Empowerment vs. symbolism: Blacks are today’s putty people

JAMES CLINGMAN | 7/13/2015, 10:45 a.m.
Incidents over just the past two months have taken Black folks on the psychological ride of our lives. The White ...
James Clingman

(NNPA) – Incidents over just the past two months have taken Black folks on the psychological ride of our lives. The White woman in Spokane, Washington, who passed as Black caught and held our attention; then there was the McKinney, Texas, pool party incident; and then the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, the Confederate flag controversy, and the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. Add to that Walter Scott being fatally shot, Malissa Williams’ and Timothy Russell’s killers going unpunished for firing 137 bullets into their car, 12-year-old Tamir Rice being killed in less than two seconds after cops rolled up on him in a park in Cleveland, Freddie Gray’s death in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland, and the nine church members killed during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.

It’s easy to see how Black folks can be so off-balance and unfocused. And to think we haven’t even finished dealing with the Eric Garner case. We are constantly bombarded with so many tangential issues that keep us from concentrating the important ones. Life is the most important thing we have, but we are so easily swayed from cases like Garner’s to superficial issues like flags.

We are such a pliable people, and dominant society knows that all too well. We will jump on any superfluous issue the media presents to us and neglect the substantive ones. We are like putty in the hands of folks about whom we complain; they can shape us into anything they want us to be, and use us in any way that fits their agendas.

A media firestorm began when the president said the N-word in an interview. Many of us were steaming, others thought it was all right, and still others didn’t care at all. Nonetheless, our heads and our attention turned to that issue, and no sooner than we started to recover from the lack of oxygen caused by the White/Black NAACP branch president, we moved right into discussions and arguments about a word that the NAACP buried in 2007 at its convention in Detroit. There must have been a resurrection, huh?

Then, all of a sudden, after nine people are killed, the Confederate flag becomes such a vicious symbol that it now has to come down. Private corporations called for its removal and stores took the flag off their shelves, quite obviously in an effort to get in front of the issue and show Black folks they really care about our feelings. Politicians did their usual thing by calling for the flag to be taken down; it seems the flag has become more important than the lives that were taken.

If the flag is so important now, it was just as important in 2000, when the boycott of South Carolina’s tourism industry was called. All they had to do back then was move the flag to another location. Reflecting on the tourism dollars lost, I am sure the folks in Charleston said, we had better do something quick before our money starts drying up again.