There has been an intense national discussion on bullying – the “…gimme your lunch money or I’ll beat you up…” kind, or the “…you’re-so-ugly-nobody-wants-to-be-your-friend…” mean girl kind.
Nobody is talking about (since this is a public policy solution forum) another type of bullying that has just as serious long-term effects. Government bullying – taking your tax money and doing stuff that doesn’t benefit you – is among the worst forms of bullying most of us will ever encounter.
Black folks, it seems, suffer this the most, and the most silently. All across the country, African Americans pay their pro-rata share of levied taxes. In return they get dysfunctional education systems, sub-par police protection, crumbling public infrastructure and far-out-of-proportion interface with the criminal justice system. In economic matters Black business owners have little to no chance of earning dollars from taxpayer funded contract awards.
We’ve also learned from the national attention on bullying that bullies act with impunity until 1) they get punched in the mouth, or 2) enough attention is focused on their behavior that they can no longer hide. Sadly, Black folks are apparently so weakened from years of bullying that we can no longer muster the strength to punch back, or we are too ashamed from having our lunch money taken for so long that we won’t tell anyone about our abuse for fear that the bully will come back and dish out another dose.
Paying taxes is our public obligation, voting is our public responsibility. We seem to understand that the two go hand in hand, but the other leg of public policy formulation – public engagement – appears to have escaped our grasp. This void in our understanding is what has allowed “special interests” to slip in and usurp our roles in the policy-making process.
Special interests, lobbyists and consultants have commandeered (bullied!) the way governments – from city hall to Congress – pass resolutions and ordinances and enact legislation, often with the soft sell that they are doing it on your behalf. Most of the time you don’t even know who they are, much less that they are passing themselves off as your agents.
On a local level you see bike lanes miraculously appear in neighborhood streets and don’t recognize them as harbingers of future intrusions in your environment. Bike lanes in and of themselves aren’t threatening, but if you understand public planning, they should set off the alarm that there are big plans afoot for your neighborhood – and those planning your future didn’t include you in the conversation. Or, another example, you wake up to a four-year university (no one’s against education, right?) plopped down in the middle of your community. You didn’t know it was coming, you didn’t get to help build any of the buildings, but your money is helping to pay for it.
It’s this simple – government bullying only stops when you are organized to demand an equitable return on your taxpayer investment. Electing informed, accountable representatives is the first step. Their election must be followed by consistent, organized engagement with those elected AND an adamant refusal to allow them to resort to their personal judgment in creating policy solutions to your taxpayer needs.
Need further proof that standing up and speaking out against government bullying works? Ever heard of the Tea Party? Granted, the boogeyman they fight against is far different from the one most Black folks face on a daily basis, but there is no question that a small, vocal group within the electorate has put fear into the bully. They have forever change the course of American politics far out of proportion to their presence in the body politic.
There was a time when Black Americans engaged the overt bullying of lynching, disenfranchisement, miseducation and fairness in public accommodations head on. Today, it seems, we are more concerned with who won a Grammy, Oscar or MVP trophy than with who ate today, or who had a job today, or who (needlessly) went to jail today.
I’ll finish like this: Black folks have perfected the daily greeting, “What’s happening?” Well, what’s happening is that folks who don’t know you – probably don’t really give a —- about you, are making decisions WITH YOUR MONEY that will affect you and yours for years to come. Unless you wake up, punch them in the mouth and tell somebody that the bully is loose in their neighborhood, the bullying will continue. Don’t stay “punked out!” (know what I mean?)