It is encouraging that leading up to the upcoming March 8th elections in Los Angeles, considerable discussion and planning for more effective and accountable Black leadership has taken place. For example, albeit with substantially different emphasis, a People’s Convention, sponsored chiefly by “Eighth District Grassroots Rising” and a planned community forum by the “Council of Black Political Organizations,” focus on the pressing need for more committed and responsive Black leadership. Both embryonic efforts could signal new beginnings for actual rather than superficial change.
Black leadership’s lack of accountability is a recurrent topic in this column because it continues unabated. Far too many Black leaders fail to respond to the needs of constituents and their performance is scrutinized sporadically, if at all.
Bruce Dixon’s essay, “Failure of the Black Misleadership Class,” offers cogent analysis worth revisiting. Excerpts interspersed with my comments follow:
The cohort of Black business people and politicians who pass for African American leadership is at an impasse. Our leaders have failed to produce economic development models that benefit inner cities and poor Black enclaves.
Not only is the Black leadership class unable to create jobs at living wages for hundreds of thousands of Black families that desperately need them, they can’t even describe to the rest of America how this might be done. They dare not emphasize the acute shortage of low and moderate income housing or publicly question programs that exacerbate that shortage. Black leadership has also proven powerless to prevent the nationwide imposition of separate and grossly unequal education, the disastrous application of high stakes testing or implementation of “No Child Left Behind.” African American businesses and political leaders lack the political will and imagination to rally their constituencies against the growth of a racially selective crime control and prison industry that has far-reaching economic and social consequences, particularly for Black youth.
With notable exceptions, Black elected officials have generally proven unwilling or unable to defend the very “democratic” (political) openings that made their emergence possible. Many Black elected office-holders and appointees eagerly embrace and seek to profit from privatizations. They have become willing accomplices in the spatial de-concentration and dis-empowerment of Black communities. Leading the nation in numbers of Black millionaires and ruled by Black mayors for more than thirty years, the city of Atlanta provides the best example of the failure and duplicity of the Black leadership class and its idea of economic development.
In 1968, when Black sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike for safer working conditions, decent wages and the right to have their union recognized, Black ministers, joined by many others, marched with the strikers. Eight years later, in Maynard Jackson’s Atlanta, nurturing of millionaires and the business class took precedence over addressing the challenges of ordinary people. The city’s Black mayor, rallying white business leaders and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, fired more than a thousand city employees to crush a strike that resulted when he refused to honor prior pay raises for Black men who picked up the city’s garbage.
The economic justice agenda of King-era prophetic leadership was discarded and the concerns of the new Black political and business-class were largely limited to self-serving priorities. The demand for societal economic justice was replaced by a quest for “community economic development,” which usually really meant creating Black millionaires. It is now indisputably clear that economic development as preached, practiced, and administered by our African American business and political elite does not lead to economic justice.
New economic development models that benefit Black communities can only come from new conversations and new commitments in those communities. Yet, there is no place for such conversations in most cities where broadcast and print media have all but closed the public spaces for intra-community discussion of key concerns.
If poverty and lack of decent housing are problems, what are the solutions? To educate, train and create opportunities for the poor? Rehabilitate and rebuild affordable housing? Or, to simply to demolish the housing and disperse the people? Under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, the government has consistently pursued a policy of demolition, dispersal and de-concentration of poor and Black neighborhoods.
Most of our Black leadership class is unable to think outside of the box on privatization, special de-concentration and public subsidies for gentrification, in significant measure because of pressure by corporate America, mainstream media and the need for campaign contributions. Economic empowerment of inner cities and other Black communities demands political will, visionary thinking and community organizing. It requires serious, spirited, on-going discussions within and across Black socioeconomic levels and holding Black leadership accountable.
Black people must accept the challenge and force substantive, community-oriented change in Black leadership or continue to pay the exorbitant, devastating price.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.