Editor’s note: Please be aware that the author uses the n-word in this story.
Instead of looking for incremental reform, the Contract with Black America tries to address the root causes of racism in our society and develop a roadmap for a comprehensive solution. Beyond the obvious, we need to focus on the areas of banking and finance, justice, policing, education, Hollywood depictions, as well as a system of reparations. None of these work in isolation, this plan looks at the systemic core of racism as a whole, and only in that way can a true solution be born.
Thomas Jefferson declared that “all men are created equal.” You know the Thing. But Black Americans know the great lie that accompanied those words: A country that professed itself to be a beacon of freedom enslaved generations of men, women and children, transforming us into Niggas to build a country where others, seen as a full five-fifths, could enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” After slavery was abolished, Black Americans were subjected to segregation, Jim Crow, lynching and mass incarceration. The exploitation, oppression and erosion of Black people and culture has gone on too long. This country needs a second Reconstruction to address systemic inequalities, rooted in a Contract with Black America that I and others are proposing.
As a writer, rapper and producer, I have called out police brutality and other injustices for decades. I have been censored, smeared, slammed and had my life threatened for my work — for speaking the truth. As much as my art has contributed, I know that calls for change will not achieve the paradigm shift necessary to address four centuries of racial injustice. I am angry. And I’m not backing down. I want a better world for my children and their children, and platitudes about “progress” won’t produce it. We need a world where hate towards any people is not tolerated.
To create the “more perfect union” that all Americans deserve, all must have access to opportunity. Police reform alone cannot make us equal when Black Americans endure persistent inequality in access to capital, jobs and education. We need the opportunity that comes from banking and finance reforms to help close the gap where a typical white family’s net worth is nearly ten times than that of a black family. Although “redlining” is now illegal, black applicants are rejected for mortgages and other types of loans at more than double the rate of white applicants. When they do get approved, they must pay higher rates to borrow. We need criminal justice reforms that include eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and “three strikes” laws. Both contribute to black Americans being 33 percent of U.S. inmates although we are 13 percent of the population. Privately run prisons should be banned and prisoner labor without consent — a form of slavery — outlawed.
People want to believe the great lie and that we are making “progress.” But the system is rigged. A country where the systems inhibit and destroy black progress, whether by law, overt racism or unconscious bias, is designed to produce niggas. Across our country this summer, more Americans are awakening to how systemic racism has cheated generations of black children.
It is great that people are in the streets; we are rightfully angry and hurt. But recent history shows that protests are not enough. The 1960s civil rights movement brought landmark legislation, yes. But those laws were circumvented. Revered leaders were assassinated. Then came Richard Nixon, promising “law and order.” And Ronald Reagan, saying "Let’s make America great again.” Sound familiar? The injustices didn’t end. The beating of Rodney King brought Americans into the streets, again, but as I and others warned in “Straight Outta Compton,” racial injustice rolled on.
Sure, there have been achievements. The Martin Luther King holiday. Our first Black president. But instead of throwing us bones, we need systemic change. A reckoning involves recognition of the unequal treatment Black Americans have endured from all who are complicit — from hard-core conservatives to limousine liberals. President Trump is not the cause. He is a symptom of a nation that tolerates inequality and tells Black citizens to be happy with the progress we have made — as if progress toward equal treatment is the same as equality among human beings. Do we actually believe Biden and the Democrats will make real differences unless we make them commit to wholesale change? MLK himself doubted the political will of the White liberal. The objective is not handouts to assuage white guilt, nor do we want White’s equality diminished either. We need White’s to look within and be honest about how they benefit from white privilege, and always will, unless our society reimagines what America should have looked like in the beginning and does the hard work of reform to get our country where it should be.
Will a nation that prides itself on being “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all” realize that it has never achieved that? A nation lying to God. The justice wasn’t for “all.” Will a nation whose people put their own children in bondage ever pay for what they have done to themselves? Only when America admits the Founders’ lies can we begin to heal.
Jefferson also wrote in The Thing that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form.” I submit the Contract with Black America to start the hard conversations to create a future of harmony where everyone can benefit. The alternative will be the unraveling of this nation because we are too intelligent to accept “bones” of reform anymore. Channeling James Baldwin, I declare I am not a Nigga; I am a free and equal man.
Ice Cube is an award-winning musician, actor, director, producer, civil rights activist, and CEO and founder of the BIG3 basketball league.