There is a problem with leadership in America, particularly black America. From every angle when we think of our leadership there are three main themes (i.e., the problematic, the self-aggrandizer, and the bad). Leadership is a tricky thing when you think about it. No one is at birth (here in United States of America) destined to be a leader. Particularly for African Americans, how do our leaders become ‘our leaders’ and then how do they become viewed by the larger society as leaders of black America? How does black America come to find a space in which to critique and offer guidance to ‘our leaders’?
Barack Obama is the perfect example of the problematic leader. The problematic leader is one that gains power and position through his/her work in a particular (often times minority) community without being voted to that position. As a result, he can never be checked by this community in a formal way (i.e., power of the vote). Yet and because, he gains access through the formal (i.e., power of the vote) to a majority community (read: often times white) he becomes loyal to not upsetting the apple cart of the community that will use the formal process to remove him. This is particularly, true in Obama’s case. At every turn he uses his race and the fact that there are no formal processes to check him for any transgressions (read: truth telling) against Black America. As a result he chastise black America (without fear of retribution) while white America goes unscathed (because of fear of retribution). I first became concerned of this problem in 2008 while he was on his presidential campaign trail.
I remember on June 15, 2008 when he, before being president, made the truthful Father’s Day speech. He rightful said “…too many fathers are MIA,…they have abandon there responsibilities…and the foundation of our families have suffered… no where is this more true that in the African American community.” It was the Friar Roast heard round the world, and he was praised for it unlike Bill Cosby’s speech. The Apostolic Church of God’s black people clapped for a national (read: mostly white) prime time audience to view. Moreover, His self-help message knows no bounds as it spread over to Accura, Ghana on July 11, 2009 . In both of his recent speeches (i.e., at the NAACP centennial celebration and press conferences about Professor Gates), President Obama’s panders (read: caters) to white America’s sensitivities and he blatantly disregards black America’s sensitivities.
In every speech President Obama never addresses the faults of white America (which I personally don’t have a problem with) when he addresses “the both and philosophy”(i.e., the idea that it is both self-determination and systems that create present day inequity) for African Americans. Even when talking about Jim Crow he talks about America’s past history of formalized segregation and how far America has come (which implicitly acknowledges whites transgression, but never directly). Yet, when he talks about African Americans, he is quite articulate in making it plain where the short-comings are and how the African American community can address them. The question is why does he, or other problematic leaders, feel ok with rightfully singling out one group and totally avoid singling out another group.
The most common forms of black leadership are the self-aggrandizer (read: the one’s that think they’re the shit) and the just plain bad, and two perfect examples are Professor “Skip” Gates (read: the self-aggrandizer) and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (read: the bad). The self-aggrandizer is a person who has obtained the status of leader and represents to a lager community the best of which ever minority community that he or she comes from. The self-aggrandizer becomes a symbol of said group, and as a result, he or she is able to get people out to support whatever Horse-Shit he or she wants. Bad leadership is the most subjective form because all of these examples of black leadership are bad and hinder the expression of the very real and tragic consequences of racism. The bad leader is formed more so by values, ideas and behaviors because he or she is at a point where it is okay to treat “the oppressor” (read: white officer) as undeserving of respect because of his or her leaders status.
Gates encounter with the Cambridge police is another example of the problem with the self-aggrandizing leader. Like many of the other bloggers on the BYP have talked about, Gates is a unique example of class mitigating impact on black and white police interaction.
Like the woman in the ireports, I am very suspicious (read: unconvinced) when black elites cry ‘wolf’ (read: racism) over an officer doing a due-diligent job. Moreover I am offended by Professor Gates “race pimping” as the black woman eloquently puts it in the ireport. There are more and better examples of actual racist encounters between black people (particularly black males) and the police. As someone who has witnessed police profiling, I find Gates and people of his elk who dare sully the history of racism and to seek profit off of its very real and tragic consequences to be nothing short of shrewd businessmen.
At the heart of my concern, is how this incident will serve as another national example of at best an ambiguously racist incident. I think we (black youth) have to challenge those black elites who would ‘cry wolf’ (read: racism) to think about if an event is clearly racism. I think every time we as a nation see piss-poor claims of racism it makes the level of scrutiny rise on what constitutes racism. I think for me the two or more possible things to point out as racism (in Gates encounter) all fall within the story-arc of being a due-diligent officer(except for the not giving badge# and name, but that is where their stories don’t align).
In terms of dealing with bad leadership, one has to look no further than former Congress woman Cynthia McKinney. This idea that because of whiteness meta-harm done in the past (and that its present consequences still operate) one gets to treat other human beings who are white like crap is unacceptable. Moreover, it encourageous some black people to cry “wolf” (read: racism) whenever they need a break from being accountable for their bad values, ideas or behaviors . Just like in Gates case (although unsuccessfully so), She too tried to mobilize people around the officer being racist for not letting her pass by him (even though she was neither in proper attire nor wore her pin to signify who she was).
Unlike traditional political leadership, black leaders historically have not been elected to be leaders. How did these people become self-selected elites of Black America in their respective times? This question is definitely challenging, because who did they convince; what is the critical mass of notoriety before dubbed leader; what is the process and why are these black folks chosen over others? I am not claiming to be an expert on leadership, but I do feel that we have an obligation to hold accountable our leaders. I think this process of holding folks accountable makes us more aware of our own power as citizens, youth and human beings. We have to begin like the Ireporter black woman does looking at informal ways to show just how far afield some “black leaders” opinions or stances are from our own. We need to garner the same respect as other communities through both informal and formal means of checkin’ a would-be leader of our minority communities.