New leadership is essential for developing the mindsets, unity and strategies necessary for sustainable community progress. This is a tremendously difficult task because of the self-deprecating conditioning suffered by both its leaders and the Black community itself.
These days, Blacks wonder whether things can get any worse because they are the ones systemically denied societal benefits, byany measure, of social, economic or political progress. So, will things get worse? They can, but needn’t; the major determinant is leadership. If Black leaders continue to emulate the dominant society’s individualistic, materialistic model, things will surely get worse. Butif Black leaders engage in new, group-oriented thinking and again embrace moral and ethicalvalues, the lives of Black people will improve.
Challenges and barriers constantly collide, which tends to impede Blacks’ progress. The seemingly endless struggle for justice and equality would have proved fatal long ago but for Black people’s storied resilience. But resilience alone is not sufficient and too many Blacks are functioning as mere shadows of their full potential.
Ineffective, self-serving leadership and its cohort, a lack of unity throughout the community, leave Blacks’ demands way short of being commensurate with their needs and numbers in the population. Moving from individual to group-oriented values and leadership is essential. Collaborating with other groups is wasted time and energy unless undertaken from positions of strength, not weakness. Moreover, Black leaders often seem to lack the will and/or integrity to come up with strategic planning and action designed to unapologetically benefit Black people.
The moral and economic agendas of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X have been largely discarded and, as Black commentator Bruce Dixon commented, “Many Black leaders are unwilling or unable to defend the opportunities that made their emergence possible.” Emulating Whites’ individualism and materialism, without full access to their benefits, is contrary to Blacks’ best interests. Yet, the Black community fails to insist its leaders re-examine their values and principles, and again employ alternative strategies that unapologetically address their constituents’ needs. Sadly, most Black leaders continue to downplay the needs and concerns of their Black constituents, with impunity.
Blacks often tend to leave nagging questions unanswered. For example, poverty, extensive violence in certain neighborhoods, unemployment, poor education, etc. are obviously major problems that most Black leaders fail to tackle, because, as mentioned, they have internalized America’s values without access to its benefits. Author Tim Wise’s definition of white privilege (2008): “When you can claim that being mayor of a small town, then governor of a sparsely populated state makes you ready to potentially be president (Sarah Palin), and people don’t soil themselves with laughter, and being a Black U.S. senator, two-term state senator and constitutional scholar means you’re ‘untested’.”
In Los Angeles, as in other urban areas, everyone knows, or should know schools don’t educate Black students and Black neighborhoods often top the list of homicides-with Blacks as primary victims. Judging from their response, however, too many Black leaders seem to have little interest in dealing with race-related challenges confronting their Black constituents. Apparently, they believe these problems are either not a high priority or are virtually insoluble.
Perceptions of today’s Blacks, and those in the 1960s related to political and economic issues, are starkly different. Then, the universal call was for freedom and justice. Today, although civil rights violations are still common, the primary victims (Blacks) have been abandoned and for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the middle class is better off financially, can afford more expensive trappings and tend to look down on their poorer brethren. Many act as though, “The play is over, the curtain has come down and I’ve got mine…. let them get theirs.’ Further, Blacks, like others, differ among themselves on political and economic issues and remedies, but these days-with the exception of Donald Trump- they even disagree on the definition of current problems. The chasm between today’s middle-class and poorer Blacks makes it harder to navigate an already unequal playing field.
The soothing cure all myth of Brown v. Board of Education and subsequent passage of civil and voting rights legislation lulled Blacks into believing they have made it and live in a post-racial society. Although never of one voice, even in the sixties, Blacks united during crises and persevered despite massive odds.
Now, traditional Black civil rights organizations seem to distance themselves from the rank-and-file while depending heavily on corporate money. The rhetoric of concern has replaced unapologetic efforts to secure full rights and sustainable justice and equality for those most in need.
Leadership is the key for sustainable change yet sadly, many Black leaders have become ineffective and/or unaccountable to their constituents. This makes new, group-oriented leaders an absolute necessity. Although Black elected officials are most often singled out for criticism, all Blacks in leadership positions must be accountable to those they represent.
Slavery’s tentacles still impede Blacks’ efforts to unify –often evident in self-serving opportunists masquerading as bona fide leaders. If Black leadership continues to emulate white leadership without access to their benefits, the naysayers will have been proven correct and the future will indeed be bleak. The Black community must not allow this to happen. However, it is Black leadership’s responsibility to disprove this fatalistic prognostication by charting a course that actually empowers their much- maligned, long-suffering constituents.