Still fightin' the power: The era before Black Lives Mattered

Paul Scott's column appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.
Paul Scott's column appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

"Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp.”

"Fight the Power" — Public Enemy (1989)

There is a wide gap in this country between the Civil Rights Era/Black Power Movement and Black Lives Matter.

You would think that no black activism took place during that 40-year period. Almost like two generations of activists disappeared in the mysterious land of lost car keys.

After the death of Martin Luther King, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover put his COINTELPRO program into overdrive to prevent the “rise of a Black Messiah” by getting rid of the remaining “radicals” who could spark the revolution like the Black Panther Party. Little did he know that in the late '80s the revolution would be resurrected by black high school and college kids who were inspired by rap music to read the works of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Dr. Frances Cress Welsing.

My activist journey began in the early '90s, a time when many black folk were living in a fool’s paradise under a commander and chief, affectionately known as “Slick Willy” who some even considered our first “black” president because of a mediocre sax solo on the Arsenio Hall Show.

Yes, we had “overcome,” “reached the mountaintop” or whatever other clever MLK slogan one wants to use. So , what did my fellow revolutionists and I have to gripe about?

Absolutely everything.

My generation had its share of struggles and without the obvious signs of overt racism, they were a lot harder to conceptualize and a whole lot harder to fight. It’s hard to hit an enemy that you can’t see.

We were the cleanup crew. Our undervalued duty was to clean up the residue from centuries of slavery, Jim Crow laws and black codes. It was no longer the giant fire-breathing dragon of racism we had to kill. Our enemies were the invisible ghosts of institutionalized white supremacy and its byproducts.

As Malcolm X would say we were not dealing with the knife but trying to patch the wound the blade had left. And the cut ran deep.

Activists of my era had to deal with the chemical warfare in the form of crack cocaine and other drugs that made young black people do things that our elders would never have dreamed in their worst nightmares. My own personal crusade was against “liquid crack," the 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor that were sold at convenience stores on every corner of the black community.

There were other battles as well. Although, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll had always been the mantra for the music industry, during the '90s we had to deal with “gangsta rap.” White entertainment executives had turned the blood my ancestors shed at the hands of white racists into a billion dollar industry glamorizing black men killing other black men.

Contrary to the asinine assumption conservatives parrot that black people only care about black death when the grim reaper is a white policeman, we spearheaded the fight against black-on-black violence. I cannot count the rallies and street corner gatherings I have attended to stanch the black blood flow. But this does not fit the popular revisionist narrative of an apathetic community that buried its collective head in the sand as the hood became a virtual graveyard.

So why has my generation been erased from history ?

There are several reasons. It could be that our focus on the root causes of black pathology was too much to handle for a white community with a “blame the victim mentality." We did not buy into the myth that black youth were “natural born killers" but pointed to the societal conditions that created the hate that hate produced.

Perhaps it was because our choice of rap records for theme music was too loud for a society that expected us to suffer in silence and just reap the benefits of a bygone Civil Rights Era while quietly humming "A Change Gonna Come." Maybe, it is because some of us didn't commit ourselves to revolutionary retirement homes and are still out here fighting a battle we have yet to win.

We are America’s constant reminder that racism does not come with an expiration date. And that is a painful self revelation for a country that prides herself as being the land of the free, home of the brave. And like “Babs” Streisand once sang … “What’s too painful to remember, we simply chose to forget.”

Paul Scott’ s column appears every first and third Saturday of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShotsFired.com or on Twitter @NWSF