Second of two parts
Poverty, violence, employment, failing educational systems and police violence against Black males, especially, are all major problems. However, for Blacks, what are the solutions? Having internalized America’s values without full access to its benefits, Black leaders tend to emulate white leadership in ways contrary to the interests of those they are entrusted to serve.
Black leadership’s challenges today are as great, if not greater, than ever because civil and human rights violations against Blacks continue unabated. And sadly, middle-class and high-income Blacks have generally opted out of the civil rights struggle even though their participation is indispensable for sustainable change. Nice homes, sending their children to better schools, enjoying more discretionary funds, etc., have clouded both their values and vision. Moreover, these days, Black people differ not only about remedies, but even on the existence and of extent of racism. These differences are also reflected in the chasm between today’s middle-class and poorer Blacks, making it even harder to navigate a race-skewed playing field that is as fertile as ever.
The assumed cure of Brown v. Board of Education and passage of civil rights legislation lulled Blacks (and many others, of course,) into believing race was no longer as significant a barrier it once was. Although never totally of one voice, Blacks throughout history nevertheless met major challenges with substantial accord. Now, traditional civil rights organizations struggle to simply maintain grass roots constituencies and are overly dependent on corporate dollars. Sadly, ineffective Black leadership also remains a major obstacle to Black people’s progress.
The following excerpts from Bruce Dixon’s “Failure of the Black Misleadership Class” are interspersed with my comments:
A cohort of Black business people and politicians who pass for African American leadership remains extremely problematic. For example, our leaders have failed to produce economic development models that benefit inner cities and poor Black enclaves. Not only is the Black leadership class unable to help create living- wage jobs for hundreds of thousands of Black families that desperately need them, it can’t even describe to the rest of America how this might be done. And Black leaders rarely emphasize the acute shortage of low- and moderate-income housing or publicly question programs that exacerbate that shortage. Nor have they consistently challenged the nationwide systemic imposition of separate and grossly unequal education—witness the disastrous application of high-stakes testing and implementation of the admittedly fussy, No Child Left Behind. Further, Black business and political leaders seemingly lack the will and/or courage to rally their constituencies against the growth of a racially selective corporate -controlled prison industry which has far-reaching economic and social consequences, particularly for Black youth.
With notable exceptions, Black public officials have been unwilling, or unable, to defend the very “democratic,” i.e., political openings that made their emergence possible. And many Black elected officeholders and appointees embrace and seek to profit from privatization. They have become willing accomplices in the spatial de-concentration and dis-empowerment of Black communities. Leading the nation in numbers of Black millionaires and ruled by Black mayors for more than 30-years, the city of Atlanta provides the best example of the failure and duplicity of the Black leadership class and its notion of economic development.
In 1968, when Black sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike for safer working conditions, decent wages and the right to have their union recognized, Black ministers, joined by many others, marched with the strikers. Eight years later, Maynard Jackson’s Atlanta, nurturing millionaires and the business class took precedence over addressing the challenges of ordinary people. A Black mayor, rallying white business leaders and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, fired more than a thousand city employees to crush a strike that resulted when he refused to honor prior pay raises for Black men who picked up the city’s garage.
The economic justice agenda of the King era prophetic leadership has long been discarded and concerns of the new Black political and business classes are largely limited to self-serving priorities. The demand for social and economic justice has been replaced by a quest for “community economic development,” that too often means assisting upscale Blacks, or no Blacks at all. It is now indisputably clear that economic development, as practiced and administered by the African American business and politically elite, does not lead to economic justice. New economic development models that benefit Black communities can only come from ethically and morally grounded conversations and new commitments starting in the targeted communities themselves. Currently, there are no such conversations in cities; social media, broadcast, and print media have all but eliminated public spaces for intra-community discussion of key concerns.
There are no easy solutions to issues like poverty, housing, jobs, police violence and ensuring Black children receive a quality education. Do we rehabilitate and rebuild affordable housing or simply continue to demolish housing and disperse people? Do we uncritically accept “education reform” that does next to nothing for Black children?
It is critically important that collectively, Black people organize and demand moral and ethical leadership. This is the only real alternative to this country’s individualism and materialism that has never met the needs of the Black community. Many may consider this naïve or unrealistic. However, any other alternative would perpetuate a social, political and economic status quo which was deliberately not designed to benefit Black people. Think about it.
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