Has the Black Middle Class Become Too Obedient for Civil Disobedience?

| April 23, 2012 | 0 Comments

Last year, when my extended circle became entrenched in the Troy Davis cause, I had a conversation with an extremely passionate lawyer colleague of mine.  She had donated money, signed petitions, made calls to political representatives…She had done everything that the average, every day citizen could be expected to do—more than what most did.  So, of course, when I heard that there was going to be a major protest outside of the Supreme Court of Georgia on the day of the scheduled execution, I assumed she would go.

“Oh no, girl.  I can’t make it.  I have a client meeting at 12:30…”
Now, I need to point out, that I tell this story with no amount of judgment or self-righteous sentiment.  After all, I myself, who wrote endlessly about Troy Davis, and made the calls/signed the petitions, did not attend the protest—also having other professional obligations.

It’s interesting.  Black people often compare ourselves to those of the past, and marvel at how far we’ve come.  I mean, after all, our president is Black.  We are lawyers, and physicians, and executives–there are even a few Black CEOs of major corporations.  Our numbers in the professional marketplace still pale in comparison to our White counterparts, of course, but it is undeniable: We are in the building.  Recently, however, I have found myself wondering, at what expense we have made this progress.  And with this “progression,” are we actually losing everything?

The majority of our more revolutionary predecessors didn’t have the professional opportunities which are now afforded to us.  This is not to say that, in 2012, the proverbial “they” are throwing opportunities to Black urban youth or needful urban Black adults…because they are not.  But, when speaking in numbers alone, it is irrefutable that we are a more [formally] educated community and have come far in terms of the jobs/salaries we are now able to attain.  After all, isn’t this what the civil rights leaders of the 1960’s and 70’s fought for? For us to have the right to get these jobs/opportunities?  So, when my girlfriend dismissed the Troy Davis protest—almost as a matter of professional assumption—I began to wonder: How successful can these acts of civil disobedience be without the “on the ground” involvement of the Black middle/upper class?  And is this what our predecessors fought for?  For us to have the right to get professional opportunities which would require us to turn our back on the civic responsibilities that got us access to these jobs in the first place?
Civil Disobedience has long been used as a mechanism for protesting racial inequality/civil rights violations.  When Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer stormed the streets of this country, marching, protesting, demanding, something…better…they did it, mostly, with bus drivers and dishwashers and teachers and domestics by their side.

Black professionals, politicians, and even celebrities—were few and far between back then (though the few those that did exist, often participated).  Now, we have a multitude of Black professionals, and executives, and celebrities; but the reality is that asking them to engage in serious acts of civil disobedience may be asking some of them to risk their jobs, their livelihoods, even their liberty.  In one sense, it seems unfair to ask them to risk these things.  In another sense, isn’t that a part of the intended impact of civil disobedience?  That risk? And making the statement that the risk is worthwhile?

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, we have seen the Black community unite—participating in protests, prayer vigils, social networking strategies, and rocking what has become the symbol of the Trayvon movement—the hoody.  Yet still, it took forty-five days for George Zimmerman to be charged with a crime.  This has led many to believe that without more substantial acts of civil disobedience, the judicial system is going to fail Trayvon, the Martin family—all of us.

But who will it be that stands tall?  Who will be participating in these acts? (and I am talking more than tweeting here) It can’t just be the typical actors—Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Cornell West, et al.  Although these individuals have played instrumental roles in the midst of civil rights violations/hate crime occurrences, they have become more symbolic figures than anything.  Everyone expects for them to be up in arms and willing to go to jail for their respective causes.  But what “they” don’t expect is for attorneys working at major law firms, people working in upper level government jobs, vice presidents of corporations, or even star forwards of the Miami Heat, to make the personal sacrifices which have proven to be necessary in order to make civil disobedience an effective tool.

So the question is…are these physicians, these executives, these attorneys, these endorsement branded celebrities, prepared to take a public, risky, and perhaps, controversial stand for the sake of something bigger?  Am I?  For if we are not, we have already allowed them to win.

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