Â Current problems ranging from the economic depression to major local issues that disproportionately impact Blacks such as proposed education reform in Los Angeles that excludes Black students, demand courageous, effective Black leadership that has been lacking for some time.
Black leadership impacts every aspect of life and individualistic, self-serving Black leaders typically shun any but mock accountability. Political and economic progress requires a leadership paradigm based on values and ethics that threaten those accustomed to operating unilaterally with impunity. Of course, Black communities informed about important issues are better able to hold its lack leadership accountable. (Black leadership is a recurrent theme in this column because it is clearly central to Blacks either moving forward or falling further behind, politically and economically.)
How long will Blacks tolerate ineffective leadership? Short answer: As long as we fail to hold them accountable. The long answer involves recognizing and dealing with the complex antecedents such as the effects of psychological conditioning and Blacks having internalized America's values despite limited access to its benefits. The continuing tragic fallout: Black "identity" and "unity" are mangled mirages that tend to perpetuate the status quo.
During Post Reconstruction, Black leadership defined the interests of the "Black community," named themselves leaders, and was assumed to be so by whites. In the past, as now, most of the benefits go to the middle-class which, like their white counterparts, increasingly denigrate poorer Blacks.
The 2004 Los Angeles Urban League/United Way of Greater Los Angeles report, "The State of Black Los Angeles," underscores the need for effective Black leadership. Its crime data, no revelation to most Blacks, confirmed the obvious--Black adults and juveniles have arrest rates substantially higher than other groups. It also reported that Black and Latino drivers are searched by LAPD four times more often than whites or Asians-but, only 38% of Blacks are found to be carrying illegal items, compared with 55% of whites, 65% of Latinos and 54% of Asians. (Outgoing police chief William Bratton denies that racial profiling exists in LAPD.)
Other findings, repeatedly supported by subsequent research, indicated that in Los Angeles County Blacks had the lowest median income and although only 10% of the total population, represent 30% of the homeless population and were also the targets of 56% of hate crimes; 44% of Black high school students failed to graduate with their class in four years. The premature death rate among Blacks was 40.6 per 100,000 population compared to 11 for Latinos, 4.5 for whites and 3.8 for Asians.
The data continues to have ominous implications for Blacks and confirms the critical need for effective Black leadership in the 21st century.
Organized labor is also in need of stronger Black leadership: Notwithstanding the split within the AFL-CIO, a discernible Black unionist agenda is imperative. The relatively few Blacks at the table are essentially tokens excluded from significant decision-making, Other issues requiring strong leadership include immigration and Black-Latino relations, both of which are virtually ignored by local Black leadership.
Police abuse continues to plague African Americans in Los Angeles and surrounding cities like Inglewood and Compton. Inglewood is being investigated by four separate agencies for five highly suspect officer involved killings of reportedly unarmed men-four Black, one Latino.
African American leaders rarely criticize media coverage-"mainstream" or "minority"- of issues concerning Blacks: LA Times' stories on MLK Hospital and public schools failure to educate Black students are especially negligent. With few exceptions, Black leaders have been silent on these issues. Nor do they denounce Black opportunists who sprint from press conference to press conference masquerading as community-sanctioned civil rights advocates. California's Legislative Black Caucus (mostly from Los Angeles) and Los Angeles' Black Congressional delegation have also been phantom-like on many salient issues.
There are no quick or easy answers for improving the effectiveness of Black leaders and we must demand an end to self-serving leadership that is contrary to Blacks' best interests. The severity and complexity of emerging issues, including the exclusion of Black students from LAUSD's school board members' "Public School Choice" resolution, call for renewed unity, courage and commitment from Black leadership. We must hold them, and ourselves, accountable for unapologetically addressing the needs and concerns of Black people in the greater Los Angeles area.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at