Most Black Americans Sitting Out ‘Occupy’

by October 28, 2011

When Ray Leeds saw a crowd gathering in front of the California Museum of Photography, in Riverside’s downtown pedestrian mall last week, the photography buff and out-of work union pipefitter left nothing to chance. “I grabbed my camera and just started taking pictures. It was surreal. Out of nowhere they just started singing and pitching tents,” he said.  “It was engrossing. You couldn’t just stand there and snap pictures.”

When Leeds saw a couple dressed up like zombies holding a placard that read “Everyone Needs to Pay Their FAIR Share: End Corporate Greed”. He traded his camera for a piece of poster board that read: “It’s About the People: Not Profits”.

What unfolded before his eyes was Riverside’s entry into Occupy Wall Street one of the nation’s most progressive grassroots movements. A month ago the protests took shape in lower Manhattan to express anger over Wall Street greed, lack of jobs, political inaction, corruption and other issues.

As Leeds panned his camera lens across the swelling crowd he could not help but notice the faces were overwhelmingly white and young.

“My first question was where are the Blacks, Latino’s and other minorities? My next question was are people of color too busy making ends meet to join the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, or is there a disconnect between progressives and people of color?”

So during his regular visit to the barber on Saturday, Leeds a Black American, fully expected the crowded Black shop to be in full tilt over the protests.

“Hold your breath Bro,” explained Jason Haney, a Saturday regular. “This is not Black folk’s protest.”

“Black folk have been protesting and going through hell since the ‘man’ brought us over here from Africa,” he said.

“Young white Americans are finally getting a taste of the kind of hell Black Americans have endured for generations,” said an unapologetic Shaun Rubinson during a discussion at Andre’s Hair Salon in San Bernardino.

“I don’t think Blacks are rejecting this movement. We are just too busy surviving,” said Rubinson, a long time hair stylist whose clients include all races.

Rubinson, shop owner Andre’ Mayes and client Stephanie Lewis, a nurse practitioner at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center are among a growing number of Black Americans who have chosen to sit on the side lines even as Occupy picks up stream, cash and big name Black supporters including Kayne West, Jay-Z, Russel Simmons and Rev. Al Sharpton.

“Where were these young white MBA’s and laid off corporate workers when Black Americans were losing their homes and jobs at unprecedented rates during the early days of the recession,” asked Lewis.

“Where were those protesters as Tea Party conservatives took over Congress, blocked the president’s historic healthcare overhaul law, smashed his job creation efforts, trashed his landmark stimulus initiative, and undermined his efforts to reign in big banks,” said Mayes.

“Instead of fighting the demons on Wall Street they put on their earbuds and turned their wrath on the president calling him an absentee leader. What gives,” said Mayes. “This appears to be more about their pain than America’s pain.”

“Their working class parents have had their homes foreclosed. Their school loans can’t be paid because they too now are unemployed or underpaid. Their stocks and 401K’s have been eviscerated by the one percent. Their middle class status is slipping away,” said Rubinson.

“Their stark reality has gotten closer to what Black people have been battling for years.”

Bennett College for Women president and noted Black economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, wrote in an October 17 blog entitled: What Does The Occupy Wall Street Movement Want?

“Banks got bailed out, we got ripped off. Banks were given money to lend and they chose not to lend it. Banks created risky financial instruments – derivatives – and when they couldn’t perform, they whined and leaned on an excuse that they were “too big to fail”. Now they are even bigger, and our government is all the more invested in their nonsense.

“No wonder they are mad” wrote Malveaux, author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History. “Heck, I’m mad too, but as I look at their movement, I see a sense of déjà vu. Young folks, mostly white folks, taking it to the street. Protesting, acting out their frustration.”

“And to what end? OWS does not look like American. There are plenty of unemployed young African Americans and Latinos, but our law enforcement experiences are different from those of whites. While a protest arrest may be seen as a youthful indiscretion for a young white man, it is an employment-ender for a young Black man.


Occupy As the New York police are arresting right and left, I can imagine a brother or a sister deciding that they might just stay home and support OWS in spirit.” Malveaux said.

“What in the world do these folks want? She explains.

”They are protesting because of their pain, but they have to turn pain and protest into power. Protesting income inequality won’t make the playing field level. Protesting greed won’t yield many ends, when the incentives for greed are hard-wired into our system.”

“First, they must diversify. They must reach out to Black, brown, and marginalized communities so that this protest is not a narrow white occasion. And, in reaching out to these folks, they must clearly understand the greater risks involved when people of color take it to the streets.

They need to be prepared to protect those who are racially targeted by those who sometimes masquerade as law enforcement officers.”

“We should occupy Wall Street, but to what end. They need to spell it out so that the outrage that has spilled into the streets now spills back upon our legislators. Other than agitation, what does OWS want?”


OCCUPY RIVERSIDE – Longtime hair stylist Shaun Rubinson, (right) and Stephanie Lewis (left) say black Americans have largely turned their backs on the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. •

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