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These days Blacks wonder whether things will get any worse, because arguably, we are the ones most negatively affected by any measure of social, economic or political progress. So, will things get worse? I suggest they can, but needn’t; the major determinant is leadership. If Black leaders continue to emulate the dominant society’s individualistic, materialistic-based model, things will probably get worse. But should Black leaders engage in new, group-oriented thinking and again embrace moral and ethically-grounded values, Black life will likely improve.
Challenges and barriers constantly collide, impeding Blacks’ progress. The seemingly endless struggle for justice and equality would have proved fatal long ago but for our storied resilience. But resilience is not sufficient and Blacks are functioning as mere shadows of their full potential.
Ineffective, self-serving leadership and its cohort, disunity, render Blacks’ demands way short of commensurate with their needs and numbers in the population. Moving from individual to group-oriented leadership is essential, and collaboration 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 smart strategic planning and action designed specifically to benefit Black\ people.
The moral and economic agendas of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X have been discarded and, as Black commentator Bruce Dixon intones, “Many Black leaders are unwilling or unable to defend the opportunities that made their emergence possible.” Emulating Whites’ individualism and materialism is contrary to Blacks’ best interests, yet, the community fails to insist that its leaders seek alternative strategies that address their (constituents’) needs- and continue to do so with impunity.
Blacks themselves 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 head-on; having internalized America’s values with severely limited access to its benefits. (A cogent definition of white privilege by author Tim Wise (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, schools don’t educate Black students and Black neighborhoods frequently top the list of homicides-and Blacks are 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 virtually insoluble.
Perceptions of today’s Blacks and those in the 1960s related to political and economic issues are starkly different. Then, the clarion call was for freedom and justice. Today, although civil rights violations are still common, the primary victims have been abandoned and for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is 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 substantially among themselves on political and economic issues and remedies; but these days, they even disagree on the definition of current problems. The chasm between today’s middle-class and poorer Blacks, makes it even harder to navigate an already unequal playing field.
The soothing-for the nation- myth of Brown v. Board of Education and subsequent passage of civil and voting rights legislation have lulled many Blacks into believing they have made it and live in a post-racial society. Although never of one voice, even in the sixties, historically, Blacks united during crises and persevered despite massive odds.
Now, traditional Black civil rights organizations tend to distance themselves from the rank-and-file but depend heavily on corporate money. The rhetoric of concern has replaced most hands-on organizational efforts to secure full rights and sustainable justice and equality for those most in need.
Leadership is the lynchpin of sustainable change yet sadly, many Black leaders have been neither effective nor accountable to their constituents and new, group-oriented leaders are essential. And 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 -manifested in self-serving opportunists masquerading as bona fide leaders. If Black leaders continue to emulate white leadership models without access to comparable benefits, the naysayers will have been proven correct and the future is indeed bleak; the Black community must not allow this to happen. However, it is new leaders’ responsibility to disprove such a fatalistic prognostication by charting a course that actually empowers their much maligned, long-suffering constituents.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at