At first, many Blacks considered President Barack Obama an icon beyond reproach. Increasingly, however, the need for greater presidential accountability surfaced. But it skirted an equally important long-standing issue: A lack of accountability by Black elected and other leaders that reflects the Black community’s conditioned reluctance to hold its leaders accountable. Traditional self-serving leadership has proven to be extremely hazardous for the Black community.
Initially, Blacks considered challenging Obama’s decisions sacrilegious, and more than a few continued to regard him as a hero beyond criticism. Although dissatisfied with some of his decisions, they did not demand he be held accountable. Leadership accountability is more important than ever, since 21st challenges now include a dangerously narcissistic U. S. president.
Even the politically cautious National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial early on challenged President Barack Obama to deal specifically, and in more detail, with Black concerns. Professor Cornel West consistently urged Blacks to give informed “critical support” to president Obama. And other prominent figures, supportive of the president, agreed he could have been more responsive to Black people’s concerns. But Black leaders also must be accountable, too many conveniently forget their primary responsibility is to constituents and stakeholders.
Since the 1960s, a prevailing (fallacious) assumption has been electing Blacks to political office, ipso facto, improves Black people’s quality of life. Not true. As Dr. Ron Daniels points out, “Simply replacing white faces with Black faces in old places does not translate into social justice and social change.”
While some Black elected officials do honor their pledge to represent all constituents, many continue to mirror the white/European leadership model which is based primarily on white privilege, individualism and materialism with no discernable commitment to use public office as a vehicle for advancing Black people interests, as well. As a result, the dictum, “Blacks should have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests” remains rhetoric not reality. Self-serving leaders cannot meet the needs of those they are entrusted to serve.
Greater accountability and the need for Black strategic alternatives are closely related. Since the civil rights era, however, efforts to build an overarching “Black agenda(s)” have floundered and the Black community’s fundamental needs and concerns have gone wanting. There has been some progress, such as a large increase in the number of Black elected officials and the growing Black middle-class. Unfortunately, this has not provided greater access to better housing, employment, higher education, etc., for poorer Blacks. And, in each of these areas, Blacks are still on the bottom. The needs of inner- cities, especially, remain neglected; violence among Blacks is falsely considered indelibly etched in DNA, schools still do not educate Black children and social and economic justice remain more symbolic than real.
The National Black Agenda adopted in Gary, Indiana in 1972 was the last best attempt at nationwide unity. Its preamble asserted, “Our cities are crime-haunted dying grounds. Huge sectors of our youth face permanent unemployment and 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.” Fundamentally, have things changed?
In some respects, things are worse today- damning testimony to both on-going racism, race-based discrimination and a conditioned, on the surface, indifference to adverse conditions among Blacks themselves. In fact we are, often complicit in our own oppression and the growing chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks add to an already dysfunctional relationship between the two groups. Sadly, fewer and fewer Blacks are directly involved in concrete efforts for change, an ominous sign for what is doubtless even far more serious challenges ahead.
Who should be held accountable for reversing current debilitating conditions for Black people? The question is seldom addressed, let alone answered. Black leadership must head the vanguard for change. Far too many Blacks believed Obama’s presidency meant problems, heretofore intractable, would be solved simply by his being in office, which of course, was a pipe dream. Although Obama represented a sea change from George W. Bush, even his staunchest supporters later conceded he had no magic bullet and they came to realize that unless they themselves held Obama accountable, they would get little from his administration. Of course, “Obama was the president of the United States,” but Blacks had both the right and responsibility to demand attention and resources commensurate with their needs.
A general absence of Black leadership accountability in California is evident at both the state and local levels. For example, immigration is a huge issue that affects Black Americans as well as Africans from the Diaspora. The issue has major public policy and human rights implications. However, until very recently, it was not a priority for L A’s Black leadership who had no choice but to join the national outcry for immigration reform. Los Angeles probably has more immigrants than any city in the nation, and political leadership’s collective silence was reprehensible.
What are Black leadership’s plans for the Black community? Obviously, there is no single Black agenda to deal with Trump, changing demographics, the global economy, schools’ continuing to fail Black students, etc. However, the Black community must always demand committed, effective leadership. The timidity and silence of Back leaders on key issues underscore the need for greater unity and leadership accountability; both are indispensable for Blacks’ survival and future success.