Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights-each period reflected the nation’s political and economic priorities. The current era’s description could include an annotation to the effect that Black leadership supported racial injustice by failing to vigorously challenge systemic barriers still confronting African Americans.
Black leadership impacts every aspect of life and individualistic, self-serving Black leaders typically shun any but mock accountability. Political and economic progress requires a leadership paradigm based on new values and ethics which is very threatening to those accustomed to operating unilaterally, with impunity. And communities keeping informed about important issues better enables them to hold Black leadership accountable. (Black leadership is a recurrent theme in this column because it is obviously central to Blacks either moving forward or falling further behind, politically and economically.)
How long will Blacks tolerate ineffective leadership? Short answer: As long as they remain uninformed and fail to hold their leaders accountable. The comprehensive answer includes other complex variables, such as psychological conditioning (Willie Lynch syndrome) and internalizing America’s values, despite limited access to America’s benefits. The continuing tragic fallout: Black “identity” and “unity” remain mangled mirages that serve to perpetuate the status quo.
During Post Reconstruction, Black leadership defined the interests of the “Black community,” named themselves leaders, and assumed to be so by Whites. In the past, as now, most of the benefits go to the middle-class; Black elitists, like their White counter parts, also denigrate poorer Blacks.
The 2004 Los Angeles Urban League/United Way of Greater Los Angeles report, “The State of Black Los Angeles,” underscores the need for effective Black leadership. Its crime data, no revelation to most Blacks, confirmed the obvious—Black adults and juveniles have arrest rates substantially higher than other groups. It also reported that Black and Latino drivers are searched by LAPD four times more often than Whites or Asians—but, only 38 percent of Blacks are found to be carrying illegal items, compared with 55 percent of Whites, 65 percent of Latinos and 54 percent of Asians.
Other findings about Los Angeles County include: Blacks have the lowest median income and although only 10 percent of the total population, represent 30 percent of the homeless population and they were also the targets of 56 percent of hate crimes; 44 percent of Black high school students failed to graduate with their class in four years. The premature death rate among Blacks is 40.6 per 100,000 population compared to 11 for Latinos, 4.5 for Whites and 3.8 for Asians.
The data has ominous implications and confirms the critical need for effective Black leadership in the 21st century.
Organized labor is also in need of stronger Black leadership: Notwithstanding the split within the AFL-CIO, a discernible Black unionist agenda is imperative. The relatively few Blacks at the table are apparently powerless to increase the number of Blacks in high-level, decision-making positions.
Other issues requiring strong leadership include immigration and Black-Latino relations. This is manifested in many ways, including physical confrontations between Black and Latino students in LAUSD high schools. Crisis-oriented only involvement by African American leaders masks oppressive systemic factors that impact both groups.
Police abuse continues to plague African Americans. The LAPD killings of 13-year-old Devin Brown and 19-month old Suzie Pena in 2005 are symptomatic of underlying factors that call for focused, effective leadership. (With the exception of Community Call To Action and Accountability (CCAA), Black leaders’ silence on these and subsequent police abuse cases, was, and is, reprehensible.
African American leaders rarely criticize media coverage—”mainstream” or “minority”—of issues concerning Blacks. LA Times’ King/Drew bias reporting is a case in point, but with few exceptions, Black leaders were silent. Nor do leaders denounce Black opportunists who sprint from press conference to press conference masquerading as community and civil rights advocates; in fact, they’re the Los Angeles Times’ double agents, peddling self-serving bilge.
California’s Legislative Black Caucus (mostly from Los Angeles) and Los Angeles’ Black Congressional delegation have also been phantom—like on many salient issues. Historically, the state Black Caucus has been dysfunctional, and Black congressional representatives often seem oblivious to the nexus between their responsibilities and concerns of their constituents.
There are no quick or easy answers for improving the effectiveness of Black leaders but a collective “time-out” to re-assess and devise new strategies and accountability is needed. Self-serving leadership is contrary to the community’s best interests and must be forcefully rejected. The nature and complexity of new issues require courage and renewed commitment from Black leadership Let’s hope they’re equal to the task.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail