Mutiny or Obedience?
BY RORY T. EDWARDS
On a recent weekend, I had the pleasure of catching a movie that has received mixed reviews by different critics based on their perception of American history.
“The Birth of a Nation” is completely different than the 1915 silent film of the same name, which was originally called “The Clansman.” The new version depicts the life and journey of a former slave named Nat Turner, the architect of the largest and most brutal slave revolt on American soil.
For me, one scene in the movie stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was the scene of sabotage by a young boy who flees the revolt and warns the slave masters of the next attack — causing the revolt to take a much different direction. After researching the accurate historical date of African slaves first landing on American soil, in what is now present day South Carolina, I discovered that it was in 1526. So, over the last 490 years of African- American history, African-Americans have pursued equality by leading movements to overcome obstacles that are put in place to keep them oppressed:
- The Civil Rights Movement
- The Abolition Movement
- The Underground Railroad
- The Reconstruction Era
- The Harlem Renaissance
- Black Power Movement
- NAACP Anti-Lynching Movement
The reason that scene in the movie resonates so profoundly with me is because the concept of “me vs. we” has been the cause of most struggles within those movements. Too many black people have had a direct hand in the downfall of movements to counter the unjust treatment of African-Americans.
In “Breaking the Chains,” a 2005 Essence article by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, the author and two other experts speak about four characteristics associated with the condition of African-American communities.
- Continuing the bond of slavery
- Our healing
- Division and powerlessness
- Sexuality and relationships
These experts believe these characteristics are linked directly to post-traumatic slave syndrome, and have had a direct effect on African- Americans’ ability to work collectively today. Many will dispute this research in the belief that their individual accomplishments are a form of breaking the chains. Let’s take a closer look at how we have defined success in our communities: money.
According to an annual report on minority buying power released in July 2014 by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, African-American buying power totaled $1.2 trillion in 2015 and is projected to top $1.8 trillion by 2020. With this surge of buying power since the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, African-Americans continue to demonstrate economic clout in the U.S. economy by obtaining advanced degrees, real estate, luxury cars, jewelry, capital, businesses, and celebrity status. Despite continued economic and social gains, the historic legacy of African-Americans is hanging in the balance — and their overall moral fabric is in jeopardy, even beyond the degree of the Jim Crow era.
Our legacy will not be defined by the growth of our economic power, unless it is used to develop cultural power. I’ll conclude with these words, written by Frederick Douglass in 1827:
“We had talked long enough; we were now ready to move; if not now, we never should be; and if we did not intend to move now, we had as well fold our arms, sit down, and acknowledge ourselves fit only to be slaves.”