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African Americans’ interests are not served by partisan politics but most are Democratic Party loyalists. And unfortunately, Black elected politicians often support Party over constituent priorities. Typically, personal agendas trump community needs, rendering accountability virtually moot between elections.
Increasingly tough issues face Blacks, underscoring the need for new direction and leadership. Community-oriented, progressive, political strategies are essential, but the major political parties are neither designed nor particularly concerned with improving Black life.
Term limits have not changed the money-driven electoral process and overwhelmingly, candidates with the most money win elections. Part of the rationale for term limits is that elected officials tend to become ossified and should not hold office ad infinitum. However, shorter terms do not translate into greater effectiveness because the entrenched political paradigm has not changed.
Have term limits benefited Blacks? Some maintain they cause too rapid a turnover, especially in California’s state legislature, resulting in insufficient time to master the craft. Given the track record of many Black politicians-local, state and federal-this allegation is laughable. Absent substantive change, with or without term limits, Black elected officials will continue their self-ordained, self-serving ways. Traditional electoral fundraising charades are, if anything, worse; jockeying for more open seats has increased the primacy of money.
Again, candidates with the most money are virtually assured of winning while issues continue to get short shrift by aspirant office-holders. When pressed, Black politicians acknowledge the need for alternatives to current political strategies, but still model ineffective leadership, nationally and locally.
Where were African American members of Congress when Barbara Lee stood as the lone dissenter from the congressional resolution granting George W. Bush carte blanche authority to wage war against “terrorism”? Her colleagues were silent. Now, they all concur- Bush’s arbitrary, imperialistic war on Iraq personifies terrorism: Hundreds of thousands of lives, including over three thousand Americans have already lost their lives because of his perverted arrogance.
Black leaders regularly invoke the deeds of famous leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, but fail to emulate their teachings. Many ingratiate themselves to people whose values, policies and behavior are contrary to Blacks’ interests. Their constituents are complicit for failing to hold leaders accountable. Evaluating Black leadership requires re-examining values, assumptions, and strategies. Racial pride is not only affirmation but also an integral part of community, political and economic planning.
The 2004 Democratic National Convention exemplified the need for strong Black political leadership cadres; there were no forceful challenges by Black delegates to the Party’s platform and only tepid response to the Iraq war or Bush’s domestic policies.
African American leaders tend to skirt issues “morality” and accountability, seemingly locked into behavior that helps perpetuate the status quo.
In the latter part of the 19th century, middle-class Blacks called themselves leaders and were so named by whites. Similarly, today, middle-class Blacks are principal beneficiaries of this specious model and therefore reluctant to embrace a more inclusive one. Until the diverse interests of African Americans, including the poor, are an integral part of leadership decisions, self-serving individual oriented agendas will prevail.
In California, the dwindling Black population has severe political and economic implications and both here and nationally, public education’s failure to educate Black children remains a prime indicator of systemic injustice. It underscores an imperative: Black unity must become an operational necessity, the basis for effectively dealing with contemporary issues.
Cornel West’s thoughts on leadership are instructive in developing a new African American leadership paradigm. He emphasizes the need to approach leadership from a historical perspective, and refers to “politics of conversion” as central to such leadership. For West, this means “love and care.......supported by and accountable to grassroots organizations.” Politics of conversion confronts the “self-destructive and inhumane” actions of Back people.
West s’ leadership examples include Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns; he calls Jackson brilliant and charismatic “ but at the expense of programmatic follow through”. The failure in Black leadership, for West, creates a vacuum filled by opportunistic, sensationalistic Blacks with even narrower vision. He observes that the crisis in Black leadership contributes to political cynicism among black people, already promoted by America’s culture. West asserts, “ Unless and until political priorities are determined by Blacks themselves, others without their primary interests will continue to chart the course”.
The salient issue is whether we are sufficiently dissatisfied to take sustained action that requires leaders willing to not simply challenge partisan politics, but collaborate toward the ultimate goal, community empowerment.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail