Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era- each reflected America’s mood, race-based priorities, and Black’s resilience at the time. However, honest commentary on the early 21st century will note that its leadership failed to challenge lingering systemic, race-related barriers to Black’s political and economic progress.
Although leadership impacts every aspect of one’s life, self-serving Black leaders typically shun all but mock accountability. But political and economic progress also require leadership grounded in moral and ethical values. This is a tall order for the current crop of leaders who exemplify an individualistic, self-serving model that doesn’t necessarily meet the community’s needs. And they operate with impunity. The antidote is an informed, engaged community that holds its leadership accountable. (The need for effective Black leadership is a recurrent topic in this space because it is central to Blacks moving forward or falling further behind, politically and economically.)
How long will Blacks tolerate ineffective leadership? The short answer is, as long as they fail to hold their leaders accountable. The comprehensive answer must include complex variables such as psychological conditioning, e g., the Willie Lynch syndrome, and internalizing America’s values despite limited access to its benefits, which continues to yield tragic results. Mangled distortion of Black identity and unity only serves to perpetuate the status quo.
During post-Reconstruction certain Blacks defined the interests of the “Black community,” named themselves leaders and were assumed to be so by whites. Sadly, such leadership still exists and continues to dole out benefits chiefly to the middle-class who, increasingly, tend to distant themselves from poorer Blacks.
In 2004, a Los Angeles Urban League report, “The State of Black Los Angeles,” underscored the need for effective Black leadership. (Subsequent reports affirm its findings.) The crime data was, and is, no revelation because it confirmed what Blacks already knew, i.e., Black adults and juveniles have arrest rates substantially higher than other groups, that Black and Latino drivers are searched by LAPD cops four times more often than whites or Asians, while only 38% of Blacks were found to be carrying illegal items, compared with 55% of whites, 65% of Latinos and 54% of Asians.
Other , still relevant findings on Los Angeles County include: Blacks have the lowest median income, and though less than 10% of the total population, represent over 30% of the homeless population and are the prime targets (56%) of hate crimes. Forty-four percent of Black high school students fail to graduate with their class in four years and the premature death rate among Blacks is 40.6 per 100,000 population compared to 11 per population for Latinos, 4.5 for whites and 3.8 for Asians. Such research underscores the need for caring, effective Black leadership.
Another example of an area in need of strong Black leadership is organized labor that has only a token number of Blacks in decision-making positions. Black leaders should focus on issues like immigration and improving Black-Latino relations. The latter is especially important in prisons, schools and because of periodic violent confrontations between Black and Latino gangs. The “crisis-only” response of both Black and Latino leaders reinforces systemically caused conditions that negatively affect both groups.
Police abuse continues to plague African Americans with minimal response from its leaders. LAPD’s unwarranted killings of 13-year-old Devin Brown and 19-month-old Susie Pena in 2005, for example, are symptomatic of underlying factors requiring comprehensive, long term police reform. While Black leaders’ continued silence on egregious police abuse cases is also unacceptable, a pervasive “us-vs.-them” mentality continues by both the police and much of the Black community.
Black leaders rarely criticize media coverage, mainstream or minority, about important issues affecting Blacks. The LA Times series on Martin Luther King Hospital some years ago is a particularly glaring, but not infrequent, example of bias reporting, yet Black leaders were generally silent. Nor do they denounce Black opportunists who sprint from press conference to press conference, masquerading as community or civil rights advocates; some are also the L A Times’ designated Black community representatives but have neither a following nor the community’s respect.
There are no quick or easy answers for improving the effectiveness of Black leadership. Therefore, a “time-out” to reassess, devise new strategies and develop new accountability is sorely needed. Moreover, today’s issues require renewed courage and ethical commitment. Making this happen, however, depends on the Black community, collectively, keeping its leaders’ feet to the fire.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.