Last year, I had an opportunity to help organize and participate in an event that discussed the significance of the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama. The event was sponsored by the Solidarity Committee, a collection of Twin Cities’ community members determined to locally confront racism by designing spaces for critical conversation and education. Like most events, community members are motivated, excited, and mentally “fed”, while simultaneously experience the whirlwind of frustration, agitation, skepticism, and naiveté. The multitude of emotions is typical for this community space.
This level of thinking usually establishes partitions between those who arbitrarily deem they are “doing” against others who they’ve determined ” are not doing.”
All the increased synergy raises our expectation for productivity; to get things done. Unfortunately, that timeless cynical point of view is unleashed. The proverbial “we do a lot of talking but we don’t get things done”, perspective rears its unwarranted notation in the wrong space and time. At this particular event, a forum that was specifically designed to educate and build historical awareness, the lady and her supporters, who mentioned this point of view, failed to realize the meaning and focus for the occasion. Understandably, there are numerous efforts launched from the community, with good clear intentions, that have a tendency to fizzle out with meeting after meeting, paper shuffling, and ego-ranking bickering. However, not every event, forum, conference, gathering, or educational session brought forth from the community is a rallying cry to pump our fists, organize in the streets, or challenge the system. This level of thinking usually establishes partitions between those who arbitrarily deem they are “doing” against others who they’ve determined “are not doing.” Far too often the criticism of “we lack involvement”, “we do too much talking not enough action”, and “we are recycling conversations” are just a tad bit misplaced. We show up to events that are designed to educate, build awareness, conscious raise, and we get upset because the interpretation is that “we are just providing lip service” to the subject; a clear misunderstanding of intentions.
it becomes vital to distinguish between “internal” versus “external” fronts.
Reflectively, I realized a serious misconstrued notion of our various fronts in the community. In the struggle to challenge and obliterate the plight of the African American experience, it becomes vital to distinguish between “internal” versus “external” fronts. Internal fronts are the efforts which attempt to reconstitute the fabric of African American ethnic identity. These struggles and activity repair the human quality of Black folk and strives to remove all residue of current and historical repressive trauma inflicted by society. Uniquely, themes of internal fronts are within our control for our self or collective healing. It does not necessarily require direct change from public, government, or corporate institutions. External fronts require direct challenges to larger systemic process that impact daily living and experience. Efforts deriving from externals front contest an institutional variables such as, but not limited to, government policies, corporations, and public organizations. The variable that impedes upon Black life from outside the group is inflicting private and public pain.
What do history offer as examples of internal and external fronts?
- The establishment of Tuskegee University (formally Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers) for the purpose of creating Black teachers, skilled agrarian technicians, and tinsmith is an internal front.
- The number one event Black folk has organized and planned annually for over a century are family reunions. It is a perfect internal effort to conceal, educate, and strengthen familial bonds of kinship.
- Without a doubt, the 1964 Freedom Summer provides a clear demonstration of internal front. Over 40 different Freedom Schools were established across Mississippi to build literacy, civil discourse, voting comprehension, and history.
- Contemporary efforts of internal fronts locally have manifested in Black organized and lead movements such as INDABBA, Communiversity, Solidarity, Brotherhood INC, and many others.
- When segregation socially, politically, and economically marginalized and disenfranchised Black life, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sparked to advocate for civil rights and social gains for African Americans. This external front purposely used protest political tactics and legal concessions to challenge institutional racism.
- When larger corporate railroad industries concealed Black workers into a notch above slave labor, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union was organized to challenge these large conglomerates. BSCP succeeded in securing Black railroad workers livable wages, life insurance, secure occupational status, and better working conditions.
- The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party directly challenged non-representation in the state’s public office. The party was composed of 95% African Americans, organized to gain office and seats with the larger Democratic Party, whom discriminated and excluded Black political voice.
- Today, external fronts take form not in Black specific organized or lead groups, but guised more into larger community initiatives. Neighborhood Organizing for Change (NOC), a non-profit member-led grassroots effort focused on addressing educational and housing disparities, builds democratic development in citizens. While not specifically focused on alleviating the systemic repression of one ethnic group, quite often the advocated address impacts a large portion of the Black community.
- Black Lives Matter is currently a broad sporadic movement of local networking initiatives challenging white-minded sentiment and its support of abusive law enforcement tactics across the nation. There is a national alliance of several BLM locals gathering to form a national effort called Campaign Zero to officially formulate a mission to address state authority and its relationship to the Black Community.
A thin veil exists between the two which creates gray space.
Both strategic fronts are not clearly defined and separate. A thin veil exists between the two which creates gray space. This grayness is the area where internal effects the external front as well as the converse. For instance, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense largely was an internal front but also strategically employed an external front in order to protect and defend Black citizens from the onslaught of racial targeting by law enforcement. Internally, they established health care centers, transportation operations, free lunch programs, martial arts programs, and literacy projects. Leaders within the movement were well aware that defending the community was not only the symbolic display of constitutional practice (the right to bear arms), but also the proficiency of law and protecting ourselves against institutional discrimination. Based upon my research, practicing law in the form of self-defense and small legal proceedings positively impacted the community organizing for the centers and programs established.
….there was a strong internal effort to build historical memory, cultural derivative, and sociopolitical consciousness.
The resurgent Reparations movement of the 1990s is another clear example of an effort which blurred the lines between internal and external. Keeping with its predecessors of the early 20th century, the 1990’s Reparations movement attempted to bring a case of restitution to congress for the systemic deprivation and dehumanization inflicted upon African Americans by the U.S. government. Unlike its predecessors, there was a strong internal effort to build historical memory, cultural derivative, and sociopolitical consciousness. National and locally, organizers arrived at the remarkable conclusion that raising the historical understanding of African Americans will encourage collective unification for the benefit of the external front, a case in congress.
….it is vital we know the difference between internal and external at any given point of our participation.
We can canvass many, if not all, grassroots and national organizational efforts, historically and contemporary, and reveal the direct or indirect relationship between its internal and external modalities. Most importantly however, it is vital we know the difference between internal and external at any given point of our participation. This simple concept can help modify our expectations of a given event, offering ourselves insight to what we bring and can contribute.
How we understand contemporary internal or external fronts can change the perception of the way we view Black activism and progress. Based upon my limited research and observation, I begin to compile some themes that support internal fronts and causes that shape external efforts. This is just my list. I’m certain many can add tremendously to this list or argue against what is stated.
Internal Fronts (IF)
- Black Manhood and Womanhood Maturation
- Institution of Marriage
- Social and ethnic identity education
- Cultural Acknowledgement and Celebration
- Historical Institution and Memorialization
- Family and community value development
- Collective economic and cooperative strategy
External Fronts (EF)
- State policies and statues
- Educational inequities
- Law enforcement malpractices
- State and Federal imprisonment structures
- Voting procedures
- Democratic suppression
- Employment discrimination
- Predatory Lending and Banking Discrimination
- Non-profit Industrial Exploitation
- Media Imagery and Stereotyping