The 21st century poses increasingly daunting challenges for Black Americans. Therefore, renewed principled leadership is required for sustainable solutions to current problems. Blacks’ individualistic and materialistic values mirror those of white America, even though they are contrary to Blacks’ own best interests.
In the near future, Blacks’ storied resistance, juxtaposed to a penchant in recent times, for not challenging barriers to their progress, will be seriously tested. Nonetheless, addressing this offsetting phenomenon is crucial if Blacks are to really take ownership of their future. Further, leadership’s moral and ethical values and courage are necessary for developing Blacks’ political strength, minimally commensurate with its numbers in the population.
A compelling question: How will Blacks navigate increasingly hostile political and economic environments since they seem to have become as adept at perpetuating as altering an oppressive status quo? The short answer: Their mindsets and behavior must change, which probably depends on a sustained dissatisfaction with existing conditions and a collective willingness to actually do something about it.
Today’s column focuses on three issues, which, among several others, are recurrent themes in this space; Black leadership, reducing violence in Black communities and the failure of public schools to educate Black children. These themes are periodically highlighted because of their importance and also because each has been grossly neglected by the nation, Black leadership and, unfortunately, by the Black community itself. Moral and ethical leadership are critical, but most Blacks tend to rationalize and downplay their significance. While emulating whites’ pervasive self-serving behavior, some Black leaders are known to exclaim, with impunity, “Whites do it, why shouldn’t we?” The ability to call a press conference does not make one a leader nor does a Black face on television or a Black’s voice on radio. Important questions: Are Black leaders group-oriented, do they have vision, are they critical thinkers, honest and caring? These days, such questions are rarely posed either by the media or the Black community.
New infusions of commitment and integrity will likely come from the efforts of those with non-traditional, more “progressive” backgrounds and therefore more likely to challenge Black leadership’s ineffectiveness. The mix will include youth as well as ordinary people interested in real change, willing to establish common ground and group-oriented strategies. Such folks are indispensable for ensuring new Black leadership cadres.
Effective Black leadership calls for new thinking and planning that take into full account oppressive underlying barriers to Black progress and recognition that top-down accountability is critically important. (Speaking of top-down accountability, the smart money says Barack Obama’s presidency’s significantly benefiting Blacks is a long shot.)
Violence-reduction is urgently needed to improve the quality of life in Black communities, especially in inner-city neighborhoods. Solutions require reassessing current public policies and practices that often perpetuate rather than reduce violence and minimize prevention and causal factors. (Violence and values are inversely correlated; the stronger the positive values, the lower the potential for violence.)
Education remains the single most important factor for realizing one’s potential. And obviously, quality schooling is critically important for Black children, the nation’s lowest academic achievers, especially in low-income areas. But public schools continue to fail Black students and they do so with impunity. And sadly, inequity and woefully inadequate resources remain a near-criminal norm. Further, Black leadership, parents and the broader community rarely come together to demand that Black students receive quality instruction and sufficient resources to meet their needs. Schools do not prepare them for good jobs or higher education. And systemic negligence continues, spurred by silence, even of educators and parents whose children are most affected by schools’ failure to educate their children. And yes, Black students are victims of institutional racism, and in the words of the late law professor Derrick Bell, they remain “faces at the bottom of the well.”
Finally, even the only Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) policy designed to focus exclusively on closing the achievement gap for African American students, (The African American Learners Initiative), out of public view morphed into “A Culturally Relevant and Responsive Education That Benefits African American Students and All Other Students.” The politically added addendum, “and all other students” was the death knell. Predictably, the bastardized initiative struggles to barely survive as an underfunded priority. District-approved Initiative monitoring reports contain important, though largely unheeded observations, analyses and recommendations. The bottom line is LAUSD continues to treat Black students largely as disposable commodities.
Leadership, violence-reduction and public education are just three areas of many that call for principled, courageous assessment and action but continue to receive virtually the opposite. This is totally unacceptable. More important, the Black community must meet its responsibility by demanding that its leaders respond to the needs of the community or be replaced. Black people must realize they themselves are the ones they have been waiting for and must begin anew to forcefully attack the barriers that continue to consign them to an inferior status.