Accountability is Only a Rhetorical ImperativeÂ Â
Talk’s growing among Blacks about presidential accountability. However, such banter skirts an equally important long-standing issue: Lack of accountability by Black elected and other leaders which, in turn, reflects constituents’ failure to hold them accountable. Self-serving, rather than group-oriented, leadership has proven to be inimical to Blacks’ interests.
Many Blacks consider challenging Obama’s decisions sacrilegious; more than a few regard him as an icon. However, Blacks are increasingly concerned about his decisions and should be just as concerned about ineffective Black leadership in general.
Â National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial challenged President Obama to deal specifically, and in more detail, with Black concerns; Professor Cornel West urges Blacks to give informed “critical support” to Obama. Other prominent figures suggest even while working on the president’s behalf, people have the right to advocate for specific Black interests. And the same applies to Black leadership that often seems to forget their primary responsibility is to stakeholders and that that requires a group orientation.
After the 1960s, the prevailing assumption was that electing Blacks to political office would lead to an improved quality of life in our communities. But this was a rather naâ€¢ve belief. As Dr. Ron Daniels points out, “…Simply replacing White faces with Black faces in old places did not (and, does not), translate into social justice and social change.”
While many Black elected officials do honor their pledge to represent constituents’ interest, too many continue to mirror the pervasive (White) leadership model based primarily on self-aggrandizement and lacking the consciousness to effectively utilize public office as a vehicle for Black empowerment. As a result, the dictum, “Blacks should have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests,” remains hollow rhetoric. The truth is, self-serving leadership is just that; it meets leaders’ needs, not those of constituents.
Greater accountability and Black strategic alternatives are closely related. However, since the civil rights era, efforts to build a “Black agenda” have not succeeded and their fundamental needs and concerns are largely unchanged. Of course, there has been progress, such as a large increase in the number of Black elected officials, and greater access–albeit insufficient–to better housing, employment and higher education. Still, inner-cities remain killing grounds where Black-on-Black violence and other crime are etched in the landscape, schools still fail to educate Black children and justice remains scarcely an inch more than symbolic.
The preamble to the National Black Agenda adopted in Gary, Indiana in 1972 (the last best attempt at nationwide unity) asserted, “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”. The schools are unwilling or unable to educate our children for the real world of our struggles.” Sound familiar?
In some respects, things are even worse today-damning testimony to both on-going racism and a complex, callous indifference among Blacks themselves. We are complicit in our own oppression. And the growing chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks aggravates an already strained, at times contentious relationship. Now, fewer and fewer Blacks are directly involved in concrete efforts for change- an ominous sign for what is an even more challenging future.
Who should be held accountable for reversing current debilitating conditions? The question is rarely answered. For example, far too many Blacks believe Obama’s presidency means that problems, heretofore intractable, will now be solved. This is a pipe dream. Although a sea change from George W. Bush, Obama has no magic bullet and unless Blacks hold him, and themselves, accountable they will get very little from his administration. Barack Obama is president of the United States, not Black America.
A general absence of Black leadership accountability in California is glaringly evident at the state and local level. In Los Angeles, immigration is a huge issue with myriad public policy and human rights implications, yet is not a priority for Black elected officials: Their deafening collective silence is an abomination. They act as though they are oblivious to the fact that Los Angeles is more diversified and probably has more immigrants–documented and undocumented–than any U.S. city.
Where are Black leadership’s strategic agendas (there is no single Black Agenda) to deal with the new demographics, the economic meltdown, schools that continue to fail Black students, etc. Why aren’t Blacks themselves demanding effective, committed leadership that addresses these problems? The ambivalence and silence of Black leaders and stakeholders underscores the need for unity and greater accountability indispensible for both survival and future success.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.