There is nothing clearer than the need for "bright
lines" to guide and delineate Black political conduct in
America. The cumulative processes of corporate consolidation
and concerted efforts to co-opt some Black leadership, while
creating phony "alternative" African American leaderships
answerable to the corporate class, have created a crisis that
almost precludes Blacks from recreating their own historical
narrative of reality.
We are being robbed of our history and, therefore,
our ability to analyze and act on current realities.
To an alarming extent, the Black public political
dialogue has come to reflect the modalities of corporate communications
- the same modalities that obtain in the Republican Party and
the more backward elements of the Democratic Party. Corporations
excel in erasing history - even yesterday’s history - and substituting
another version of reality: the "new" and "better"
brand. We see these mechanisms relentlessly at work in the systematic
separation of Black "leaders" from the African American
public and their immediate concerns. Not since the early Sixties
has there been such a disconnect between reputed leadership
and the Black public.
The crisis is made more complicated by the historical
current of Black thought that revels in the display of Black
faces in high places. Now that white corporate elites have overcome
their previous reflexive aversion to association with such faces
- a post-Sixties development, and one that matured only in the
mid-Nineties - there is an alluring display of Blacks whose
faces have been placed in high profile places by corporations
and their media. But what are they saying?
African Americans over the generations have become
conditioned to listening respectfully to "prominent"
members of The Race. However, in the current era "prominence"
and the veneer of legitimacy is conveyed by corporate media,
eager to reshape Black leadership and public perceptions of
Black-white realities. They are manufacturing Black leadership
and distorting the relationship between Black institutions and
their mass base of constituents - and the masses know it. Disillusion
and disaffection from "politics" as defined by the
corporate media and acted out by reputed Black leaders, daily
diminishes the willingness of grassroots African Americans to
participate in organized activity. And who can blame them?
We must challenge the entire edifice of corporate
Black leadership-creation, which is a function of finance and
media. Yet that cannot occur unless activists return to the
basics: What we believe, and What we demand. "Bright lines"
must be drawn, to sort out the panoply of actors that are paraded
before our eyes and ears. This is an internal struggle and challenge
for Black America, since African American institutions have
also been infected and deformed by the corporate media virus.
They, too, seek authenticity from sources other than their own.
Black Leadership Apes White Media
There is an historical Black consensus on social
justice, peace, and human advancement. It is shared by the vast
majority of African Americans, and is decidedly left-wing, by
American standards. (See BC, "Where the
Left Lives," October
6, 2005.) The University of Chicago’s Professor Michael
Dawson, the nation’s preeminent Black demographer, describes
most African Americans as behaving politically much like "Swedish
Social Democrats." Yet Black political gatherings and
so-called "news" programs insist on creating a "balance"
of political forces that does not exist in Black America - aping
white corporate media such as the New York Times.
For example, Armstrong Williams, the (finally)
discredited so-called political commentator - actually, a subsidized
shill for the Hard White Right - was for years a fixture on
the syndicated TV show "America’s
Black Forum." Ostensibly, Williams was placed there
to "balance" the views of NAACP Chairman Julian Bond
and commentator Julianne Malveaux - whose opinions generally
matched those of most of Black America. Armstrong Williams represents
a statistically negligible segment of African American opinion
- about 2 percent, according to Professor Dawson. Yet, there
was Armstrong Williams, every week, giving the Black and white
public the impression that he spoke for a significant section
of African Americans.
political gatherings also often create as much confusion as
clarity, mixing luminaries of various political stripes into
the same venue - usually based on "name" appeal that
is a function of finance and corporate media, rather than their
actual political work and its relationship to preponderant Black
aspirations. Real activists are shunted to the side, because
they have no "Black faces in high places" value, no
media attraction. Thus, these gatherings serve to reinforce
the corporate media’s design of what Black leadership should
look like, and devalue organizations and individuals that actually
struggle in the Black community, and whose views conform to
the vast majority of Blacks.
False Unity, with the Wrong People
The deepest current in Black America is the imperative
to unity. In fact, African Americans are overwhelmingly united
on issues of peace, social justice and mobility, and the obligation
of government to ensure that inequalities are eliminated. There
are no data that indicate a sea change in Black public opinion
on these fundamental issues, despite the vast changes in socio-economic
stratification among African Americans over the past four decades.
Actual unity is not the problem; African Americans are politically
the most unified group in the nation, and possibly, in the entire
African diaspora. Our leadership structures are the problem,
because they react as much to outside forces as to their own
constituents’ needs and desires. These forces are overwhelmingly
corporate, and they have used their money and muscle to intrude
on the internal dialogue of Black America.
In the last decade or so, the pressures of white
corporate money have increased exponentially, creating great
fissures in Black institutional structures - outside of Black
popular circles of discussion. A huge wedge has been driven
between the people and their assumed leaders, many of whom see
great value in association with Blacks who are embedded in Wall
Street - which drives and finances gentrification and the impoverishment
of the great mass of African Americans. In a larger sense, the
integration of modest numbers of Blacks into the corporate class,
where they pursue both their own and their companies’ interests,
has caused great confusion among presumed Black leaders, who
would prefer to interact with the few Blacks in the enemy camp
rather than fight the enemy.
Let us be clear: you cannot unite with the enemy
and fight it at the same time - even if the face that is presented
It is what BC editor Bruce Dixon
Black-business leadership class" that has caused this
consternation and confusion, as they seek to integrate their
dreams with corporate America’s schemes, which are antithetical
to the interests of Black America. When they call for Black
"unity," it resonates, as it always has, among our
people. But, unity with whom? For what reason? Under what program,
and for whose purpose?
"Unity" of this kind defeats us, totally,
because it is not unity of the Black polity, which has long
been unified on fundamental issues, but unity with surrogates
for those who hold none of our essential values, and will continue
to work against our interests.
Drawing the Lines
None of this rot and mess can be resolved unless
"bright lines" of political behavior, based on broadly
held Black opinion, are held aloft as benchmarks that any aspirant
to leadership must address. The CBC
Monitor has begun this task with the Congressional Black
Caucus, which has allowed itself to be destroyed as "the
conscience of the Congress" by a futile quest for unity
while infested with corporate surrogates who will not unite
with the historical Black consensus. The result has been
that the Caucus cannot take
a position that the (distinct minority) corporate-bought
members oppose. The CBC Monitor has created a score card that
penalizes members’ for their most egregious votes against the
interests of their people. However, the Monitor will have to
go further, and give guidance and warning to the 43 members
of the Caucus about the allowable limits of their future behavior.
They will have to declare What we believe, and
What we demand from our legislators.
BC introduced the "bright
line" concept of Black political evaluation in our four-week
interrogation of then-Senatorial candidate Barack Obama,
back in June of 2003. Obama had seemed to be having dalliances
with the rightist Democratic Leadership Council, so we asked
him point blank to respond to three "bright line"
questions to assure our readers that he had not crossed those