If a new poll commissioned by BET founder and business magnate Robert Johnson is any indication, the myth of a monolithic Black America has been shattered and one-size-fits-all Black leadership has gone the way of the cowboy — just replace rodeos with rallies.
The Zogby Analytics poll, aptly titled, “Black Opinions in the Age of Obama,” compiled responses on a wide-range of issues – from education to unemployment — that illuminated either a startling level of cognitive dissonance or a stirring level of faith, depending on whether one prefers their glasses half empty or half full.
When asked why they believed the Black unemployment rate was double that of Whites, responses include:
- Failure of the education system for minorities/African Americans (50%)
- Lack of corporate commitment to hiring minorities/African Americans (48%)
Lack of good government policies (25%)
Interestingly enough, the respondents don’t seem to connect the failure of the public education system with a push towards privatization favored by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that tokenizes Black achievement and deepens the facade of closing the gap between Black/White success patterns.
From gun control and healthcare, to cultural marginalization and racial apathy, Black respondents expressed varying levels of discontent, but still overwhelmingly support President Obama. With a whopping 91 percent of Black support, the POTUS has maintained near unanimous backing from the Black community despite a “rising tides lifts all boats” philosophy that often finds him politically disconnected from the uniquely American Black experience. As he has made clear, President Obama is the leader of the free world, not Black America — just as every other democratically elected president before him — which excludes him from being a so-called Black leader by default.
Conversely, the Congressional Black Caucus, helmed by the venerable Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), only received 68 percent of respondent support, with only 9 percent considering Waters herself, who has championed Black advancement and parity even when it has meant standing against President Obama, a leader in the Black community.
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To look even further at who these respondents consider to be leaders:
40 percent said that no one speaks for them, while 24 percent said the Reverend Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and MSNBC speaks for Black people, and 11 percent said the Reverend Jesse Jackson of Rainbow PUSH. Eight percent said NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous speaks for them, and 5 percent mentioned Assistant Democratic Leader, Congressman James E. Clyburn (D‐SC). Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele each received 2 percent.
Writing for TheGrio.com, Earl Ofari Hutchinson opines that Rev. Sharpton’s popularity bodes well for the future of Black leadership and that “bashing” Sharpton has become rote:
This brings us back to Sharpton. He’s the “go-to” guy for many Blacks for reasons that say as much about him as about the ongoing struggle for equity and justice in America. The long parade of Sharpton bashers still delight in ridiculing and pounding him as an ego-driven, media hogging, race baiting agitator and opportunist who will jump on any cause to get some TV time. But the personal hits on him are nothing more than the ritual anti-Sharpton name calling. Turn the attacks on their head, and it becomes apparent why he’s popular.
He or she must be perceived as someone who is fearless enough to publicly call racism, racism — and a racist a racist. In other words they must stand up to “the man.” Those individuals, from Frederick Douglass to Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X to Dr. King, had that quality. They and anyone like them will always get applause and a warm spot in the hearts of a significant number of Blacks.
The fact that so many Blacks are willing to name someone such as Sharpton as their go-to guy, and that includes, more often than not, the man in the White House, is something that shouldn’t be ripped, ridiculed, and certainly not ignored.
While I have nothing but the utmost respect for Rev. Sharpton, and he is certainly deserving of high praise for his willingness to always get into the trenches and fight the filth of racism and classism in this country, 24 percent is not such a number that constitutes crowning him the contemporary leader in Black America. And it is rather contradictory to compare Sharpton to King, Garvey, Douglass and Shabazz — men who fought against systems of imperialism — when he sits at the right hand of the current U.S. administration. Nor is he in the ranks of Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton or even the polarizing Farrakhan. This is not in any way to disparage Rev. Sharpton and his iconic, historic and often effective brand of activism — it is simply a divergent perspective than that offered by Hutchinson.
President Obama, and his chosen surrogates, often serve as placebos for progress, equality and concrete economic strides in the Black community. And the danger of that becomes that instead of fighting to dismantle the system, many in positions of leadership in Black America are simply fighting to control the system as is. This unsettling fact is a macrocosm of the current public education philosophy:
As long as we can get a few Black people to be successful, we can slap a band-aid on inequality, ignore the wounds beneath and call it progress.
The big reveal of Johnson’s poll is not that there are no clear leaders, but that there are no clear Black agendas from which clear leaders can emerge. When the goal of assimilation becomes primary, the fights of the every-day Black (wo) man become secondary. And the plight of everyday Black people, communalism, was at the heart of of those movements of yesteryear which required leaders to organize the masses. The time of sharing a common goal has faded into the current zeitgeist of simply sharing a common skin tone — and overwhelming pride that someone with like skin tone has become the face of the United States.
And to that, I leave you with the words of one of our pivotal and towering leaders, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X):
“When we see a Black man who is constantly being praised by the Americans, begin to suspect him. When we see a Black man get honors and all sorts of decorations and the United States flatters him with fine words and phrases, immediately suspect that person. Because our experience has taught us that the Americans do not exalt to any Black man that is really working for the benefit of the Black man.”
With this in mind, perhaps our true Black leaders are diligently striving to shred the Wizard’s curtain and break the nation’s fourth wall — with no press coverage and no political leverage. Perhaps the revolution will neither be televised nor published. It will be live.
[Editor’s Note: One thousand and two randomly selected Black adults were polled by telephone and online survey. The socio-economic, political status, geographic location and age of the respondents are unknown.]