The horrific fight between Los Angeles’ three Black city council members over redistricting was totally void of civility and any semblance of positive common ground. It was a revealing, niggardly example of the current lack of unity among Black leadership that apparently has become more the norm than the exception. Unfortunately, it also mirrored in the broad disunity among Black people themselves. By failing to hold its leadership accountable, Blacks perpetuate conditions inimical to their own interests.
The negative implications are clear though largely ignored; now, perhaps more than ever, Black unity on political, economic and public policy issues is crucial-not just for forward progress, but our very survival. This column takes a closer look, from several perspectives, at Black disunity and the corresponding need to come together around strategic alternatives to the current precarious state of Black America.
Barack Obama’s presidency has had virtually no effect on the lack of unity among Black Americans whose attitudes and behavior tend to reinforce a status quo that never accorded us full rights and privileges. Proposed solutions should begin with acknowledging that the current pervasive lack of unity is lethal and if continued, will very likely result in the virtual downfall of the race. (A scarred collective psyche heads the list of unacknowledged and unattended obstacles to attaining not only sustainable political and economic success, but our full potential as a people.)
Blacks’ disunity involves denial of the significance of race and some argue that until whites see their well-being threatened by the status quo, Blacks will remain spectators rather than equal participants in the political power equation. A critical collective challenge, therefore, is for Blacks themselves to develop a strong political influence that results in such a threat.
The late Derrick Bell reminded us that enslaved Blacks managed to retain their humanity and faith and that pain and suffering were not the extent of their destiny. Today, civility, let alone humanity, is lacking among too many Blacks. (An additional aggravating factor these days, is the wrongheaded chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks that makes crafting sound remedies all the more difficult.)
The genesis and continuing impact of Blacks’ disunity is evident to those who view America’s history with even a modicum of sophistication. Racism has always marginalized Blacks and excluded us from circles of power. But, as Bell said, “Blacks can find inspiration and unity in the lives of those who defied death and extinction as slaves and freed men, insisting on their humanity despite society’s consensus that they were an inferior people.” That kind of unfailing hope and resilience is barely discernible among Blacks these days.
Professor Adolph Reed’s provocative analysis of race and disunity suggests that egalitarianism appealed to both civil rights activists and corporate America because it did not really challenge capitalism. Interestingly, Reed maintains capitalism stressed the immortality of racism and segregation and he asserts that Black opposition in the 1960s was integrated into the system in a way that strengthened, not challenged it.
Dr. Cornel West regularly weighs in on race and Black disunity. He argues that a byproduct of racism and a major barrier to Black survival and progress in America is, “…… loss of hope and absence of meaning… Many Blacks now reside in a jungle with a cutthroat mentality devoid of any faith in deliverance or hope.”
Each of these scholars forcefully articulates the need for Blacks to debunk the internalized, debilitating myth that race no longer matters. They also emphasize racism and Black unity must be at the center, not the periphery, of strategic alternatives to the status quo. And, that such strategies must stress that moral and ethical values and top-to-bottom accountability are foundational for actual change.
Disunity and ineffective leadership typically occur within impunity, which not only perpetuates, but aggravates the substandard conditions which far too many Blacks must endure. Public conversations about alternatives to Black disunity are rare, probably because in order to be effective, such dialogue requires honesty and a real desire for change, both of which are in short supply. Witness the iconic euphoria over Obama’s presidency and his race-neutral performance. Both tend to reinforce, not change Blacks’ plight, but to even critique Obama, for most Blacks, is sacrilegious. And the chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks makes holding Back leadership as well as in-group collaboration harder than ever. Obviously, effective leadership is essential for reversing the pervasive disunity among Blacks, but as long as Black leaders persist in emulating whites’ individualistic and materialistic values- with impunity- the widespread lack of unity will persist.
Many Blacks are unaware of their true history in America which is replete with Black pride and perseverance that enabled our forbearers to overcome indescribable brutality and systemic scorn. Sadly, these characteristics are rare among today’s Black leadership (and Blacks in general) because they have settled for specious materialism and further, too often display a callous disregard for the rights and humanity of others.
Proposed solutions must first acknowledge that lack of unity is a major problem requiring strategic alternatives, unapologetically designed to benefit America’s Black population. Further, 21st century Blacks’ serious lack of group pride and confidence, coupled with ineffective leadership, is clearly a formula for disaster. This can be reversed with remedies based on renewed self-respect grounded in moral and ethical values. Internalized Individualistic and materialistic European values-prevalent among both Black leaders and the Black community-must be replaced by moral and ethical, group-oriented values propelled by unity among Blacks themselves.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org