The word “accountability” is used so often and indiscriminately, it has become a meaningless buzz word, especially for those in leadership positions. Today’s column again examines the implications of a disconnection between the rhetoric and reality of accountability among African Americans leaders, especially. (The definition of accountable includes “obliged to account for one’s acts…and accepting responsibility for one’s actions or inactions.”) The discussion, while general, applies to Black leadership accountability at virtually every level- elected officials, civic leaders, leaders of community and neighbor groups and organizations, the press, educators and even to gang leaders- all relate to the forward progress, or lack of same, of the Black community.
Accountability is most often mentioned when describing the performance of elected and/or appointed public officials. However, the Black community’s failure to recognize and acknowledge the need for broad, overall accountability absolves everyone, leadership in particular, from responsibility, for their actions, even when such actions are not in Black people/s best interest. The continuing lack of accountability by so many of its leaders aggravates the very conditions that tend to block Black’s forward movement.
For Blacks, the most egregious effect of a lack of leadership accountability is the resulting tendency to perpetuate a status quo that, by practically any measure, does not benefit the Black community. And widespread lack of accountability continues, with impunity, in most Black communities where outrage over unacceptable conditions is typically episodic, only a moment, not the start of sustained, collaborative protest. This column posed the question whether there would be sustainable accountability following Trayvon Martin’s murder, and many since. Was it really a spark that would ignite sustainable protest or simply another opportunity, wasted?
Certainly, The Black Lives Matter movement is thus far, meeting the sustainability criteria. Hopefully, it will turn out to be a major incubator for broad Black united front,, i.e., unity with diversity, based upon explicit common ground.
Of course, accountability begins by meeting one’s individual responsibility. For Blacks in general, it also means rejecting individualism and materialism and returning to self-determined moral and ethical values that are fundamental to our collective future.
A simple example of a lack of individual responsibility and accountability: A person in a particular group says he/she accepts the group’s purpose and objectives, but regularly fails to attend meetings or respond to meeting notices. This may, or may not, indicate a lack of interest or concern, but such behavior does indicate that attending the group’s meetings and/or responding to the group’s requests to do so, is not an immediate priority. Depending on the group, such behavior could be contrary to its purpose and rules and even inconsistent with the person’s professed “buy-in” to the group’s mission.
This example may seem trivial, but I would argue that it is a snapshot of what occurs all the time and sometimes with serious negative consequences for the person or the group. I’m sure those who have worked extensively with a group to develop common ground and/or unity on important issues like police abuse, education and politics, resonate with this mundane example and have no trouble supplying their own accounts about the contradictions of individuals’, and groups’, stated priorities versus their actual behavior.
This discussion also relates to problems and adverse conditions effecting Black folks that are often swept under the rug when they should be dealt with honestly. Reality is both plus and minus, and soft peddling tough issues distorts the truth which often has serious negative implications. This is especially true in the social justice arena where seemingly trivial matters can derail a group’s plan, project or even its credibility.
These days, Black leaders tend to overemphasize the “positive” (often code for maintaining the status quo) while downplaying the need to challenge continuing barriers to Blacks’ progress. And such sugar coating often correlates with their lack of accountability. Further, failure to deal honestly with both positives and negatives makes it virtually impossible to effectively challenge racism and race-based inequities or hold the “system” accountable. It also obscures Black people’s responsibility to hold their own leadership accountable.
Although brutally enslaved and stripped of family, values, language and culture, Blacks are arguably, the most resilient people in history. But too many of us are complicit in prolonging our systemic oppression by failing to honestly and consistently challenge barriers to civil rights, social justice, and most important, for us, human rights. Lasting solutions to the 21st Century’s daunting (mythical “post racial”) challenges require that we re-dedicate ourselves to respecting one another and work together for real change, anything less will not get the job done.
Accountability should always be a top-down, bottom-up proposition. It starts with parents exercising greater responsibility, respect and control of their children and then, holding ourselves and Black leadership, especially in schools and, accountable at every level, as mentioned earlier. This necessitates deliberately rejecting America’s individualistic and materialistic values, then (or simultaneously) again embracing moral and ethical group- oriented values. This will happen as Blacks become sufficiently dissatisfied to feel and behave differently. It also requires taking new risks, and having broad-based support indispensable for achieving sustainable progress.
Black leadership accountability is about modeling ethical and moral behavior, as opposed to mouthing empty platitudes that perpetuate a status quo inimical to our own best interests. We must reclaim, internalize and actively represent the best of our great and proud heritage.
Larry Aubry: firstname.lastname@example.org