African Americans’ interests are not well-served by being overwhelmingly diehard Democratic Party loyalists. And it doesn’t help that many, if not most Black politicians seem to be more loyal to the Democratic Party than to their constituents.
Increasingly tough issues facing Blacks in the 21stcentury underscore the need for new and more effective leadership: It follows that new, client and community-oriented political and economic strategies are a must. Since partisan politics is neither designed nor particularly concerned with improving Black life, new thinking and new political alignments that better serve their interests are necessary.
Term limits have not changed the dynamics of money-driven electoral politics and the fat cats still win at the polls. The chief rationale for term limits was that elected officials tend to become ossified but still remained in office ad infinitum.
Have things really changed? Has term limits benefited Blacks? Many now maintain term limits cause too rapid a turnover which does not allow sufficient time for elected officials to master “their craft.” Given the sorry track record of traditional Black politicians, local, state and federal, this charge is almost laughable. In California, prior to term limits, Black elected officials were barely accountable; since term limits, has that really changed? The traditional electoral charade may have worsened since Jockeying for more open seats has actually increased the primacy of money. Candidates with the most money still almost always win, and key issues still get short shrift by both elected and aspiring office-holders.
When pressed, Black politicians will acknowledge the need for alternatives to traditional politics, but traditional, ineffective Black leadership remains the norm, not the exception. (An especially glaring example of this was Representative Barbara Lee (Oakland) standing as the lone dissenter from the congressional resolution granting President George W. Bush carte blanche authority to wage war against “terrorism.” Her African American colleagues were silent. Later, they all concurred that Bush’s arbitrary, imperialistic war on Iraq was itself terrorism of the highest order; tens of thousands of lives were lost because of Bush’s arrogance.
Black leaders regularly invoke the deeds of famous leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, but rarely emulate their teachings. To the contrary, too many seem eager to accommodate those whose values, policies and behavior are contrary to their constituents’ best interests. Of course, the Black community shares responsibility for their leaders’ unacceptable behavior because it fails to hold them accountable. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, changing Black leadership requires re-examining and adopting different values, assumptions and strategies. And racial pride and responsibility are central in any new leadership model which should grounded in moral and ethical values, not individualism and materialism. (A crass example of Black leadership’s timidity is evident at Democratic National Conventions; they make no forceful challenges to the party’s platform that is often of little, if any benefit for the Black community.)
Clearly, African American leaders tend to skirt issue of leadership accountability. They are largely locked into values and practices that perpetuate the status quo that is inimical to their own, and their constituents’ best interests.
In the latter part of the 19thcentury, middle-class Blacks called themselves leaders and were so considered by whites, which arguably, is still true. Middle-class Blacks remain the principal beneficiaries of Black leaders’ agendas that more often than not, fail to give proper weight to poorer Blacks’ issues. Unless and until the diverse interests of all African Americans are addressed, our plight will likely stay the same. For Blacks, the political and economic implications of unequal public education, housing, employment, etc., are as ominous as ever. Therefore, it is imperative that African American leaders unify around principles and operational priorities that actually address Black peoples’ needs. This is especially important given today’s increasingly complex challenges, including Trumpisim.
Among others, Dr. Cornel West’s thoughts on leadership are instructive in developing a new African American leadership paradigm- his previous controversial meanderings with Tavis Smiley, notwithstanding. West emphasizes the need to approach leadership from a historical perspective with the “politics of conversion” as central to such leadership. He says, “Love and care must be supported by, and accountable to, grass roots organizations,” adding that politics of conversion confronts the “self-destructive and inhumane” actions of Black people.
West’s leadership models include Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. He describes Jackson as brilliant and charismatic, “…….but at the expense of weak programmatic follow-through.” The broad failure in Black leadership, for Cornel West, creates a vacuum filled by sensationalistic Blacks with even narrower vision. The crisis in Black leadership contributes to political cynicism among Blacks that is already promoted by America’s culture; he asserts, “Unless and until political priorities are determined by Blacks themselves, others without primary interests in African Americans will continue to chart their course.”
Blacks’ indiscriminate loyalty to the Democratic Party is not in our best interest and can only be debunked by unified, more discerning Black leaders and a better informed, politically involved Black community. Also, operating strategically from positions of strength is necessary to effectively collaborate with other groups and essential for offsetting steadily changing demographics that have decreased Black’s political influence in urban areas throughout the nation.
How many of us are sufficiently dissatisfied, or otherwise motivated, to become actively involved in helping to ensure a better future for the Black community?