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African Americans’ interests are not well-served by partisan politics yet most are diehard Democratic Party loyalists. It doesn’t help that Black politicians also tend to be more loyal to the Party than their constituents.
Increasingly tough issues facing Blacks in the 21st century underscore the need for new and more effective leadership. It follows that new, community-oriented political and economic strategies are a must. And face it, partisan politics is neither designed nor particularly concerned with improving Black life.
Term limits have not changed the dynamics of money-driven electoral politics and the fat cats still win at the polls. The chief rationale for term limits was that elected officials tend to become ossified but have remained in office ad infinitum.
Have things really changed? Have term limits benefited Blacks? Many maintain term limits cause too rapid a turnover which does not allow sufficient time for elected officials to master “their craft.” Given the sorry track record of traditional Black politicians, local, state and federal, this allegation is almost laughable. In California, prior to term limits, Black elected officials were barely accountable; since term limits, has anything really changed? The traditional electoral charade has probably worsened and Jockeying for more open seats has actually increased the primacy of money. Candidates with the most money are virtually assured of winning, while substantive issues still get short shrift by aspiring office-holders.
When pressed, Black politicians will acknowledge the need for alternatives to traditional politics, but traditional, ineffective Black leadership remains the norm, not the exception. An especially glaring example of this was Representative Barbara Lee (Oakland) standing as the lone dissenter from the congressional resolution granting President George W. Bush carte blanche authority to wage war against “terrorism.” Her African American colleagues were silent. Later, they all concurred that Bush’s arbitrary, imperialistic war on Iraq was really terrorism of the highest order: Tens of thousands of lives were lost because of Bush’s cold arrogance.
Black leaders regularly invoke the deeds of famous leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, but rarely emulate their teachings. To the contrary, too many seem eager to accommodate those whose values, policies and behavior are contrary to their constituents’ best interests. Of course, the Black community shares responsibility for their leaders’ unacceptable behavior by failing to hold them accountable. Changing Black leadership requires re-examining and adopting different values, assumptions and strategies. Racial pride and responsibility are central in any new leadership model based on moral and ethical leadership. Another example of Black leadership’s failings is on stage at Democratic National Conventions; they make no forceful challenges to the party’s platform that is often of little, if any benefit for the Black community.
As mentioned, African American leaders tend to skirt issues such as moral, ethical and accountable leadership. They are largely locked into practices that help perpetuate, not alleviate, the status quo that is inimical to their own, and their constituents’ best interests.
In the latter part of the 19th century, middle-class Blacks called themselves leaders and were so considered by whites, which arguably, is still true. Middle-class Blacks are still principal beneficiaries of Black leaders’ agendas that more often than not, fail to give proper weight to poorer Blacks. Unless and until the diverse interests of all African Americans are addressed, their plight will likely stay the same. For Blacks, the political and economic implications of unequal public education, housing, employment, etc., are as ominous as ever. Therefore, it is imperative that African American leadership unifies around principles and operational priorities that actually address the needs of Black people, especially given today’s ever increasing challenges.
Among others, Dr. Cornel West’s thoughts on leadership are instructive in developing a new African American leadership paradigm- his controversial meanderings with Tavis Smiley, notwithstanding. West emphasizes the need to approach leadership from a historical perspective with the “politics of conversion” as central to such leadership. He says, “Love and care must be supported by, and accountable to, grass roots organizations,” adding that politics of conversion confronts the “self-destructive and inhumane” actions of Black people.
West’s leadership models include Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. He describes Jackson as brilliant and charismatic, “…….but at the expense of programmatic follow-through.” The broad failure in Black leadership, for Cornel West, creates a vacuum filled by sensationalistic Blacks with even narrower vision. The crisis in Black leadership contributes to political cynicism among Blacks, which is already promoted by America’s culture; he asserts, “Unless and until political priorities are determined by Blacks themselves, others without primary interests in African Americans will continue to chart their course.”
Blacks’ indiscriminate loyalty to the Democratic Party is not in their best interest but can only be debunked by a unified, more discerning Black leadership and better informed, politically involved Black community. Operating strategically from positions of strength is also necessary to effectively collaborate with other groups and essential for offsetting steadily changing demographics that have decreased Black’s political influence in urban areas throughout the nation.
How many of us are sufficiently dissatisfied, or otherwise motivated, to actually get involved in increasing Black leaderships’ effectiveness to ensure the future of the Black community itself?
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail