Donald Trump’s indescribably chaotic, insensitive and destructive presidency borders on surreal. But, how will Blacks in particular, navigate the increasingly hostile social, political and economic challenges it portends? Many, if not most of us, are more adept at perpetuating rather than alleviating a status quo that is not in our own best interests. Is it because, among many other reasons, the Black community overwhelmingly permits Black leadership, in general, to act in self-serving ways that do not actually benefit the community? Whatever the reasons, our people’s mindsets and behavior must change if things are to be different. Most likely, this will only happen when, collectively, we are sufficiently dissatisfied to think and behave differently. This is the quintessential but accomplishable challenge.
Today’s concerns are fundamentally the same as in the 1960s. But Black leadership’s silence on quality of life issues like education, poverty and unemployment is reprehensible. What happened to group-oriented, moral and ethical values, foundational for our past victories and successes? The short answer is that kind of leadership evaporated since the civil rights era partly because of the mythical and misguiding promise of integration. Still, why is accountability so lacking among Black leaders who operate with impunity even when their behavior is contrary to their constituents’ best interests? There is a stark difference between the rhetoric of accountability and on the-ground accountable and responsive leadership critical for Blacks’ forward progress. Accountability must be all encompassing and include not only leaders but voters, parents and ordinary people.
Recurrent themes in this column are highlighted because they are frequently neglected by the powers that be, as well as Black leadership and the Black community itself. Black leadership, violence reduction and education head the list of many critically important issues.
Black Leadership. Strong, ethical leadership is critical, but Black leaders tend to downplay their significance, by rationalizing self-serving agendas, after all, “whites do it.” The net result is that the community too minimizes the need for principled leadership. Calling a press conference does not make one a leader, nor does a Black face on television, Blacks on Face Book or Twitter. Do Black leaders have a sense of humility? Are they critical thinkers? Do they have vision? Do they have a sense of collective morality? These are questions that must constantly be put to our leadership, stressing they too are accountable to the Black community.
An infusion of commitment and sustainable integrity will likely come initially from those willing to take risks, have non-traditional backgrounds and therefore more likely to challenge current leaders’ priorities and broaden their scope and effectiveness. Youth, poor folks, and gang bangers too should be involved if they are interested in real change and willing to work to achieve it. All factions would be invaluable to an expanded Black leadership cadre.
Effective leadership calls for new thinking, strategies that take into full account ongoing systemic oppression and the need for top-down-bottom-up accountability. (The jury is still out on whether President Obama himself embraced these criteria and/or should have been held accountable for doing so. Another expressed concern: Was president Obama more responsive to groups like Latinos and the LGBT community than Blacks? Many insist he was not.
Reducing Violence. Violence reduction is urgently needed to improve the quality of life in Black communities, especially in the inner-cities. But the need extends far beyond the inner-city and gangs; it requires reassessing current values, some of which perpetuate violence and materialism while minimizing humane, group-oriented solutions. Violence and values are inversely correlated: the stronger positive human values, the lower the potential of violence.
Education: Education remains the single most important avenue for a child’s achieving his/her potential. A quality education is critically important for low achievers, especially since Black children have always been disproportionately represented in the lowest achieving group. Sadly, public education has failed these students with impunity. Further, neither Black leadership, parents nor the broader community has consistently demanded Black students receive an education that prepares them for a career or higher education. Systemic negligence and violence is also reinforced by a telling silence, not only of leadership but by those whose children are most adversely victimized. As the late professor Derrick Bell reminded us, Black children remain, “Faces at the bottom of the well.” Collectively, we must chart a new course for their future.
Another poignant example of the need for actual change: The Los Angeles Unified School District initiative designed to focus exclusively on helping African American students, the African American Learners Initiative, morphed into, a gutted alternative, titled, “A Culturally Relevant and Responsive Education That Benefits African American Students and All Other Students.” (Note the political addendum, “and all other students,” which removed the singular focus on Black students.) The bastardized program still struggles to survive as an insufficiently funded priority. District-authorized monitoring reports on the program contained important, but unheeded, critical observations, analysis and recommendations. The Board of Education and administration virtually ignored these reports and continued to treat Black students as essentially, barely more than disposable commodities.
Black leadership, violence reduction and education are just three areas that represent critical challenges that must have principled, courageous responses but have received just the opposite. The Black community must meet its responsibility and demand public officials and Black leaders respond to the community’s needs rather than self-serving political agendas.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.