Just A Thought...What About Those So Called Black Leaders?
by Rick Adams
THE question of Black leadership is raised quite often throughout our community, Frequently one hears the derisive phrase the "so called" Black leaders. Other times you hear Africans in the USA lament that "we have no leaders"! Many times the words "sellout", "Uncle Tom", "hanker chief head", or "pork chop eating" are used to characterize African leaders in the USA. Why is this the gist of grassroots neighborhood chatter to talk radio conversation? Is the leadership that bad, or non-existent? Could it be that there is wide spread confusion on the issue?
ONE must define a thing in order to properly know and understand it. If "to lead" is defined as "to influence the ideas, conduct, or actions of", or "to go with or ahead of so as to show the way; guide", then it would be quite accurate to say that Black leaders do exist. The first definition certainly can be applied to Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Mary McCloud Bethune, W.E.B. Dubois, Ida B. Wells, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, and Martin Luther King Jr. to name a few. The second definition would be applicable also. Could the problem be that we have a nostalgic and unavoidably unrealistic set of expectations, selective memories and impossibly high standards? The majority of the aforementioned leaders had serious character flaws and negative behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that are not worthy of emulation. Booker T. was too accommodating to white folks, Elijah too dictatorial, DuBois too elitist, Marcus too color conscious, and Martin too free with his sexual favors. None of these faults however disqualifies them from being considered great leaders. They all have left us valuable lessons and examples of leadership and blueprints of struggle.
IF one were to define contemporary Black leadership, what criteria would one use? How many followers they could rally? How about adding up the number of mentions in the mass media? What about how much they earn, or the size of their homes? The more impressive their titles, the higher their rank? The further their philosophy is from "mainstream" Black opinion? Perhaps we should consider the more militant or outrageous the public utterance? How about the more gifted their oratorical skills the greater the leader? My point is that the question is most often answered in very subjective ways. If the "leader" in question gets something for me personally, or fills some internal psychological need for inspiration, intellectual stimulation, or "mau mauing of white folks then they are my leader. If the "leader" in question makes me feel I am part of a select, special "chosen people" then they are my leader.
BLACK people need an objective and universal criteria by which to judge leadership. We need popularly accepted and practiced methods of recruiting, training, and producing leaders. We need community controlled, systems of selecting, appointing, and electing leadership.
TODAY, the truth is that we are confronted with great confusion as to who and what constitutes a leader and the nature of leadership. Blacks who are corporate executives, or actors, or musicians, or professional athletes, and talk show hosts are leading Blacks in their respective fields. They are not African leaders. They should be respected and admired for their achievements, but they are not spokespersons for the race. Our problem today is that anyone with a title or the aura of celebrity is proclaimed a Black leader by both the establishment and sadly by African people themselves. Many think, that Black ministers are by definition, our leaders. The fact is some are, but many, if not most, are not ethnic group leaders!
SO how do we define Black leadership? Black leaders are defined as; leaders who are of African descent who have been selected, appointed, elected or otherwise chosen by a body of people of African descent, to lead an organization whose membership is predominately Black, in advancing a program created by and for African people.
BY this definition, the most prevalent unitary organizational structure in the Black community that could produce authentic African leadership, is the church. However, even though the minister can meet the first three criteria of leadership; being Black, selected by, and leading a Black organization, most fail the last and most essential one. Most of our churches are not consciously ethnic organizations that recognize their responsibility to sponsor a secular program designed to advance the social, economic, and political uplift of the Black community.
A leading Black, in their respective vocation, can become a Black leader if they are chosen by Black people to lead their organization in implementing a consciously Black Agenda.
Most Black elected officials (BEOs) are not Black leaders in the sense of being race leaders. BEOs are most of the time elected by significant numbers of non-Black voters, they receive campaign funds from non Black individuals and political action committees, and are members of political parties that are not majority Black or controlled by African people. Once elected, they have political and legal obligations to serve all of the city, county, school board, state, or the United States that they represent. In other words, they have responsibilities, alliances, and legal obligations to entities and individuals external to our community. This is not necessarily an indictment just a recognition of reality. We make a serious error in confusing elected representatives with race leaders!
LEADERS of community groups, block clubs, political, fraternal, civic, student, women's, cultural, educational, business, and social organizations can and are frequently better examples of Black leadership than leading Blacks, Black elected Officials, or many Black clergy.
WE must insist that formal and specific criteria be used to identify Black leadership, and that African people; not the media, not the political parties, nor the corporate structure anoints our leadership. We also must stop denigrating our leaders; especially in public, by seemingly calling all of them by offensive phrases like the "so called Black leadership". If we do not respect our leadership, who will? If non-Blacks are encouraged to disrespect African leadership can we expect them to respect the average Black person? We must challenge every organization of which we are members, and is comprised of our people, to adopt a Black Agenda. We must demand that all of our organizations coalesce with others to advance the race. We must support organizations that identify, train, and nurture ethnic leaders; who understand who they are, what must be done, and most importantly how to do it. Finally anyone who obtains a position of leadership must be judged by their ability to produce concrete results. Anyway, it's JUST A THOUGHT...... OCTOBER 4, 1998