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Accountability Essential for Black Progress
Accountability is a prerequisite for viable efforts to improve the quality of life for Blacks in the U.S. Unfortunately, when current Black leaders talk about the need to be accountable they are usually referring to others, not themselves. Less evident but no less significant, this blame others syndrome is also evident among Blacks generally. Failure to define common ground and hold each other accountable contributes to Blacks' themselves reinforcing the status quo.
Following the civil rights era, a prevailing assumption was that Black elected officials, plus greater access to political and economic venues, previously denied, would improve overall conditions. This was wishful thinking. While Blacks do have greater access now, race still matters and even the Black middle-class is bigger, poorer Blacks are no better off than they were 40 years ago. Many even argue that given demographic changes and the absence of middle-class participation in the struggle, Black's prospects for full access is less than in the 1960s, and getting worse.
The need for greater accountability stretches from President Obama to failing inner-city schools and the parents of children who attend those schools. (The debate between Tavis Smiley, Al Sharpton, et al, has relevance beyond whether Obama has a "Black agenda." The broader implications of the discussion include the need for all-inclusive accountability.)
Whether or not President Obama publicly focuses on Blacks is not the issue. More important is that he gives sufficient weight to Blacks' special needs that require targeted resources, no other president has. Barack Obama should be as accountable for Blacks' concerns as he is for creating sound domestic and foreign policy to protect the interests of the nation as a whole.
Accountability and strategic Black alternatives are closely related, but this is far from apparent in the actions of most Black leaders today. The Black community's needs are fundamentally the same since the 1960s, yet efforts to build agendas to address ongoing barriers have not succeeded.
Despite indisputable progress such as larger numbers of Black elected officials and greater access to some societal benefits, inner cities remain killing grounds where poverty and violence seem indelibly etched in the landscape: schools still fail to educate Black children and justice for many remains an illusion. Broad accountability should be as much a part of that landscape as continuing race-based disparities in healthcare, jobs and education.
The preamble to the National Black Agenda in Gary, Indiana (1972) asserted, "Our cities are crime-haunted dying grounds. Huge sectors of our youth face permanent unemployment. Neither the courts nor prisons contribute anything resembling justice or reformation. And the schools are unwilling to educate our children for the real world of our struggles." Sound familiar?
The current condition of Blacks is damning testimony to ongoing racism as well as a crippling indifference among Blacks themselves, seen especially among youth, in a lack of caring and civility toward one another. Fewer and fewer Black adults are directly or indirectly involved in efforts for change, an ominous indicator for what will likely be an even more challenging future.
We all share responsibility and are, in some measure, accountable for reversing current conditions. The iconic bubble that engulfed President Obama initially is dissolving and Blacks seem increasingly willing to critique his performance-a healthy sign. Equally important is the need, not only for Black leadership, but average folks to hold the president and themselves accountable. President Obama will likely respond to concrete recommendations and demands from Blacks just as he will from other constituents. The fact that Obama is president of the United States seems to escape many Blacks, even though their concerns and disparate treatment do warrant targeted consideration. The reality and urgency of Blacks' concerns must be evidenced in the demands they bring to the table.
In California, there's a glaring absence of accountability by Black elected officials at both the state and local level. Yet, as this column mentions repeatedly, huge issues like education and immigration are not addressed by an overwhelming majority of Black politicians. Their silence suggests a telling indifference on issues that disproportionately affect their constituents. And they act-or don't act-with impunity because their constituents fail to hold them accountable.
The fact that Blacks themselves are not demanding effective, committed leadership is perplexing and compounds the problems. And the apparent disconnect and patented silence of both Black leaders and stakeholders underscore the need for greater accountability. New thinking and leadership models based on common ground are indispensable for Black's survival and future success.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail