There is growing talk among Blacks about the need for presidential accountability. Fine, but such banter usually sidesteps an equally important concern, i.e., lack of accountability by Black elected and other public officials and also reflects constituents’ acceptance of ineffective and unethical leadership. The prevailing self-serving (rather than group-oriented) leadership model is clearly not in Black s’ best interest.
Many consider challenging Obama’s decisions sacrilegious and some even act as though he is an icon, above criticism. Still, Blacks seem increasingly willing to offer honest criticism.
National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial has challenged President Obama to deal specifically and in more detail with Black concerns; Professor Cornel West urges Blacks to give “critical support” to Obama; and other prominent figures suggest even while working on the president’s behalf, people have the right to advocate for specific Black interests. Leaders also have a responsibility, not only for developing political goals and strategies, but to build agendas based on mutually agreed on principles and priorities.
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 as Dr. Ron Daniels points out, this was a rather naâ€¢ve belief, “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 others continue to mirror the pervasive (white) 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 lesson not yet learned, is that self-serving leadership meets leaders,’ not constituents needs first.
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 Black America remains fundamentally unchanged. Of course, there has been progress, such as a large increase in the number of Black elected officials, and more access, albeit insufficient, to better housing, employment and higher education. Still, the inner-cities remain killing grounds where Black-on-Black violence and crime are etched in the landscape, schools still fail to educate Black children and justice is scarcely more than symboic.
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?
Things are in some respects even worse today-damning testimony to both on-going racism and a complex, callous indifference among Blacks themselves. In a word, 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 will be an even more challenging future.
Who should be held accountable for reversing the prevailing debilitating conditions? The question is rarely satisfactorily answered. Too many Blacks believe Obama’s presidency means that problems heretofore intractable will now be solved. This is a pipe dream. Obviously 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. Obama is president of the United States, not Black America.
A general absence of Black leadership accountability is glaringly evident at the state and local level. In Los Angeles, for example, immigration , a huge issue with myriad public policy and human rights implications is not a priority for local Black elected officials: Their deafening collective silence is an abomination. (They seem oblivious to the fact that Los Angeles has more undocumented (Latino) immigrants than any other U.S. city.)
Where are sorely needed strategic Black leadership agendas that deal with the new demographics-and why aren’t Black communities demanding such leadership? Non-existent or ambivalent answers to such questions underscore the need for unity and actual accountability, both indispensible for Blacks’ survival and future success.