Currently, Los Angeles’ Black city council members actually seem to be working together which hadn’t happened for some time. A telling example of past negativity was the fight between the three Black council members over redistricting following the 2010 census; it lacked civility and any semblance of common ground. But it highlighted the lack of unity among Black leadership that has become more the norm than the exception throughout the U.S. Disunity among its leadership also mirrors the lack of cohesiveness and common ground in the Black community. And Black people’s failure to hold its leadership accountable tends to perpetuate conditions inimical to their own interests.
The negative implications of disunity are clear though largely ignored even though now, more than ever, Black unity on political, economic and public policy issues is crucial-not just for forward progress, but our very survival. Today’s column takes a closer look at Black disunity and the need to come together to develop strategic alternatives for concrete sustainable change.
Barack Obama’s presidency has had little, if any effect on the lack of unity among Blacks whose attitudes and behavior tend to reinforce a status quo that has never accorded us full rights and privileges. Proposed solutions must begin with acknowledging that the current pervasive lack of unity is lethal and if continued, could result in the virtual downfall of the race. (A scarred collective psyche heads the list of unacknowledged and unattended obstacles to attaining not only sustainable political and economic success, but our full potential as a people.)
Blacks’ disunity involves a broad denial of the significance of race. A reasonable argument: Until whites see their own well-being threatened by the status quo, Blacks will remain spectators rather than equal participants in the political power equation. A critical challenge, therefore, is for Blacks themselves to develop strong unified political influence that causes such a threat.
The late Derrick Bell reminded us that enslaved Blacks managed to retain their humanity and faith and that pain and suffering were not the extent of their destiny. Today, mutual respect and shared responsibility is lacking among too many Blacks. (An additional aggravating factor, these days, is the wrongheaded chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks making sound remedies all the more difficult.)
The genesis and continuing impact of Blacks’ disunity is evident to those who view America’s history with even a modicum of sophistication. Racism has always marginalized Blacks and excluded us from circles of power. But, as Bell said, “Blacks can find inspiration and unity in the lives of those who defied death and extinction as slaves and freed men, insisting on their humanity despite society’s consensus that they were an inferior people.” That kind of unfailing hope and resilience must be rekindled among Blacks today.
Professor Adolph Reed’s provocative analysis of race and disunity suggests that egalitarianism appealed to both civil rights activists and corporate America because it did not really challenge capitalism. Interestingly, Reed maintains capitalism stressed the immortality of racism and segregation and he asserts that Black opposition in the 1960s was integrated into the system in a way that strengthened, not challenged it.
Dr. Cornel West regularly weighs in on race and Black disunity. He argues a byproduct of racism and a major barrier to Black survival and progress in America is, “…… loss of hope and absence of meaning… Many Blacks now reside in a jungle with a cutthroat mentality devoid of any faith in deliverance or hope.”
Each of these scholars forcefully articulates the need for Blacks to debunk the internalized, debilitating myth that race no longer matters. They also emphasize racism and Black unity must be at the center, not the periphery, of strategic alternatives to the status quo. And, that such strategies must stress that moral and ethical values and top-to-bottom accountability are foundational for actual change.
Disunity and ineffective leadership typically occur with impunity, which not only perpetuates, but aggravates the substandard conditions which far too many Blacks must endure. Public conversations about alternatives to Black disunity are rare, probably because in order to be effective, such dialogue requires honesty and a real desire for change, both of which are in short supply. Witness the iconic euphoria over Obama’s presidency and his race-neutral performance. Both tended to reinforce, not change Blacks’ plight. Yet, to even objectively critique Obama’s performance for most Blacks is still sacrilegious. Also, the growing divide between middle-class and poorer Blacks makes holding Back leadership and intragroup collaboration harder than ever. Effective leadership is essential for reversing the pervasive disunity among Blacks. However, as long as Black people persist in emulating whites’ individualistic and materialistic values, the widespread lack of unity will persist and continue to make us complicit in our own oppression.
Many Blacks are unaware of their true history in America which is replete with Black pride and perseverance that enabled our forbearers to overcome indescribable brutality and systemic scorn. Sadly, these characteristics are rare today, especially in Black leadership.
Proposed solutions must first acknowledge the lack of unity among Black people. This can lead to alternatives unapologetically designed to benefit the Black community. The disunity, which stems chiefly from Blacks having internalized European individualistic and materialistic values, can be reversed but requires renewed self-respect and moral and ethical group-oriented values driven by a revived unity among Blacks themselves.