THE BLACK POWER INFLUENCE
This is probably one of the more personally difficult articles to write because it is essentially a critical assessment of the Black Power Movement, and to some it can be misconstrued as simply criticism. It is true that I am not of the age to have participated in the Movement, however I am close enough In years that it directly and indirectly impacted my life as a student and young adult. Our college campus was driven by the momentum of the Black Power Movement, and we on a regular basis came into contact with it most prolific leaders and loyalists as speakers, leaders and even professors. Additionally, I spent 15 years of my life as an active member of one of the most radical Black Power organizations that arose from the fiery passions of the 1960’s, so I do have some experience with the subject matter of this article.
As I look and examine the decline of the African American community, it is most effective to view changes from the perspective of major movements or political and social events that have affected our way of life. It is of my opinion that a major cultural rift took place in the Black community when young people of the Black Power movement began to reject the values of the older Civil Rights generation because of what they often viewed as its passive, compromising and Christian-driven character. Now, in the heat of political struggle the consequences of actions are not always considered to their fullest extent and that is true of any political movement or activities. So, let me first say that the Black Power Movement is an important and credible part of African American history and struggle with an awesome political strength and courage to confront white society and racial terrorism. It is due to the Black Power Movement that we have Black Studies Departments, and it is this Movement that as a radial catalyst of political change forced the most racist-driven American political leaders to negotiate change within the society. It is due to the combined efforts of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement that America was forced to negotiate terms for a new society.
The dual effort of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement was a powerful tool, but the two could not come together on the issues of Christianity and Integration. The bottom line is that whatever the other issues were that kept these two important groups divided the ultimate dividing forces evolved around these two stances. For this article, I will address the first issue of Christianity as I believe the void left by a spiritual distance from God is the key factor in the decline of coping strategies that helped keep our community together because they were often passed down to the Black families through the vehicle of the church.
I too joined and understood the criticism of Christianity because it was used by many of its followers to justify African enslavement and racial terrorism. However, what the young generation failed to do is to locate a way to maintain a relationship with God and spirituality within the best of African American culture and continue to use that relationship as a way to pass down traditional coping strategies that since enslavement have held our families and community together.
It was not that the Black Power movement did not have its true believers and belief systems as did the Civil Rights leaders and activists who relied on God and religion for spiritual strength, however, the major difference was that the leaders of the Black Power movement often themselves became God-like figures and within this process African American cultural faith and belief, in a significant degree, transitioned from the spiritual to the secular.
This occurrence signifies a major cultural transformation that has played a central role in the demise of the Black community today. Why, because new coping strategies were not introduced by the Black Power advocates that would have replaced those that were no longer being passed down because of the rejection of the values of the Civil Rights generation. Some readers may be of the thought that radical Black religious organizations or traditional African religions were introduced to replace Christianity. However, the question still must be asked rather they offered a vehicle for passing down traditional or new coping strategies that would sustain a people as did prior generations.
One of the most damaging cultural aspects of the Black Power organizations were the social and political limitations they imposed on women. I think it is an interesting turn in history that this radical movement was for the most part conservation in comparison to the Civil Rights and prior Movements as it related to the participation of women. I bring this up because Black women were and are central to the passing down of cultural traditions as leaders, activist, workers and mothers. They are crucial to the training and passing down to the next generation by both voice and action those coping strategies that helped them and us as a people to be dignified and powerful in the face of racial terrorism.
These coping strategies taught and reinforced by Black women have stemmed from their belief in God and were for the most part passed down through the vehicle of the church. Hence, any political movement that diminished the freedom of Black women to be leaders, activists and autonomous decision makers or which directed them away from those spiritual values that have helped sustain us a people has essentially acted contrary to African American history, culture and tradition, and therefore no matter how unintentional, has played a contributive role in the decline of important coping strategies that have been central to our survival, growth and development as a people. It is from this perspective that the greatness of the Black Power Movement has also played a role in the decline of the Black community.
The ideas of this article and all articles that are part of this series are copyrighted and may not be used without primary permission or citation credit given to the author. This article is part of a chapter in the author’s upcoming book African American Traditional Culture: Legacy and Lessons©.
Victoria Nettles is a writer and entrepreneur. She has a Master’s Degree from the University of Southern California and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Spiritual Psychology. Ms. Nettles taught Political Science for 15 years before beginning her career as a Freelance writer and owner of Stepping Stone Jobs. You may email her directly at LFSpiritualM@gmail.com