President Obama: Leading America toward 21st Century Equity Citizenship
In the days after President Obama’s State of the Union Address, and with last week’s launch of Startup America, it should be clear to all observers that the president’s leadership on new jobs creation and national prosperity has decisively turned to investing in and promoting innovation and competitiveness.
This is the strongest signal yet that Black America’s efforts to achieve economic empowerment are inextricably linked to our propensity to innovate and ability to compete. Essentially, President Obama has informed us that today Black America has new opportunities to breakthrough, to evolve our American status from 20th century constitutional citizenship to 21st century equity citizenship.
Equity Citizens and Constitutional Citizens
Influenced by the equity partner concept of business partnerships, equity citizens are partners in — and part owners of — the United States. They are entitled and able to access an equitable proportion of the nation’s best opportunities to achieve economic prosperity. The term is used to distinguish from constitutional citizens, who are such by birthright enshrined in the Constitution. Constitutional citizens are full and equal American citizens under law, but they do not have much, if any, underlying ownership interests in the nation and are not able to share in the best national opportunities.
Struggle for Constitutional Citizenship
Unquestionably, constitutional citizenship is the foundation of equity citizenship and Black America has endured a long quest to become constitutional citizens in the land of our birth. The foremost barrier to our constitutional citizenship was plainly articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote possibly the most damning policy statement ever issued by the U.S. government concerning the status of Blacks in America:
“They had … been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
This abhorrent belief, expressed as national policy, is the crux of our quest for constitutional citizenship. Since the days of the peculiar institution of slavery, and especially in the 150 years after the Dred Scot Decision, the nation has grappled and countless lives have been given to this quest.
The unique genius of the American republic and our constitutional form of government is that the nation is not on a fixed course. The Constitution — and freedoms it guarantees — empowers Americans with the capacity to choose our fate.
Protracted struggle produced the Civil War, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, Brown v. Board of Education, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. These and many other events resulted in Black people successfully acquiring all rights and privileges to which every American is entitled. In 2011, we are constitutional citizens.
Toward the Endgame: Equity Citizenship
Yet, as President Obama’s policies indicate, becoming constitutional citizens of the U.S. by acquiring and exercising rights and privileges is only the middlegame, not the endgame. Although the middlegame is an indispensable step toward the desired end, it is not the end.
Unlike the extraordinary middlegame contributions and achievements Black Americans made in the 20th century, President Obama’s policy thrust is all about the endgame. The President is pursuing a policy course that provides Black Americans the chance to contribute everything we are — and what we can become — to familial, community, national and global economic progress.
Today, we have within our grasp a breakthrough opportunity— to profoundly shift from the 20th century middlegame of constitutional citizenship to the 21st century endgame of equity citizenship.
The endgame of equity citizenship for Black people, indeed for all Americans, is to contribute our full measure and potential to help our nation to compete and prosper in theInnovation Economy. It is akin to Maslovian self-actualization, where we must be all that we can be. This is our raison d’être, our reason for being.
Black Americans can never retreat from relentlessly confronting any vestiges of our struggle to achieve constitutional citizenship, as expressed in the Dred Scott case — and I have every confidence that we will not.
However, with the severe challenges facing our families, communities, the nation and the world — now more than ever — our renewed and central focus must be on the endgame, becoming equity citizens and making our highest and best contributions to the Innovation Economy — so that we may realize economic benefits commensurate with those contributions.
President Obama’s ascendancy to the most powerful office in the world may be providential, for he may be the only figure on the planet capable of helping Black America to both see the crisis and realize the opportunities available for us in the 21st century Innovation Economy.
Johnathan, Trim Tabber