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When is the March for Black Folks?

NNPA, Commentary, James Clingman, May 17, 2006

Can you believe all the attention and consternation caused by the recent demonstrations and protests on behalf of illegal immigrants? Millions of people out in the streets, standing up for their "rights," boycotting, stopping traffic, and doing an in-your-face reality check all over this country.

The issue of illegal immigrants has taken center stage, and there may be no turning back. Like my man, Gil Scott-Heron said in his timeless stirring tribute to Jose Campos Torres, this country needed some "new n-----s." And as Claud Anderson has been saying for more than a decade, "If you (Black people) didn't get anything when you were in second place in this country, what do you think you are going to get in third – and maybe even fourth place?"

Yes, the nation's attention is now focused on the plight of the immigrants. The only non-immigrants in this country, the only ones who suffered slavery, Jim Crow, and blatant discrimination, even to this present day, are not even a blip on the social radar screen. The people with whose labor this country was built, the lives of those from which this country's wealth was obtained, Black people of African descent, are no longer the n-----s of America. Well, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

We didn't sneak into this country; we did not come here voluntarily in the relative comfort of ships; we were not given sanctuary on these shores; we were not sworn in as citizens of the U.S.; we were not allowed to participate in the Gold Rush and the Land Grab; our businesses were not subsidized by the government; we were not included in the Declaration of Independence; and, despite using our talents and skills to cultivate the land, to harvest the cash crops, to invent new tools and conveniences, to care for White children, to clean the homes of White folks, to serve them and fight their wars, despite all of that and more, we were not even considered 100 percent human in the U.S. Constitution.

Not only do we not count to the rest of this country, we obviously don't count to ourselves. Why? Did you notice some of our so-called leaders marching and supporting the immigrant cause? Hey, nothing against the immigrants for seeking an edge in this "land of opportunity" but give me a break, Black folks! After nearly 400 years since we "officially" entered this country, don't you think we would have held our march, our boycott, our demonstration, our protest by now? I can hear you saying, "But we had ours in the 1960s when we marched and boycotted and demonstrated for civil rights."

Yes, we did. But what about our economic rights? We are still at the bottom of every economic category in this country. Why? Maybe it's because we have not brought this country to a screeching halt for a day or even a week. Maybe we are being pushed to the end of the line because we have not been serious in our indignation at being mistreated in the country that our fathers built. Maybe we are just such nice people, and we willingly subjugate ourselves in deference to other groups, especially White people.

I don't know what it is about us, but I sure am ready for a Black people's march; I am ready for "Blackout," a day without the labor of Black folks. If people who are in this country illegally can do it and make such an impact, what do you think the impact would be if Black people, supposedly made legal by default, would have? It sure would be interesting, and exciting, to find out.

I cannot get over the fact that some Black folks are marching in support of this latest cause de jour, as if they have some say in what happens to the immigrants, and yet have not organized a march, and I said a "march" not a stand-in, for Black people. What is wrong with us? We see millions of folks on the move, working together, willing to sacrifice for one another, not asking and begging but demanding rights for "illegal" immigrants, while we engage in rhetorical doublespeak about what someone else deserves.

Don't reduce this to an "us against them" argument. That only shrouds the important issues and diverts us from our own battle. Don't fall for the retorts that suggest you are a hater or a bad person when you choose to speak out on behalf of Black people in this country. And don't be swayed by those who suggest you should stand up for others even before you stand up for yourself and your own children.

Those who are marching indeed have every right to do so; quite honestly, it is refreshing to see people who are unafraid, willing to make sacrifices, and people who are resolute in actually fighting the power, as opposed to just singing the song.

However, Black people not only have the right, but we also have the greater responsibility of an obligation to do the same and much more to attain the collective status and recognition our ancestors' legacy demands of us.

The blood of our relatives cries out from the ground, like Abel's blood called out after he was slain by his brother. Will we answer positively or continue to languish in despair, only finding solace in the struggles of others? When will our marches be held across this country to the extent that the economic impact will be felt by those who hold us in disdain and steal from us everyday? When?

James E. Clingman, an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati's African American Studies department, is former editor of the Cincinnati Herald newspaper and founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce. Go to his Web site,

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