A lack of accountability among Black leaders stifles Blacks’ progress. And their usual silence on many important issues is egregious. Predictably, they do join in expressing outrage over blatantly racially motivated killings like that of Michael Brown by the police in Ferguson, Missouri. However, if the long-time pattern holds, the outrage will be episodic and not sustainable. Sadly, cops’ killing young Black men has become the norm, not the exception, and is tacitly accepted by both the establishment and the Black community itself. In Los Angeles, for example, Trayvon Martin’s execution by George Zimmerman-and countless other such executions -is a faded memory.
The lack of accountability extends far beyond racially motivated killings. In politics, for example, in the recent District 1 school board race in Los Angeles, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas attempted to buy the vote to elect a member of his staff. Their scurrilous tactics, if not illegal, were blatantly unethical and should be investigated by the City Ethics Commission and the state Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). In addition, Ridley-Thomas’s Super Pac, the African American Voter Representation Education Participation Project (AAVREPP) spent large sums of money on mailers/flyers supporting a political candidate which should also be part of the investigations. Shouldn’t he too be held accountable for hi transgressions?
There is growing talk among Blacks about presidential accountability, but such banter skirts the lack of accountability on the part of Black leaders, especially politicians. Even National Urban League president, Marc Morial, has challenged President Obama to deal specifically and in more detail with Black concerns. Others urge that Blacks provide only “critical support” to President Obama. Even his previous uncritical supporters now say everyone has the right to advocate for specific Black interests.
After the 1960s, the prevailing assumption was that electing Blacks to political office would lead to an improved quality of life in our communities, which was rather naïve. As Dr. Ron Daniels says, “Simply replacing white faces with black faces in old places does not translate into social justice and social change.”
Presumably, most Black elected officials do honor their pledge to represent constituents’ best interests, but too many have adopted the pervasive European leadership model based primarily on self-aggrandizement and materialism. That that does not auger well for addressing their constituents’ needs and certainly not for increasing Black empowerment. The dictum, “Blacks should have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests,” remains hollow rhetoric as self-serving leadership continues to be the order of the day.
Greater accountability and developing Blacks strategic alternatives are closely related. However, since the civil rights era, efforts to build a “Black agenda” have not succeeded and conditions, particularly in the inner cities, are largely unchanged. Of course there’s been some progress: The number of Black elected officials has increased greatly, there are more Black college graduates and greater access to better housing etc. Yet, inner cities remain devastated with the plight of poor Black people arguably worse than it was sixty years ago. For the poor, violence is still etched in the landscape, schools still don’t provide a quality for their children and justice is mostly symbolic.
The preamble to the National Black Agenda adopted in Gary, Indiana in 1972 included. “Our cities are crime-haunted dying grounds; huge sectors of our youth face permanent unemployment………Neither the courts nor prisons contribute anything resembling justice or reformation and the schools are unwilling or unable to educate our children……” Sound familiar?
The fact that conditions, for Backs are in some ways worse today is damning testimony to ongoing racism, ineffective leadership, and internalized European values that render us, in varying degrees, complicit in our own oppression. Also, the chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks means far fewer Blacks are directly involved in the continuing struggle for change- an ominous sign for what will very likely be an even more challenging future.
The question of who should be held accountable for bettering conditions for Blacks is rarely even posed, let alone answered. For example, many Blacks believed Obama’s presidency meant heretofore intractable problems would be solved. This was a pipe dream, and although a sea change from George W. Bush, Obama still does not distinguish sufficiently the disproportionality of Blacks’ problems. Unless they hold him and themselves accountable, they will see little from this administration.
In Los Angeles, immigration is a huge issue that seriously impacts the Black community. Yet, Black public officials, elected and otherwise, stay on the sidelines, seemingly oblivious to the implications of their collective silence for their constituents, especially those who face discrimination in finding and seeking jobs where immigrants routinely receive preferential treatment.
So what are Black leadership’s strategic agendas to deal with the new demographics, continuing police brutality, schools that fail to educate Black students, etc. And why aren’t Black people themselves demanding effective, committed leadership that addresses these problems? There are no easy solutions, but Black leadership and ultimately, the Black community itself, must constantly demand answers from those in power. Their unified action and accountability, based on explicit common ground, are indispensable for our future success and very survival.