Things have gone from bad to worse. Twenty-first century problems portend even greater challenges for the future, but efforts to develop unity among Blacks typically end in useless rhetoric.
One reason Blacks have trouble agreeing on social and political agendas is the unwillingness of their leaders to set aside personal priorities and embrace group-oriented approaches. But having internalized America's values without full access to its political and economic benefits Black leaders, like many others, are reluctant to challenge the status quo.
In Los Angeles, pressing issues include persistent gang related problems and heavy violence in inner-city neighborhoods. Local law enforcement statistics indicating a dramatic reduction of homicides are misleading; pockets of violence, including homicides, still exist. In addition, problems such as racial profiling by the police and failing schools remain the norm. Still, Black leadership is painfully silent on these and other key issues.
Despite the Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) boastfulness, homicides have not been significantly reduced in certain South Central Los Angeles neighborhoods. (Black-Latino relations is another smoldering but unattended issue that could ignite at any time.)
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) continues to fail Black students despite the continuing efforts of concerned Black community groups and organizations. The Los Angeles Board of Education has yet to commit to actually providing the policy support necessary to improve Black students' education. Even David Brewer, the ousted Black superintendent, never seemed to understand Los Angeles' political landscape or have a clear vision of LAUSD's future. Like his predecessors, Brewer also failed to address the specific needs of Black students, the district's lowest achievers. (Most Blacks, blinded by color, enthusiastically embraced Brewer, at first. As it turned out, he was unable to run the nation's second largest school district.)
Black businesses, like most others, are striving to survive since the financial meltdown. Full employment and large scale community development remain pipe dreams, especially in the grossly neglected inner-cities.
African American leaders have also managed to skirt the thorny issue of immigration which stirs the seeds of Black distrust but has the potential to help improve Black-Latino collaboration. Too many Blacks sing the same song- that Latinos take their jobs and, "have taken over our schools." (Over 70% of LAUSD's students are Latino; that demographic alone should, but hasn't, caused Black leaders to develop a strategic, self-serving response.)
On the plus side, heavily Latino Local SEIU 1877 was the incubator for launching a new Black security officers' union and the County Federation of Labor has supported some efforts to increase Black union membership locally. However, the overall employment picture remains bleak and without effective Black leadership and a place at organized labor's decision-making table, the situation will not change appreciably. (The fledgling Black Workers Center deserves support as a potentially strong positive influence in recruiting and referring Black workers for "green jobs" in the Los Angeles area.)
Both Black and Latino leadership, when pressed, profess interest in working together, but have not sustained efforts to improve relations between the two groups. (Black leadership's patented silence on the issue is nothing short of reprehensible.)
Blacks' failure to hold its leaders accountable has spawned a host of self-serving charlatans. Many are" ambulance chasers," and pay-per-view "civil rights activists" who surface like clockwork at high profile, media-saturated incidents. And many so-called leaders are actually media pawns serving their own, not the community's needs. Some actually specialize in exploiting the emotions of victims of violence and/or their families, with impunity. Occasionally, they even endanger lives: this happened when a self-anointed negotiator, a few years ago, claimed to have brokered a gang truce; there was no such truce and, subsequently, a young Black man was shot as a result of the bogus information.
California's legislature includes a substantial number of Blacks and hopefully, this year, the Legislative Black Caucus will address issues like pervasive violence and failing schools that disproportionately affect Black people. In order to do so, they will have to break with tradition and work in tandem to serve Black constituents' best interests.
Committed, effective leadership is indispensible. Will Black leaders assume proper responsibility? Will their constituents demand that they do so? I suggest they better. Our leaders must be effective but, as important, they must be grounded in moral and ethical values. Unless we work together to make this happen, it won't.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at