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CLINGMAN: Selling Out and Buying In

James Clingman | 11/13/2013, 3 p.m.
James Clingman

During the enslavement period of Africans in America, the Meritorious Manumission Act of 1710 was enacted in Virginia. It was the legal act of freeing a slave for “good deeds,” as defined by the national public policy, and could be granted to a slave who saved the life of a White master or his property, invented something from which a slave master could make a profit, or “snitched” on a fellow slave who was planning a slave rebellion or to run away. Let’s assume that’s where the term “selling out” came from.

Three hundred years later, Black folks are still dealing with sell-outs, but I think we should take a different look at this issue. Selling out is a very negative term, especially among Black folks; but for those who sell-out, it seems to be a very profitable term. Some of our prominent Black spokespersons are very well off financially because they sold out. They started out as strong Black advocates and activists, and now they are nothing more than sycophants for various causes, political parties, businesses, and politicians.

I have often been told that everyone has a number, a price they would accept to sell-out. I wonder what the number was for Marcus Garvey – I wonder if he even had a number. When I listen to his speeches and read his papers, I doubt it.

The more self-reliant we are, the less apt we are to sell-out because we have our own economic independence and cannot be bought.

Some of our “leaders” are known for selling us out, and we know who they are; I don’t know how they are sleeping, but I know they are eating pretty well from having done so. They rail against “the man” or criticize us, their brothers and sisters, in order to obtain their manumission. The question is: Are they really to blame for our demise? As I said, we know who they are, so I ask, “What is our role in their actions?” Are we really enablers for these Benedict Arnolds?

This brings me to the second part of this article’s title – the buying in part. Some of us, despite knowing who the culprits are, are like Pavlov’s dog, salivating at every word they speak and hoping for a treat or some other reward because we have been so obedient to them. So who’s the real culprit in the sell-out game? The one who sell out? Or the ones who buy in?

We will always be sold out if we keep buying in to the empty rhetoric and promises of good times to come. We will continue to complain about the sell-outs, but we will also continue to be left out of the prosperity they enjoy. Carter G. Woodson said, “Negroes, choose their leaders but unfortunately they are too often of the wrong kind. Negroes do not readily follow persons with constructive programs. Almost any sort of exciting appeal or trivial matter presented to them may receive immediate attention and temporarily at least liberal support.” We choose and follow sell-outs with great zeal, so we should stop blaming them and start blaming ourselves.