Historically, the most oppressed race of human beings have produced the greatest and most legendary leaders. With the failure of black communities the subject of every news headline, the absence of strong black leadership is blatantly evident. Where are the Malcolms and Martins of today?
Black Kids are dying! Black kids are killing! Black kids are the biggest failures in schools! They say no one makes babies and absconds like a black man. They say it’s black kids that make up the largest percentage in Social Services’ care system. Britain’s prisons are filled with black men, and the mental hospital wings are drugging them. Black women wipe their tears and struggle on with the business of living. In the meantime, Africa, the Motherland, is dying at the brutal hands of warfare, starvation, and AIDS. Distant piercing screams resonate, and the motion of silent pining is sensed from those who wistfully await... the appearance of a leader.
A leader is one who is optimistic and confident, and can articulate a vision that goes against the status quo, and inspires others to embrace it because it is meaningful. Whether the persecution of another race has been as protracted as that of the black race is questionable. It was oppression that brought them to the West, and that oppression has never been far. Since their arrival they have fought, died, risen and are still rising. Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Nelson and Winnie Mandela; black people are very accustomed to leaders. But when you are owned by another man, lynched, raped and beaten at will; when you have no right to vote; when you can’t visit particular parks, drink from certain water fountains or have your children go to the school of your choice because the colour of your skin is black; when, in every aspect of your life, you are so plainly reminded that you are an inferior, finding a common vision and uniting is comparatively easy. This is because the rights being aspired for are so very basic!
Alas, times have moved on and those days are long gone. We now live in a time where, relatively, there is much affluence amongst blacks. The fact that the large majority have been left behind and continue to suffer is overlooked. Blacks now have some doctors and lawyers, many teachers and managers, and everyone knows how ‘over-represented’ they are in the entertainment and sports industries. And there are even black politicians, black legislators here in Britain now – five MPs in total: Adam Afriyre (Conservative – Windsor), David Lammy (Labour – Tottenham), Dawn Butler (Labour – Brent South), Diane Abbott (Labour – Hackney) and Mark Hendrick (Labour – Preston).
The role of these black people as leaders is implicitly assumed. But do they endeavour to promote or represent aspirations real to black people, or do they work from the premise that we live in a meritocracy? Many have ‘innocently’ forgotten what it is like to feel so disempowered, and others, frankly, just don’t know what the problem is! A comment in response to an article exploring the relationship between blacks and the Conservative Party nicely sums up the stance of ‘The Forgetters’:
“Those who use their Blackness as an excuse for the perceived repression should ask themselves when they are ever going to throw off the chains of slavery and join the real world. When are they ever going to stop complaining and do something constructive about their condition?”
An opinion such as this has clearly been informed by the ‘success stories’ of black people who have managed, through education, drive, or stroke of good luck, to accomplish their goals. Sadly, many of these have forgotten to do something to inspire someone left behind! And whatever anybody wants to say, that black masses neither accept, trust, nor relate well to blacks who forget their past, is a fact; its reality is just too present in their lives, either directly or spiritually.
Today, the African Diaspora is vast, and the types of black people within this diaspora vary widely. There are the Tiger Woods who, despite the shade they see in the mirror daily, completely deny they are black; there are the Obamas who are accused of not being black enough; then we have the Louis Farrakhan’s who are considered too black! And interspersed between this range, there are so many more making stances and being judged about their blonde hair, straight hair, afro hair.
In an essay entitled “The Black Child: A Destiny In Jeopardy,” Bobby E. Wright outlines what Black people need to do:
“A social theory determines the destiny of a people by establishing guidelines of life. It defines values and rituals, methods of education…the ultimate achievement of a Black culture.”
His view is in keeping with that of the scientist Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, who said:
“I consider culture as a rampart which protects a people, a collectivity. Culture must above all play a protective role: it must ensure the cohesion of the group… This can be done by developing the linguistic factors, by re-establishing the historical consciousness of African and black people so as to arrive at a common feeling of belonging to the same culture and historical past. Once this is attained, it will become difficult to divide and rule and to oppose African communities one against the other.”
So until black people have a social theory that binds them, this fragmented race will not, cannot, unite. Here in the West they are satisfied with the acquisition of their basic rights and seem unable to agree on a vision. Hence they see nothing to unite about. They view themselves as American, Jamaican, Grenadian, or British. African? In some cases, but often it is too wide, distant, or even offensive! Over the centuries, blacks have assimilated the characteristics of many, many communities.
But is it possible for blacks to rekindle a unified social theory? Of all the races on earth, blacks are the least respected and the most despised. Other nations benefit from a culture that is in tact, and Western culture is never revered above their own. So whatever they secretly think of whites, they respect whites! Black seems the opposite to whites in every way; whites are the most powerful and blacks are the least – this is an economic truth, and it’s economics that count – money talks! Other nations have got to respect them because they rule the world – they don’t need leaders, they are the leaders! Blacks? Well, they’re cool: the coolest, in fact; they look good, sing good, rap good, sex good, run good, box good. Actually, there’s nowhere, except in the arena of real power, where blacks lack the Midas Touch; the only black man on the golf course becomes the best in the world, and Lewis Hamilton, the only black man on the race track, is the one everybody wants to put their money on! And when they have had leaders, the intelligence, passion and fearlessness of their rhetoric has been incomparable – it resonates beyond their audiences, and hits every corner of the globe – agree with it or not, its power is known!
Yet still, that final link in the chain that created the shackles of slavery seems unbroken. It may well be time for this ancient species of human beings to put aside its notions on a unified social theory and lead the world to the next evolutionary stage, one where we simply view each other as humans and resist seeking supremacy over each other. If humanity can be honest and courageous enough to use the white man’s treatment of the black man as the one fact that epitomizes one of humankind’s greatest failings, we may find that, as the ones most practised at forgiving their oppressors and rising above oppression, black people are actually best placed to create a new vision that encompasses the entire human family. The time for a new consciousness that sees through the shenanigans of politicians, and seeks a purer mode of governing, is upon us. For how much longer will we continue to destroy each other and our planet?
It’s no longer about waiting for the bold to present themselves as leaders. It’s time to teach the children to become leaders – real leaders. Who was it who said “if you want change, be that change!”? Tomorrow’s intelligent leader will have broken away from the human love affair with the ego, and lead in a way that inspires and empowers others to lead, to lead their own lives. This brand of leader will realize that the world is composed of individuals, and to order the perception of the individual is to order the state of the world. A world with that many leaders will naturally squeeze out any seeking to dictate. Let’s move away from this narrow talk about a lack of black leaders to speak on behalf of communities and coalitions. As it was so succinctly put by Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York: “Criminality does not belong to one ethnic group, nor is it innate. It is learnt. It is not a ‘black problem,’ it is a human problem.” The time for this new consciousness is now!
1st March 2008