The Five Dilemmas of
Black Leaders

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D.

Nearly a half-century ago white Southern-born writer Robert Penn Warren asked, "Who Speaks for the Negro?" The question was, and will always be, silly and presumptuous. No one asks who speaks for whites, Latinos or Asians? No one individual or organization can speak for an entire group. The notion of a common leadership for blacks feeds more than an ageless myth. It exposes major dilemmas confronting black leaders.

This presents the first major dilemma for black leaders: Class Division. The latent class divisions have burst into gaping fissures between two black Americas, one poor, desperate and angry, the other prosperous, comfortable and complacent. Facing this crisis, many mainstream black leaders have backpedaled. The NAACP, Urban League, and SCLC replaced the nickels and dimes it received in support from blacks for decades with corporate and foundation dollars. They tailored their programs to accelerate opportunities for businesspersons and upwardly mobile professionals. The chase continues for SBA loans, scholarships and grants to pricey universities, corporate managerial positions, and suburban homes. Unfortunately, the black poor are nowhere to be found in that chase.

This presents the second major dilemma for black leaders: How to win political concessions from the Democratic Party (or if possible the Republican Party) and for what, and for whom, they should win them? The sad truth is that blacks have narrowed their political options down to essentially one: the Democratic Party. The result: many black leaders have cradled even more cozily into the Democratic party and pared their demands down to more party appointments and political offices. Some black leaders have become even more mainstream and less responsive to the neediest, and most dispossessed in black communities. These individuals get less rather than more political representation.

This presents the third major dilemma for black leaders: The challenge from the breed black conservatives.

About one-third of blacks publicly call themselves conservative and many more blacks privately agree with some, most, or all of what conservatives have to say. They also know that the old line civil rights leadership has been relentlessly battered and bruised during the 1980's and 1990's by conservative politicians and for failing to mobilize the black poor around the crisis problems of quality education, health care, declining public services, police abuse, crime, and drug destruction. These leaders have felt the criticism and wrath of many blacks who are mortally disillusioned with two party politics and convinced that they have not, and cannot, deliver the goods.

This presents the fourth major dilemma for black leaders: The anointing of the chosen leader. Many leaders have knowingly played along, for personal ego strokes and material gain, with the media game of perpetuating the fraud of the "monolithic black community," and christening a "leader" to speak and act on its behalf. The media shoves the "chosen black spokesperson" into the spotlight and pretends that issues not sanctioned by the "chosen one" are not issues. It is then free to ignore any and all local leaders, actions, agendas and causes it does not like. When blacks reduce leadership to star and celebrity gazing they pay a dear price.

This presents the fifth major dilemma for black leaders: Young blacks. Many young blacks are contemptuous of the hypocrisy and corruption of many black politicians and organizations. They see some of them wrapped in scandals, and seemingly endlessly grasping for sex, cash, and comforts. Some young blacks react by drifting into a state bordering on anomie or social withdrawal. Others become true menaces to society and prey on their own communities. Many mainstream black leaders have no answers to their plight. The economic, social, political and generational schisms among many African-Americans are broad. Mainstream black leaders, "gangsta" rappers, hip-hop icons, and black conservatives, are in an intense hunt to find workable programs and strategies to deal with the crippling internal crisis of blacks, young and old, rich and poor. Whoever can find them, still will not or cannot be the answer to the question, "Who speaks for the Negro?"

Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black"
email: Middle Passage Press
available at all bookstores!
Copyright 1998 by Afrocentric News. List of Articles


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