Today’s column deals with Black leadership as a backdrop to Trumpism, not with Trumpism’s broader implications which are currently the subject of countless media stories, op-eds and editorials, ad nauseam. It is more than ever, to recognize the need for a drastic change in Black leadership which unfortunately, for some time, can be characterized generally as ineffective and lacking accountability to all of its constituents. This also reflects the Black community’s failure to hold its leaders accountable.
How did Blacks regard Barack Obama’s leadership? Many if not most, felt challenging his behavior and/or his decisions sacrilegious; they considered him an icon, above criticism. That general feeling lasted until near the end of Obama’s presidency when many devotees finally confessed he was actually more concerned about the state of the country than the state of Black people.
Surprising many, National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial early on challenged President Obama to deal specifically, and in more detail, with Black concerns. Others like Professor Cornel West consistently urged Blacks to give informed “critical support” to the president. Many suggested, even while supportive of the president, people have a right to advocate for specific Black interests. That applies to Black leaders too, who often seem to forget Black people’s specific needs go wanting on their watch.
Since the 1960s, the prevailing assumption has been electing Blacks to political office leads to an improved quality of life in our communities. Not so. Dr. Ron Daniels: “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 all constituents’ interests, too many continue to mirror the pervasive European leadership model based on individualism and materialism that has virtually nothing to do with empowering Black people. Sadly, the dictum, “Blacks have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests,” remains essentially rhetoric not reality. Self-serving leadership is precisely what Blacks don’t need; they deserve, and must demand, leaders committed to meeting the needs of all of those they were entrusted to serve.
Greater accountability and Black strategic alternatives are closely related. But since the civil rights era, efforts to build “Black agendas” have failed and the Black community continues to suffer as a result. Yes, there’s been some progress, such as a large increase in the number of Black elected officials, the size of the Black middle-class and greater access, albeit insufficient, for greater access to better housing, employment, higher education, etc. (In each of these areas, Blacks remain on the bottom.) Inner cities remain killing grounds where violence and crime seem indelibly etched in the landscape for too many neighborhoods. There, schools still do not educate Black children and justice remains a slogan on police patrol cars.
The preamble to the National Black Agenda adopted in Gary, Indiana in 1972 was the last best attempt at nationwide unity. It 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.” Sound familiar?
In some respects, things are worse today- damning testimony to both ongoing racism, race-based discrimination and a conditioned callous indifference to adverse conditions among Blacks themselves. We have become complicit in our own oppression and this must cease. Examples abound, but a growing chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks is especially aggravating because sustainable change requires unity, a daunting but crucially important challenge.
Who should be held accountable for reversing the ongoing debilitating conditions for Black people? The question is seldom even addressed to Black leaders, let alone answered. Here’s an example: As mentioned, many Blacks believed Obama’s presidency meant that problems, heretofore intractable, would be solved simply by his being in office. Of course, this was a pipe dream. Although Obama represented a real change simply being Black- and compared to George W. Bush- even his staunchest supporters came to concede he had no magic bullet and many realized unless Blacks had at least attempted to hold held “their’“ president accountable, they would probably get very little from his Administration. Barack Obama was the president of the United States, but that did not absolve him of his responsibility to address the specific needs of all Americans, including Black Americans.
A general absence of Black leadership accountability in California is evident at all levels. For example, immigration has been a huge issue that affects Blacks disproportionately and has major public policy and human rights implications, yet was not a priority for Blacks on the LA City Council until very recently when the growing prominence of the issue apparently gave them no choice. Los Angeles arguably has more Latino immigrants than any city in the nation Yet the implications for Black residents and Black immigrants, of the collective silence of Black elected officials was unacceptable, to say the least.
What are Black leadership’s agendas for the Black community, especially now with Trumpism threatening more uncertainty and chaos for Blacks? First, we must demand greater accountability and effectiveness from leadership at all levels. The fence-riding and silence of Back leaders- and the Black community itself- underscore the need for a collective unity, a United Black front, essential for future success and survival of the race.