What would statists, especially progressives, do if black Americans did not view themselves as a community? What if there were no black leadership that kept the black political mindset corralled continuously through each election cycle? What we might end up with is a black electorate that is increasingly chaotic and disruptive, inviting a less involved state and changing the definition of economic opportunity. We would probably also end up with an electorate showing an increased proclivity for seeking out alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties.
Community has a nice sound to it. The word engenders cohesiveness, security, familiarity. It also sends a signal that there is a rich, political target rich environment for the taking especially for a political candidate that includes the word “change” in their mantra.
American political history is littered with calls for change. The American Revolution was a call to change from a British monarchy imposing oppressive taxes on the merchant class to Jacksonian calls for a more participatory democracy and administrative state to calls from Progressives seeking enhance public administration with a scientific approach, increasing the number of public agencies that addresses particular self interests while getting rid of the practice of making public offices the spoils of elections. To win the votes necessary for putting the change agents in office, a democratic wish, to coin James Morone, had to be stimulated. That meant galvanizing communities around an issue of change and using their energy to propel the change agents into office.
Problem for the community is what happens when the love is gone. Yes, each of the above movements I mentioned resulted in the granting of additional political benefits, but the political benefits have never given communities a permanent stronghold in economic benefits, particularly in ownership of capital. The war on poverty or Great Society movement is indicative of this. After fifty years of housing programs, voting rights, and access to common carriers, black Americans are still facing disparities in employment, income, and wealth.
Unfortunately for most blacks, the immediate response is to say that government has not delivered. A vocal minority of blacks have not spared Barack Obama, America’s first black president, of these criticisms. While 90% of black Americans view him favorably, there has always been that ten percent critical of his commitment to the black community. While his critics feel left out in the cold because of the belief that Mr. Obama has not done enough really comes from one source; themselves, specifically their misplaced expectations that government’s role is to address their specific financial or economic ills. Also, by maintaining a monolithic community ready to vote for progressive, rhetorical agendas like Mr. Obama’s, blacks have permanently set themselves up for disappointment after disappointment.
Black Americans have two options to removing themselves from democratic wishful thinking. First, they can abandon the rhetoric of black leadership that calls for them to tow the progressive line. The political community needs to splinter, which would weaken black leadership by having less votes to deliver to progressives. There would be no unitary self-interest to take advantage of.
The second option is more complex. The black community could increase its focus on democratic participation in the economy. I’m not talking about the “bandage policies” like free medical care and food stamps, albeit they are both important from a humanism perspective. I’m talking about true ownership in the means of production, where communities are built around economic activities. Actual ownership of productive capacity would mean that blacks have an increased say in what is produced, the quantity produced, and the hiring of human resources. This type of ownership would be the concluding step out of slavery that black Americans began in 1865.
The word community shouldn’t be a call to political candidates to swoop in and offer temporary trinkets. Community should be indicia of a group of citizens enjoying true economic freedom.