Black Leadership: Toward Unity and Progress
Challenges constantly collide and collude, impeding Black progress. Blacks’ seemingly endless struggle for justice could have proved fatal long ago but for their storied resilience. But resilience is not enough and in many ways, Blacks are mere shadows of their true potential.
Ineffective, self-serving leadership and its cohort, disunity, have ensured that Blacks’ strength is not commensurate with their numbers in the population. Moving from an individual to group-oriented leadership approach is essential so that collaborating with others is from positions of strength, not weakness. Black leaders too often seem to be self-serving and lack the will and/or integrity to take risks necessary to meet the needs of their constituents.
The ethical and political agendas of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are dim memories, and as Black commentator Bruce Dixon intones, “Many Black leaders are unwilling or unable to defend the opportunities that made their emergence possible.” Strictly emulating whites’ individualism and materialism is contrary to Blacks’ best interests but constituents themselves often fail to hold Black leaders accountable so they continue to do whatever they please, with impunity.
Poverty, excessive violence in Black communities, unemployment and failing education systems are obviously major problems, but what are the solutions? Many Black leaders fail to tackle these problems head-on: Having internalized America’s values with limited access to its benefits, and operating in the perpetual context of white privilege, they tend to function in ways inimical to the interests of those they are supposed to serve. Here’s author Tim Wise’s cogent example of white privilege: “When you can claim that being mayor of a small town, governor of a sparsely populated state and chief advocate for the obscene Tea Party makes you ready to be president, and people don’t soil themselves with laughter, it can only be attributed to white privilege.”
It’s no secret that In Los Angeles, as in other core urban areas, schools fail Black students and Black neighborhoods are high on the lists of homicides and other serious crimes-and predictably, Blacks were prime victims of the housing mortgage crisis. However, based on their (non) response, Black leaders appear to be uninterested, or unable, to deal with these and other tough race-related challenges.
Perceptions of today’s Blacks on political and economic issues are starkly different than in the 1960s when freedom and justice were the pervasive, unquestioned goal. Today, civil rights violations are still common, but many have abandoned the fight because they now have more costumes to wear and more discretionary funds. Blacks differ substantially among themselves, not just over remedies, but these days, even on the definition of problems; the differences are most glaring in the chasm between today’s middle-class and poorer Blacks’ making it much harder to navigate the already unequal playing field.
The soothing myth of Brown vs. Board of Education and passage of civil rights legislation have lulled many Blacks into believing that they have it made. Although never totally of one voice, even in the 1960s, Blacks throughout history have functioned as a chorus, committed to remain in the same key. Now however, traditional civil rights organizations struggle to expand their grassroots constituents and depend substantially on corporate money. (The LA Urban League’s largely corporate funded “Neighborhoods Work” initiative is a comprehensive effort to improve conditions in a 70-block area in South Los Angeles that includes Crenshaw High School and focuses on employment, safety, education and economic development. Hopefully, this project will have sustainable, positive results, but the jury is still out.)
Leadership is the lynchpin for change but, sadly, too many Black leaders are neither effective nor accountable and new, courageous group-oriented approaches are necessary. (Although elected officials are most often singled out for criticism, all Blacks in leadership positions should be held accountable.)
Arguably, slavery’s tentacles continue to impede Blacks’ efforts to come together and Black people’s progress is further impaired by self-serving opportunists masquerading as bona fide leaders. However, if such leaders continue to emulate whites without proper regard for the needs of those they are entrusted to serve, doomsday predictions will have been correct and Blacks’ future is indeed bleak. To offset this totally unacceptable scenario, a new Black leadership vanguard must chart a course that actually empowers their long maligned but singularly deserving constituents.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.