I’ve changed the title of this column from “Urban Perspective” to “A Black Perspective”, which the column has always been about. “Urban Perspective” was overly broad and reflected neither my intention nor my passion. Despite the old title, this space has unapologetically focused on how education, politics, economics and leadership issues impact the Black community and it will continue to do so.
The first barrage of obscene personal and political attacks on President Barack Obama came from Tea Party and conservative Republicans. Since then, there has been a growing feeling in the Black community, not to throw the President under the bus, but to routinely critique and when necessary, criticize and hold him accountable on key domestic and foreign relations decisions. No president should be given a free pass and despite the new calls for transparency, there is still much reluctance among Black elected officials and Black leadership in general, to hold this president accountable.
Actually, many Blacks apparently still feel that challenging Obama’s decisions is sacrilegious and still consider him an icon above anything even remotely smacking of criticism. Slowly, however, there is growing concern about his decisions, as well there should be. But Blacks should be just as concerned about ineffective Black leadership generally.
Some traditional leaders, including civil rights leaders, are questioning Obama’s policies and actions, albeit gently. For example, even National Urban League president, Marc Morial has challenged the President to deal specifically, and in more detail, with Black concerns. Professor Cornel West has, for some time, urged Blacks to give informed “critical support” to the President. Now, though supportive of him, many Black folks are saying people have a right, and even a responsibility, to unapologetically call on him to address their specific concerns. The same applies to Black leaders who often conveniently sidestep their chief responsibility which is to stakeholders, not self-serving personal agendas.
After the 1960s, a widespread assumption was that electing Blacks to political office would automatically lead to an improved quality of life for Black people. However, as has long been pointed out, “Simply replacing white faces with black faces in old places does not translate into social justice and social change.” While many Black elected officials do honor their pledge to represent constituents’ interest, too many continue to mirror the dominant leadership model that is based primarily on individualism and materialism. And unfortunately, the dictum, “Blacks have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests,” remains largely rhetoric not reality.
Greater accountability and effective Black strategic alternatives go hand-in-hand. However, since the civil rights era, efforts to build a “Black agenda” have not being sustained and the Black community’s fundamental needs and concerns remain largely unmet. There’s been some progress, such as a significant increase in the number of Black elected officials and greater access, albeit insufficient, to better housing, employment and higher education. Still, inner cities remain neglected; violence and hopelessness seem etched in the landscape, schools harm more than educate Black children and justice remains scarcely more than symbolic.
The preamble to the National Black Agenda, adopted in Gary, Indiana in 1972, asserted “Our cities are crime-haunted dying grounds. Huge sectors of our youth face prominent unemployment………Neither the courts nor prisons contribute anything resembling justice or reformation and the schools are unwilling or unable to educate our children for the real world of our struggles.” Sound familiar?
In some respects, things are worse today than forty years ago-damning testimony to ongoing racism and a complex, complicit indifference by Black leaders themselves. And these days, the divide between middle-class and poorer Blacks is greater than ever in history which aggravates an already strained relationship that ensures fewer and fewer Blacks will be actively involved in efforts for real change—an ominous warning for an even more challenging future requiring greater unity.
Far too many Blacks believed Obama’s presidency signaled problems heretofore intractable would be solved. Of course, this was, and is, a pipe dream. Although the President obviously represented a sea change from George W. Bush, he never had a magic bullet and unless Blacks hold him and themselves accountable for addressing their issues, they will continue to see very little from his administration.
A general absence of Black leadership accountability in California is evident at both the state and local levels. In Los Angeles, for example, immigration and education are key issues that have major public policy and human rights implications. Yet, they are not a top priority for local Black elected officials whose collective silence is barely less than an abomination. These officials appear oblivious to the fact that Los Angeles also has Black immigrants whose needs are not addressed in a city that may be more diversified and has more immigrants—documented and undocumented—than any city in the nation.
What are Black leadership’s strategies to deal with the urgency of current problems? Clearly, there is no single “Black agenda,” but Black people must demand effective, committed and ethical leadership as an alternative to current leadership models that do not benefit them. The acquiescence and silence of Black leadership- and the Black community itself- continues to underscore the need for greater unity and accountability indispensable for survival and future success.