Living under the burden of American racism engenders feelings of deep resentment in the hearts and minds of many African Americans. In acting out this resentment, some African Americans even say or do things which can seem very unpatriotic. However, what may seem like words of disdain for their country, many African Americans speak about America from a place of pain, a pain born from the belief that the promise of inclusion and tolerance promoted by the United States to the rest of the world somehow does not include them simply due to the color of their skin. So, as long as racism exists in America, how can African Americans ever believe that they have been saved? The way some people use it, the whole notion behind the concept of being saved places the responsibility of salvation upon the savior alone. It is as if these people are merely waiting for a savior to burst through the wall like Superman and rescue them from fear, oppression, war, pestilence and famine. Some people expect the first black president to fulfill the role of savior. We all know or should know that salvation does not work that way. Obtaining salvation requires action. Jesus the Christ taught that “faith without works is dead”; therefore, one’s salvation correlates directly to one’s actions.
Personal responsibility looms large in the spiritual concept of salvation. According to both the Bible and the Qur’an, each person will be held accountable by God on Judgment Day for her or his own transgressions. In the physical world, a variety of political commentators promote personal responsibility as opposed to government intervention in the form of social programs as the primary remedy to curing many of the social and economic problems in the United States. Personal responsibility, however, cannot solely address the lingering effects of centuries of discriminatory institutions, laws and practices. Personal responsibility addresses what an individual does with the opportunity which she or he has been given. When a lack of opportunity exists, personal responsibility should not even be called into question. In the absence of equal opportunity, raising questions of personal responsibility becomes more than insensitive. It becomes down right insulting.
For example, I know a certain young African American woman working for one of the various local government agencies in the Washington DC Metro Area. She was recently passed over for a promotion by her employer. One year before this opportunity was posted; she was called upon to lead one of the largest and most significant initiatives the federal government sought to implement on the local level across the country. Although her work group consisted of a senior associate and supervisor with over twenty years of experience, the agency assigned this extremely important task to her. Working on the project not only required the young woman to spend long hours coordinating the efforts of several departments and external partners, but it also required her to assume other responsibilities usually reserved for employees two pay-grades above her level. In performing the tasks necessary to complete the initiatives per federal guidelines, she was required to interact with the highest level stakeholders operating in this particular local government, including the primary legislative body and the executive leadership from various constituent groups and government watchdog organizations. In the end, her leadership in this initiative allowed her agency to complete the underlying projects twelve months ahead of schedule. In fact, the federal government used her agency’s efforts as a model to develop best practices for the rest of the country. When her agency finally decided to fill the position in question, a position equivalent to one pay-grade above hers that had been vacant for nearly a year, she applied. During the interview process, she along with the other internal candidates was given an exam to determine her qualifications for the position. While she scored the highest among the prospective internal candidates, the agency announced that none of the internal candidates scored high enough to adequately fulfill the responsibilities of the vacant position. Ultimately, the agency selected a white gentlemen working in another part of the state. This gentleman held a position similar to the one the young woman held when she was initially hired by the agency over two years prior; moreover, this gentleman was not required to take the same examination given to the internal candidates. To add insult to injury, the young woman was asked to train the new hire to do the very same job for which she had been determined to be unqualified. Personal responsibility does not even begin to address her grievances.
(An excerpt from “The Forethought”, We Struggle Not Against Flesh & Blood: Thoughts & Reflections on Being Black in America, Vol. 1. Copyright © 2012. Amir Clayton Powell. All Rights Reserved. Download the full eBook or order the paperback.)
Amir Clayton Powell is an advocate, author, entrepreneur, father, husband, servant of God, and warrior. By the by, he also happens to be the Publisher of The Old School Journal™ (TOSJ) as well as the Founder & Chairman of A C Powell & Co. LLC. Find A C on Twitter: @AClaytonPowell. Follow TOSJ on Facebook & Twitter. Find books and other essays by A C Powell by following this link.
Please feel free to comment on this article here or join the conversation on our forum.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net