chart is the rapid rise in homicides in the years considered to be rebound years from the recession.

The trend is still continuing upward. After Obama left office in 2017, crimes in Baltimore have surged to an all-time high. How did we get here? Perhaps we should also look into a lack of identity and sense of belonging along with the increased unemployment and our cultural regression.

One of the hottest topics of the last few years has been gentrification. African Americans since the recession have seen their neighborhoods and cultural centers become colonies for younger, white and affluent families and individuals. In order to understand what is taking place, we must understand how housing impacts our sense of community. Not only did the Recession take away black geographical locations, it wiped clean their wealth. A large portion of American wealth is held within the equity of homes, and without a home or defaulting on mortgage payments, negative trends begin to take shape. In a report conducted by People’s Policy Project they showed that the negative impact of the Obama administration housing policies will have a long lasting legacy.

A recent article by Forbes pointed out that if drastic intervention does not take place, the median wealth of African Americans will reach zero by 2053. The former industrial cities of Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have all seen massive levels of displacement over the last five years. During the gentrification, loss of wages and access to higher education, cities also experienced an old foe, police brutality. During the times of police brutality, African Americans always had a leader. However, in an act of defiance, President Obama, called young black men thugs after taking part in the Baltimore uprising after the unjust killing of Freddie Gray by police officers.

Instead of reducing the weaponry of local police departments, Obama increased it. Open the Books found an incredible amount of military weaponry being added to forces since the death of Michael Brown in 2014: “Under the Pentagon’s 1033 program, enacted in 1997, the value of military weapons, gear and equipment transferred to local cops did not exceed $34 million annually until 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, when it nearly tripled to more than $91 million. By 2014, the year that Michael Brown was shot down — and when the full Congress, including 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program — Obama was sending three quarters of a billion dollars, more than $787 million a year, in battlefield weaponry to local police departments.”

African Americans today show a pseudo black power cloaked in the aesthetics of Civil Rights black leaders. The call for justice today is for acceptance of integration. What we need is an honest discussion about our future in this country. Are we here to ignore the realities facing our young brothers and sisters? Younger African Americans have fallen victim to perception more than reality. Entertainment is our escape from reality. The median black wealth is $1700…We have no time for fanciful diversions.

In order to change our conditions we must change our ways. We have to shed the Neo-Liberal identity, promote self-accountability, create community change and love and knowledge of self. As large numbers of African Americans return to the south, Black politics and leadership is as crucial as it will ever be. I’ve seen good signs with the election of Randall Woodfine in Birmingham and Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, Mississippi. At the moment, I’m all in on Nina Turner running for president in 2020 to dethrone President Trump. The thought of Turner as a President excites me. Perhaps she could do what black progressive icon Shirley Chisholm could not do in 1972.