Last week, we witnessed the president of the United States as he offered his first Black History Month speech at his “little breakfast… little get together.” His words echoed the familiar, sweet, nostalgic notes of the distant past with a chord of discontent. His speech brought forth the often heard rhetoric that devalues current Black Americans while sitting on the pejorative perch of salvation.
After exalting “the tremendous history of African Americans throughout our country,” acknowledging our “unimaginable sacrifice, hard work and faith in America,” and stating his desire to “honor this heritage,” Mr. Trump gave us the rote assessment we have heard all too often. “[W]e are going to need better schools… We’re going to work very hard on the inner city… We are going to create safer communities with law enforcement because right now it’s terrible.”
So there you have it. This discussion makes the incorrect assumption that all Black Americans live in poverty and in the inner city, that all Black inner-city neighborhoods are crime-infested, and that our only deliverance comes from increased police presence.
We have heard this sort of speech many times before with the same stereotypes and same promise of a brighter future without transparency into the true landscape and without truly examining how or why we address our problems. I listened closely for how he would fix the inner city and lift it out of poverty. He left out the usual language that is typically reserved for White audiences like economic development, the importance of small businesses, the cost of student loans, prosperity, household income and philanthropy. But a Black audience? No, we are relegated to a sermon about poverty and how the media is unfair to the president.
Reflections for this month must move beyond our sheroes and heroes of the past to a future of making America great for the first time by pulling together all of our assets, regardless of color, to ensure a fair just, and holistic society. A constant undervaluing of people, communities and resources, including our philanthropic assets, allows us to fall prey to fear of other ethnicities and underestimate our true power, which comes from a society of diversity and equity.
To this end, Revaluing Black America allows us to look beyond the thinly veiled racist conversation about the racial wealth gap to examine whether White homes are really worth more, and whether bank loans, FICO scores, and credit line applications are really colorblind. Does the promise of a more secure future lie in addressing these actual causes of the racial wealth gap, or is it more properly just a matter of more policing, as suggested by our president yesterday morning?
We, the people -- the real government – must collectively move forward to examine and better understand the root of how we are valued. During this time of cholera, the waters of ambiguity and divisiveness have infected our American souls and threaten to tear out our hearts. Let us remember when Dr. Martin Luther King said that “we must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” We must use our courage to value each other fully and use all of our power, including economic and especially philanthropic, to bring forth equity in a nation that is all too comfortable with devaluing its Black citizens.