When I was young, I was taught to hate Black conservatives. I regarded African-Americans like Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson as Uncle Toms and sellouts. However, after the age of Barack Obama, I had to reassess my thinking about Clarence Thomas. Was he right all along and the civil rights establishment wrong? What have Black Republicans done, how have they harmed the Black community? How has being loyal to Democrats benefited the Black masses? Recently, the civil rights establishment jumped on Steve Harvey and Ray Lewis for meeting privately with Donald Trump. It gets irritating that the liberal establishment hand-picks the Don Lemons and Joy Reids to be our spokespersons. Why does anyone African-American need to consult the civil rights establishment for anything? They sold their soul for Obama, and the Black establishment failed the Black community. A warning shot to our failed Black leaders: I’m done being Black or African. From this day forward my allegiance is to America, not the Black bourgeoisie.

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, many Blacks did not understand what emancipation meant. It didn’t mean you were going to be compensated or receive any material benefit. There was nothing in the memo about thinking as a bloc or group. Emancipation means to be liberated, free to make your own decisions. It meant I don’t have to be controlled, or share allegiance to a race, identity or group. If I want to be African, American or Black, it’s my call — not Al Sharpton’s or the NAACP. For decades, Democrats have relied on convincing Black Americans that they are African-American before American. When Blacks refuse to be called anything but American, you send reverberations to the liberal establishment because they no longer can manipulate or control you.

African-Americans have been programmed to believe that Blacks who advocate for self-determination are traitors. I deal with this grievance mentality in my own life. There are some in the Black community who believe I owe them because they’re miserable. They think because I have a roof, job and money, I lived a charmed life. They don’t understand that I’ve been there: I was homeless, ate at soup kitchens and struggled for survival. The difference between me and my poor counterparts was I didn’t wait for someone to do something for me, I was proactive. I did the uncool things, I didn’t care about what my penniless homies thought, I was mocked for selling Street Sense. Those same people that mocked me are still at the shelter waiting for free housing. I worked a job that didn’t pay a living wage but instead of listening to ACLU lawyers, I saved what little income I made until I found something better. Today I work at a gym. I started part time but persevered, and today I’m the sales manager.

I’m not saying this to brag, I’m saying this because I’ve been there. I was once a good liberal. It was drummed in me to be committed to social justice and equality. I defended Black people even when they were guilty. I defended Marion Berry even though he embarrassed the Black community. Ditto with O.J. I believed in settling scores instead of being fair. I defended the riots and looters in Ferguson and Baltimore even though I was ashamed at their behavior. Enabling and alibis haven’t helped us but has created contempt and hatred toward us. We had a black president; as a race, we squandered an opportunity. To not acknowledge that the Black majority fared worse not better under Obama is a dereliction of duty.

I don’t know what happened to the civil rights movement. Where did we take a wrong turn? Once upon a time we fought blatant bigotry and discrimination; today it’s about trigger warnings, microaggressions and wanting safe spaces because someone says something you disagree with. Identity politics has been the ruination of our country because it focuses on special rights for specific groups instead of finding universal solutions regardless of class, race and gender. Liberals try to put people in groups and boxes with their own unique grievances instead of treating them as human beings. I don’t belong to a race; I belong to this country. I’m not African; I’m American. I was born in Ohio, not Nigeria. This doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge our history. However, I have forgiven my oppressors and want nothing from them but liberty.

I want to address people as humans, not as special interests or labels. All lives matter, not specific groups. But somehow progressives can’t grasp that they would be better served if they were coherent and strategic, instead of ideologically pure. Sometimes you have to compromise — which isn’t selling out. It’s better to get a half a loaf and feed your flock than be pious and allow your sheep to starve. The rich liberal can be pious and high-minded. After he fights for you and loses, he stays rich, while you continue waiting on his promises. We fought to end segregation — but identity politics is only segregation in reverse, granting privileges to specific groups instead of thinking about what’s best for everyone.

Jeffery McNeil is a vendor and regular contributor to Street Sense.