Recently, there’s been an alarming increase in the number of Black leaders, elected officials especially, convicted, charged with criminal violations or allegedly behaved unethically. The growing list extends from less known positions to the highest levels of state and local government in California--most recently, the office of a high-level county official. What’s going on?
The column has repeatedly asserted that the fundamental reason for poor Black leadership is the lack of moral and ethical values these days. The recent spike in criminal and ethical violations reminds us of the need to periodically revisit the root of the problem: The prevailing, individualistic and materialistic leadership model does not benefit the Black community and its leaders must again embrace moral and ethical values and principles that are indispensable for principled and effective leadership. Today’s column revisits some ramifications of this issue.
Challenges constantly collide and collude, impeding Black progress. Blacks’ seemingly endless struggle for justice could have proved fatal long ago but for their storied resilience. However, resilience is not enough and, in many ways, Blacks are mere shadows of their past , true potential.
Self-serving leadership, and its cohort, disunity, virtually ensure ineffectiveness and mean Blacks strength remains far from commensurate with their numbers in the population. It also means moving from individual to group-oriented leadership is essential so that collaborating with others is from positions of strength, not weakness. Sadly, Black leaders often appear to lack the will and/or integrity to do what is necessary to meet the needs of their constituents who must not only encourage, but demand that their leaders do so.
The ethical and political teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, for example, have become dim memories and, as Black commentator Bruce Dixon intones, “Many Black leaders are unwilling or unable to defend the opportunities that made their emergence possible.” Although individualism and materialism are contrary to Blacks’ best interest, the community itself has failed to hold Black leaders accountable, so they do whatever they do with impunity.
Poverty, excessive violence in Black communities, unemployment and failing educational systems are all major problems, but many, if not most Black leaders fail to tackle these things head-on. Having internalized America’s values without full access to its benefits, they tend to function in ways often inimical to the interests of those they are entrusted to serve.
Here’s Tim Wise’s cogent example of white privilege: “When you can claim that being mayor of a small town, governor of a sparsely populated state and chief advocate for the obscene Tea Party makes you ready to be president and people don’t soil themselves with laughter, it can only be attributed to white privilege.”
In Los Angeles, as in other large cities, schools dp not educate Black students whose neighborhoods are often high on the list of high poverty and homicides. However, based on their (non) response, Black leaders seem either uninterested or unable to deal with these and other tough race-related challenges.
These days, Black leaders perceptions of key issues are starkly different than in the 1960s when freedom and justice were the dominant unquestioned goals. Today, civil rights violations are still common but Blacks have abandoned the fight for freedom and justice because they kid themselves into believing everything is fine, which is light years from the truth. Like all others, Blacks differ substantially among themselves, not just over how to solve these problems but on the definition of the problems as well. Differences are perhaps most glaring in the views and the chasm between today’s middle-class and poorer Blacks, making it much harder to navigate an already unequal playing field.
The deceptive but soothing myth of the impact of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education and subsequent passage of civil rights laws lulled many into believing Blacks have made it. Of course, we were never really of one voice, even in the civil rights era, but Blacks throughout history have, when necessary, pulled together, committed and resilient to survive and succeed. Now, however, traditional civil rights organizations struggle to engage their constituents and depend substantially on corporate money. In Los Angeles, the NAACP, Urban League, SCLC and CORE are struggling to regain their relevance and credibility. The task is even greater because the Black community itself is asleep when it comes to understanding the continuing need to advocate for full civil rights.
Leadership is the lynchpin for change but sadly, too many Black leaders are neither effective nor accountable. New, courageous group-oriented approaches are necessary and although elected officials are most often singled out for criticism, all Blacks in leadership positions must be held accountable.
Arguably, slavery’s tentacles (negative mindsets) continue to impede Blacks’ efforts to come together. and their progress is further impaired by self-serving opportunists masquerading as bona fide leaders. However, if our leaders continue to emulate the white majority’s leadership model without proper regard for the needs of their constituents, doomsday predictions will have been proven correct and Blacks’ future would indeed be bleak. This will not happen, but to squash this totally unacceptable scenario, a new Black leadership vanguard must chart a course that actually empowers our long maligned but singularly deserving people.