Leaders? Leaders? We Don’t Need No Stinking Leaders!

We are no longer a monolith of thwarted and unattained dreams. Many advancers do not believe that marching is the most effective avenue to change. They neither feel the need to march nor care to watch the marchers limp by. Today, civil rights have become (and rightfully so) a secondary or tertiary concern for many black persons. For them, economic, political, and social advancement have been realized. The promise of upward mobility has dis-placed the obliqueness of civil rights. With good schools, jobs, homes, and futures attainable, getting into corporate boardrooms and desirable neighborhoods have, for many, supplanted marches, sit-ins, and rhetoric.

Strugglers and Progressives of the Black Community

While the majority of black Americans has increasingly identified with success philosophies, black leaders often still cast their lot with the strugglers of the community. They take up the cause of the disenfranchised—the purported victims of discrimination and racism. This strategy made sense when the vast majority of black Americans were poor, with little or no access to avenues of success. However, during the last forty years or so, black Americans have enjoyed unprecedented successes. Unfortunately, much of that success has been attained without the assistance of our leaders. While advancers have adjusted to new social, economic, and political contingencies, our leaders (e.g., Rev. Jesse Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Rev. Al Sharpton) have been found ill-prepared to change with the prevailing winds.

Nowhere is their quixotic perspective more evident than in the area of economics. Championing the causes of the poor, they have habitually ignored the needs of the well-heeled. While our leaders lament the dramas of the purported masses, Progressives press on. As revealed in the nation’s most recent census, black Americans have reached new all-time highs in median income. Additionally, the number of black Americans represented in the highest income level has increased sixfold in the last twenty years.

It’s true. Accept it! These winners have identified with the American Dream and are pursuing it with a relentless fervor. Moreover, they have established a pattern of success for their families. Likely, their children will—as the children from other ethnic and racial groups do—continue that legacy of success.

Embracing Black Strugglers

Yet despite these statistics and an increasingly good prognosis for black Americans, much of the country (and the world) continues to identify with black strugglers and stragglers: the delayers. Worse, black losers are inordinately associated with the economic and social stature of black communities. Gang members, drug addicts, criminals, the under-educated, the chronically poor, and the refuse of our communities garner the attention of the nation’s media and black leaders. Our leaders voice their concern for the strugglers—and sometimes the losers—of our communities, while largely spurning upwardly mobile persons.

And, until very recently, black middle-class persons remained quiet, intimidated by charges of not really being black. Their achievements and successes were often viewed as antithetical to what was considered real when discussing “the black experience.” For realizing the very same achievements and successes that our forebears fought so desperately to have, upwardly mobile black persons traditionally have been largely ignored by whites as atypical and reviled by blacks as having sold out to “The Man.”

The Quest of the Upwardly Mobile Black Person

This inattention toward upwardly mobile black persons emanates out of the very spheres from which our leaders emerge. Historically, black churches played an integral role in providing leadership for our communities. Their philosophies espoused embracing the downtrodden, the meek inheriting the earth, and the reversal of the fortunes of the greatest and the least in the afterlife. Such notions were probably quite attractive to an oppressed people. And black people, heartened by acceptance in the eyes of a god more powerful than their oppressors, looked to the church for leadership. I suppose they concluded that if one is to board a ship, then who better at the helm than God or God’s messenger. They had only to be good and obedient—and patient! Such teachings also effectively served the interests of slaveholders who were more interested in passivity and submission than souls. Many slaveholders insisted that their human property attend church services. Even they understood the notion of religion as a potential opiate.

While many of us relished being embraced and patient, more well-heeled and venturesome black persons continued to strive—quietly and diligently. They refused to be sedated by the anesthesia of a better afterlife or the perpetual black struggle. Even today, upwardly mobile black persons are rarely sedate in their quest for present-world rewards. They have been—and continue to be—aggressive and relentless in their objectives. Outwardly and inwardly they have been keen in identifying, pursuing, and attaining goals. And for that keenness, they have been largely neglected in the consideration of black leaders. While dedicated to uplifting a people, our leaders have historically been wantonly remiss in the embracing of the self-willed.

That black people need leaders is a proposition to which I remain wholly unconvinced. The idea is a terribly racist and delimiting one; steeped in presumptions emanating from slavery. It implies that “the people” (one may substitute flock, children, pickaninnies, slaves) need to be led. Apparently, black individuals are assumed not capable of forging their own lives devoid of leadership or community consciousness; we must be led. And, laughingly, it is our preachers who must do the leading: Father Divine, Minister Malcolm X, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Minister Louis Farrakhan, Prophet Noble Drew Ali, Reverend Al Sharpton, Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Master W. Fard Muhammad, Bishop Chandler Owens, Reverend Ike, Daddy Grace, and thousands of local emissaries.

If black communities must have leaders, then it is crucially important that the helms influenced by a variety of navigators. Politicians, social scientists, lawyers, economists, and —yes—even an occasional preacher should be part of the navigation crew. Otherwise, we are largely destined and restricted to follow one invariant, unalterable, and limiting course.    

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. We’ll pick up again next week.

Until next time: 



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Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on
several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, The
Ken Hamblin Show
, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and
C-SPAN’S Book TV. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past, Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.

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