George Ayittey, Washington, DC
I appreciate all the comments I received for my provocative write-up. It
was intended to provoke thought. Unfortunately, some responded without
giving the questions I asked much thought.
To progress as a people (black people), we constantly have to make
critical assessment of our strategies, change some of them, adopt new
ones and move on.
Hurricane Katrina exposed our vulnerability as a people. The vast
majority of its victims are poor blacks. Time and time again, the
pictures of victims of disasters – natural or man-made – are black
people. Of course, there are a few exceptions now and then – such as the
Asian tsunami victims and Kosovo. But we tend to see too many black
people in distress: Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, New Orleans, etc.
And time and time again, we are constantly appealing to white people,
the white establishment or the West to save these victims and berate
them for being too slow. Don’t you think these constant images reinforce
racist notions about black people? This should not be.
Call me all the names you want but the bottom line is this and you may
not want to hear it. Why are the victims of these disasters often black?
True, there is racism but that alone doesn’t cut it. True, the victims
of Hurrican Katrina are American citizens who pay taxes and the local,
state and federal governments are obligated to provide disaster relief
assistance. But that too doesn’t really cut it.
From our own history and experience, we should know that such help from
the government is often unreliable and slow in coming. Mozambique was
flooded with 50 percent of the country under water in 2000. By the time
international relief aid arrived, it was too late. The flood waters had
receded. Remember Watts? Has the government rebuilt it? So why do we
continue to place faith in help that is unreliable and tardy?
Hurricane Katrina has exposed a trenchant deficiency within our black
communities. We have no emergency support systems. Other groups pay
taxes too but can pool their resources together and help one another.
Korean immigrants, for example, operate a credit scheme called keh, from
which new immigrants can borrow to start their own businesses. Do we
blacks have such a fund? Do we even invest in our own neighborhood?
I am asking these tough questions because many of the victims of
Hurricane Katrina could not leave the city because they were too poor
and didn’t have a car or money to buy a bus ticket out. Black poverty is
an issue the civil rights movement has not address adequately; it was
more concerned about political and civil rights. Much has been achieved
in these areas, although much more needs to be done. But economic rights
or economic empowerment has been neglected for far too long. That,
however, is not going to be addressed soon because the current black
leadership is born of the civil rights era.
That leadership tends to see government as the solution. You don’t need
a lecture from me about how government or the white establishment has
failed black people. So why place more reliance on the government?
The bottom line is this: Government or no government, our black leaders
– and we ourselves – need to do MORE for our people. Stop relying on
white people. Some of Africa’s black leaders are among the richest in
the world. Babangida of Nigeria, for example, is worth billions of
dollars. Has he lifted a finger to help his fellow black victims of
Katrina? President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria claims that African
leaders have stolen $140 billion from the people since independence in
the 1960s. Where do you think this loot is invested?
Mind you, black Americans helped during our struggle against colonialism
and the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. The help South Africa
sent – medical experts trained in disaster relief – is disgusting and
the $1 million sent by Nigeria is insulting.
Now, come to America. We have wealthy black politicians, basket ball
players, musicians, comedians, etc. etc. who make their money
LEGITIMATELY. Now ask yourself this question: How much of their wealth
is invested in poor black neighborhoods in New Orleans for example? Why
haven’t rap artists and black musicians organized a rock concert – like
Live Aid – to help the hurricane victims? Why hasn’t Oprah Winfrey or
Rev. Jesse Jackson organized a telethon to raise money for the victims?
Are we waiting for white people to do that for us?
Like I said, we will never gain the respect of whites and other people
if we must always rely on them to do something for us. There is too much
of an inclination on the part of our black leaders – both in Africa and
America – to depend upon others. Here is a perfect example of what I am
What happened to Rosa Parks bus? The bus in which a defiant Rosa Parks
refused to leave her seat for a white person, triggering the civil
rights movement? What happened to that bus – an iconic emblem of that
For 30 years, the bus was left to decay in the fields of Alabama. It was
brought to Detroit, where it was stolen in 2001 and then recovered by
the FBI. It has now been restored and sits in the HENRY FORD MUSEUM!
Imagine. See these links:
Are we saying that there are no blacks wealthy enough to restore this
bus and place it in a black museum? Again, it is the white man’s museum
that this bus has found a home. This is to our eternal shame.
Go to Atlanta and visit the Martin Luther King’s Center. It is in poor
black neighborhood and WALLED. Ask the black residents nearby if the
Center has done anything for them and they will answer in the negative.
The bottom line is this: True, we are a people who were traumatized by
slavery, colonialism and apartheid. But we cannot use that to shirk our
responsibility toward our people. Our leaders need to do more for our
people. Business investment in our own neighborhoods is what will lift
our people out of poverty. But how do we get others to invest in our
neighborhood when we do not invest there ourselves?