February 25, 2008

State of the Black Union... Awesome: But Something Is Missing

I listened with great interest, amusement and political junkie enthusiasm to the State of the Black Union event hosted by Tavis Smiley this past Saturday. As a forum of political thinkers, commentators, intellectuals and activists, it was marvelous. To have an opportunity to hear so many very articulate and lucid thinkers on the black condition in American was very thought provoking. I loved hearing Dyson drop science about Obama and accountability (see the Featured Video). Farrakhan called on people to reconnect to God, quoting the Bible the whole time, which I found intriguing. Perhaps he was just making allowances for the audience before him, but I found it curious that the spiritual leader of the NOI did not once in his remarks acknowledge his own God, Allah, but rather punctuated his comments entirely with the scripture of Jehovah (for the record, I do not believe Muslims and Christians worship the same God, but thats another post). I was interested in the comments of Sheila Jackson Lee and her impassioned, if slightly defensive, championing of Hillary. I was entertained and then a little appalled at the commentary of Dick Gregory. I enjoyed Sharpton being the fly in the ointment, violating the seemingly tacit agreement that the participants would not rhetorically set at each others throats over the Obama/Clinton nomination conflict. And I found much of interest in what many of the people had to say about the state of our black union.

But in as much as the commentary and critique was inspirational, I find fault with SOBU as it is put forward on two grounds. For one, as much diversity as there may have been in the panels ideological viewpoints, it is largely the case that those panelists are almost exclusively to the political left, in several cases, the far left. So there is a great deal of sameness in their thoughts. Its a lot of preaching to the choir and celebration of victimhood. Whether its being laid out in Sharpton's hood certified straight talk or Cornel West's incomprehensible and impenetrable intellectual speechification, it all shares a similar premise: the idea that we are the eternal victims of a relentless and unending white supremacist onslaught encoded in the DNA of this nation's every institution. To listen to the SOBU panelists, this victim status is and will always be the defining characteristic of our existence. Its a perspective I reject as self limiting and self defeating. But it is the operative world view of nearly all the SOBU panelists to my mind. Which leads me to the second fault I find with this august gathering, which is that that they are all talk and insufficient, non strategic action. This talented tenth epitomizes, for all the talk of accountability and agenda, the crisis of black leadership. There is a crisis of effective black leadership in America. Simply put, we have too little of it. Across the board, black led organizations are almost incapable of exercising principled, effective, strategic leadership. This phenomenon holds true across the spectrum of black organizations, from churches, to national service organizations to community development corporations. Whether you're talking about homeowners associations, civic organizations, local chapters of national organizations, greeks, or political organizations, effective, accountable, strategic leadership is few and far between.

What happened? There was a time when the black community had more capable leadership. But it seems as though somewhere between the end of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the 21st century, we lost our strategic leadership skills. An older post civil rights generation has remained stuck in the strategies of an era that is long gone, while blocking a younger generation from leadership. The new generation, focused on "getting mine" isn't applying critical thinking or strategic leadership skills to the intertwined political, social and economic challenges we face.

The result: underperformance in nearly every aspect of the community when it comes to implementation of effective strategies that address the interests of the black community. For all the prescriptions of the SOBU panelists, none of them individually or collectively, has an organization articulating AND implementing in a strategic, disciplined way an agenda of rational political and economic action. Where's the beef? Do any of you know how to articulate and implement a vision and strategy for black progress that does not rely on government response or calls to free our minds? Who is articulating a national policy on economic development, social response and political development of the black community that is worth the paper its printed on? Not anybody on those panels.

The State of the Black Union? Perhaps as troubled as it has ever been. Our talented tenth have a variety of answers to our problems, answers which themselves are problematic, shortsighted and grounded in victimhood. But that aside, I don't think any of them has the first clue about how to strategically, on a national level, implement solutions to the problems we face. Unacceptable.