Excerpted by Latoya Peterson
Let me start by saying that from where I stand, collective discourse, debate, dissent and demand are crucially necessary for building the political will to advance African Americans’ equity claims. Black voice is critical to this process. I am focused here on that part of black voice that prioritizes political strategies and collective action. Thus, I use the terms “black voice” and “freedom discourse” interchangeably. Because our struggles are counter-majoritarian, because therefore, the “sensible” thing to do is to ignore them and go on with the existing frameworks that make these struggles invisible, it is critical for black people to be able to come together and make sense of their conditions, determine what they want to change and then to figure out how they will make change. This is very different activity from supporting a particular candidate or even a legislative agenda. Electoral and legislative campaigns by definition demand cultivation of the white electoral majority’s opinions and carry inherent risk that they will censure claims or interests that are unpleasant to that majority. Without a prior agenda-setting discourse enabling African American communities to arrive at some collective decisions about their shared future, I can’t imagine either innovation in support of, or accountability to, black concerns.
Black voice stems from the schizophrenic daily experience of being un-free in a society that claims freedom as its first principle. Black voice provides a unique, and I would argue, necessary, perspective on the failures of American democratic institutions. Frederick Douglass, asked to address an abolitionist group on the subject of Independence Day, captured it best when he chose to “see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view:”
[Y]our high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. . . .. The
rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your
fathers, is shared by you, not by me. . … This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.
You may rejoice, I must mourn. . .”
Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” July 5, 1852
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