Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Ice Cube is a Ni**a With Awareness. He was, like so many of us across the globe, deeply affected by the summer’s instances of police violence. Also like so many of us, he was gutted by its brazen senselessness and enraged by its perpetrators’ fearlessness and disregard for impending consequence.
This violence upended a restless world with a population that was trapped indoors struggling with feelings of powerlessness. In that moment, there was nothing we could actively do to address COVID-19 — but, by God, we sure as Hell knew we could do something about this. Most of us across the globe took to the streets to demand change. Ice Cube, meanwhile, picked up a pen and, in collaboration with others, put together the Contract With Black America (CWBA), a proposal addressing what exactly those changes could be.
Fast-forward about three months, and 2020 — the Year Without Precedent™ — continued to do what it do: on October 13th, it was revealed that Ice Cube had met with the Trump Administration; once again, news out of left field destabilized the status quo. And like most disruptions of this nature, it invited us to question, interrogate and re-observe our current condition.
It is a condition in which incessant discourse has been comprehensively politicized in the pursuit of social justice and civil rights. The immediate, reflexive backlash to Ice Cube’s actions furthermore revealed that it is a condition in which we’ve eschewed from our hearts the meaning of our popular phrase: “Black people are not a monolith”.
We are invited to interrogate this condition by Ice Cube’s declaration — by his response to the backlash — that “Black progress is a bipartisan issue”. We have long accepted the premise that The Struggle™ can only be responsibly addressed by one side of the political aisle, so being reminded of the distinction between pro-blackness and progressiveness is a much-needed and overdue wake-up call.
But make no mistake: this wake-up call starts and ends not with Cube’s willingness to share his proposal with a reviled administration, but rather with the proposal itself.
The CWBA is a 22-page document that attempts to address the ubiquitous symptoms of American racism as holistically as possible. The proposal calls for bold, sweeping reforms across various industries and branches of government, from banks and finance to law enforcement, from education to Hollywood, and so on.
Ultimately, the CWBA is a document rooted in economics. A majority of its proposals hinge upon the re-allocation of both public and private funds through equitable investment in Black businesses, students, and communities. Central to the contract are recommended methods for calculating and distributing reparations to Black American descendants of slavery. It even invites the government to employ Modern Monetary Theory, going so far as to propose a remix to the job guarantee proposal with the America’s Job Pact (AJP).
However, much of the backlash to the CWBA stems from what the document isn’t rooted in: intersectionality. Cube et al. attempt a “generalist” approach not unlike that of President Obama, who often strived to improve the lives of Black Americans by introducing policy that would help all Americans (e.g. JOBS Acts, Earned Income Tax Credit, ACA). Similarly, the contract appears to deliberately keep its language vague, referring to Black “people”, Black “Americans”, the Black “population” and Black “students”, for example, in order for its proposals to apply to as broad a swath of the citizenry as possible.
This approach, unfortunately, is upended by a single paragraph within the CWBA’s first addendum entitled “Focus on the Black Family”, where the contract explicitly emphasizes Black men and the cis-hetero nuclear family structure. The addition of this one paragraph makes conspicuous the omission of others that could have potentially emphasized other groups. Regardless of whether or not this was a conscious decision, it illustrates that Cube et al. considered Black women and Black LBGTQ+ folk to be less of a priority at the time of writing. Indeed, one could go so far as to argue that it even exudes a level of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, despite the paragraph’s best intentions to highlight the importance of Black family and Black community.
Luckily, much like the United States’ Constitution, the CWBA can presently exist as a living document. Many sharp minds have reportedly collaborated to build the contract up to this point; many more can be included to take it to the next level. As practical as the “generalist” approach is, it is the opinion of the writer that it will be important for such a document to acknowledge that racism affects subsections of Black America in specific, unique ways that may go unaddressed by broader reforms. Aside from Black men and nuclear families, the document already puts some emphasis on Indigenous people and Black students with disabilities; including proposals specifically addressing the concerns of other groups can only work to improve it as a whole.
Amendments, as such, can be incoming; the CWBA is certainly incomplete as of now, but it remains a strong foundation upon which a truly holistic and all-encompassing proposal can be constructed. Thus, despite his conspicuous blind spots, Ice Cube has managed to provide the beginnings of what could potentially become a consensus shared, explicit and in writing, amongst all Black Americans, regardless of their own political leanings.
Which is why, one could argue, Ice Cube’s meeting with Trump and his administration was so important. It would be utterly naive to believe that a man that has been accused of racial discrimination several times over the past 50 years, who tried to have the Central Park 5 executed, and who deliberately positioned himself to be the avatar of birtherism would have any genuine interest in the CWBA. It would be naive to assume that such a meeting would be seen as anything more than a PR opportunity for the administration. Nevertheless, the meeting stands as a visceral act of symbolism, with Ice Cube firmly asserting his position that “Black progress is a bipartisan issue”. If he’s willing to take his list of demands to someone like Trump, then he’s willing to take these demands to anyone.
It’s a no-holds-barred tactic, and a desperate one at that — but, honestly, not many of us have survived this Year Without Precedent™ without even a small sense of desperation. Working together to bring the CWBA to a point that satisfies all Black Americans across the political spectrum won’t be easy, but it can be a necessary exercise in building a strong, unifying consensus within the besieged ethnic group.