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ACCOUNTABILITY VITAL BUT CANNOT BE ASSUMED
By Larry Aubry
Published January 21, 2016

Larry%20Aubry

Larry Aubry

Accountability has become a buzz word, especially for those in leadership positions. Today’s column examines some implications of the disconnect between the rhetoric of accountability and actual accountability among African Americans. (The definition of accountable includes “obliged to account for one’s acts”; accountability is accepting responsibility for one’s actions or inaction.) For purposes of this discussion, accountability applies to virtually all levels, e.g., from formal leadership positions to individual accountability for one’s own behavior.

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Accountability is usually mentioned in relation to elected or appointed public officials. However, failure to recognize and acknowledge the need for greater accountability overall tends to absolve individuals, groups and organizations of their responsibility to also be accountable. A lack of accountability contributes to the onerous conditions many of these same individuals and groups profess they are seeking to change.

For Blacks, the most egregious effect of a lack of accountability is the tendency to perpetuate conditions that, by any account, are not in their best interests. Further, this lack of accountability, though widespread, exists with impunity. Further, instances of sustained expressions of outrage over the lack of accountability are rare among Blacks even though they are probably the most victimized by its absence among white and Black leadership in America.

Accountability starts by meeting one’s individual responsibility which also relates to one’s values, caring, ethics and morality, none of which are popular topics of public discourse. Here’s a simplistic example of accountability beginning with the individual: Something seemingly as inconsequential as failing to return phone calls, for whatever reason, suggests returning the call is not a top priority. On a purely personal basis, this may be acceptable. But in a group or organizational context, the implications are far different and failure to do so is likely unacceptable, even detrimental to the particular group or organization.

A person with explicit membership in a group, i.e., accepting its purpose and objectives, who fails to respond to a request to meet with that group is another such example. This does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest or concern. It does, however, suggest that responding to the request is not the person’s immediate priority and is likely inconsistent with their stated “buy-in” to the group’s goals and objectives.

People may consider these examples trivial, but I would argue that they are snapshots that reflect behavior of far more serious consequence that occurs all the time, albeit in other more public venues. Those who have worked extensively with other Blacks to develop common ground and/or unity on important issues like values, politics, police abuse and education, will undoubtedly resonate with the above examples and have little trouble supplying their own experiences about the implications and contradictions of individuals’ stated concerns versus their actual behavior.

This discussion is intended to be descriptive, not judgmental, but it is important to describe things as they are because reality is not only plus, but both positive and negative. Overemphasizing or ignoring one or the other is not only inaccurate, but could be harmful and a disservice to a particular group or the community itself when the goal is to help bring about positive change.

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As mentioned earlier, many Black leaders do tend to overemphasize the easier, but false positives while minimizing continuing systemic race-based barriers to Blacks’ progress. For whatever reasons, this is a huge mistake. Among other things, it minimizes the continuing impact of racism and white privilege by failing to hold the “system” accountable. Just as important, it also fails to hold those in leadership positions accountable for actually representing the interests of their constituents and/or the Black community itself.

Although brutally enslaved and stripped of family, values, language and culture—arguably precisely because of this—many Blacks are complicit in prolonging their own oppression by not challenging the barriers to their economic and social progress. But this requires that collectively, Blacks see current conditions as challenges, not immutable obstacles.

For Blacks, in particular, accountability must become a top-down and bottom-up proposition, starting with holding the system accountable, then, parents exercising greater responsibility and control of their children and, ideally, will include Black leadership at every level. Obviously, this will require drastically different individual and collective mindsets. It also suggests that Blacks must become sufficiently dissatisfied in order to behave differently. And it means realizing that taking unaccustomed risks is indispensable for achieving sustainable progress and eventual success. Blacks’ storied resilience has served them well. However it is past time that they behave like their heroes of the past, not just talk about them. In other words, they must reclaim, internalize and actively represent the best of their proud history.

Fundamentally, accountability is about embracing moral and ethical values, not empty platitudes that perpetuate a status quo that is inimical to their own best interests. For Blacks, accountability includes rejecting individualism and materialism. It also means again embracing human values that reflect our best qualities and serve the long term interests of the Black community.

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Categories: Opinion

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