Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who Speaks For Black Americans?

Working to hold Black leadership, opinion makers, public officials and institutions accountable

Here is a great article By Leonard Pitts of the Miami Hearld. I guess he like many Black Americans are questioning Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and a number of old guard "leaders" who don't know how to let go. Check out the article. Let us know what you think.

Link Source and HatTip: Villager, Electronic Village
Source: Miami Hearld

No one person can speak for all American blacks

By Leonard Pitts

Beg pardon, but who died and made Al Sharpton president of the Negroes?

Not that Sharpton has ever declared himself as such. But the fact that some regard him as black America's chief executive was driven home for the umpteenth time a few days ago after TV reality show bounty hunter Duane ''Dog'' Chapman got in trouble for using a certain toxic racial epithet -- six letters, starts with N, rhymes with digger -- on the phone with his son.

As you may have heard, Chapman was expressing disapproval of the son's African-American girlfriend. ''It's not because she's black,'' he said. 'It's because we use the word `n----' sometimes here. I'm not going to take a chance ever in life of losing everything I've worked for for 30 years because some f---- n---- heard us say 'n----' and turned us in to the Enquirer magazine.''

Naturally, the son sold a tape of the conversation to the National Enquirer. Which leaves me in the awkward position of simultaneously loathing what Chapman said and pitying him for having raised a rat fink son who would sell out his own father for a few pieces of silver. Anyway, with his life and career circling the drain, an apologetic Chapman fell back on what is becoming standard operating procedure for celebrities who defame black folk. He contacted Sharpton.

In so doing, he follows the trail blazed by Don Imus, Washington shock jock Doug ''Greaseman'' Tracht, and Michael Richards, who sought out Sharpton (or, alternately, Jesse Jackson) atter saying what they wished they had not. They were all in turn following the news media which, whenever a quote on some racial matter is required, turn to the right reverends by reflex. You'd think they knew no other Negroes.

I don't begrudge Jackson or Sharpton their fame. Jena, La., might have gone unnoticed had they not used that fame to direct public attention there. Still, I question whether we ought not by now have grown beyond the notion that one or two men can speak for, or offer absolution in the name of, 36 million people.

Charismatic leadership - Read More HERE


Bruce A. Dixon said...

I think that Pitts's objections to Jesse and Al are misdirected and founded on a shallow non-analysis of who runs the media and how media shapes public consciousness, including Black consciousness.

The problem is not that Jesse and Al are old and out of touch and don't know how to "let go", whatever the heck that means. The problems are the disappearance of journalism, the corporate consolidation of media, including black media, and the resultant fact that our print and broadcast media are absolutely controlled by a handful of megacorporations who view Black America not as a polity with its own internal political dialg, but purely and only as a market to be delivered to sponsors.

I'm 57 and grew up in Chicago. Back in the day, you could learn about the movement on Black radio. When Dr. King moved to Chicago to live in a west side ghetto apartment in 1965, Black radio broadcast his address, and people lined up around the block to talk to the man. When Stokely Carmichael came to our south side neighborhood in 1968, that was on the radio. When the Black Panther Party began operating in Chicago in 1969, that was on Black radio too. All kinds of grassroots and neighborhood organizing efforts had access to the mic because Black radio had news departments employing full time black journalists chasing down news in Chicago's black communities, and Chicago was no different from Detroit, Philly, Brooklyn, Kansas City, Memphis or DC.

My generation in their youth were no smarter and no more altruistic than young people today. We just gew up in a media climate where the movement had direct access to the mic through broadcast news. When people have ready access to what the movement folks in their vicinity and beyond are doing, it catches fire. When they don't, instead of a public media space in which the problems of Black America are examined, there is an empty space. There isn't any broadcast news to speak of any more on Black radio. There's ony talk, which does not adhere to the standards of journalism, is much cheaper for station management to produce, and which is well adapted to spreading the culture of celebrity and consumption.

In the absence of local news operations serving Black audiences, there are no mechanisms for the efforts of local and grassroots Black activists to come to the attention of the wider Black public. There is no public space to examine and analyze what they do and don't do, where we should and shouldn't go, and no ladder for new leaders to climb up to prominence. IUf the Birmingham Bus Boycott was organized right now, the folks not in the few churches that initiated it would never know it, and it would never get off the ground. Jesse and Al have been waiting for reinforcements a long time now, but the road has been cut. For their part, white corporate media have turned them, for their own racist audiences, into caricatures, the go-to guys on the few "Black issues" they care to broadcast about.

That's not Jesse Jackson's or Al Sharpton's fault, so hatin' on them, wishing they would die, go away or "let go", is a pointless and profound misdirection of our scrutiny. They didn't scramble up the wall and pull the ladder up after themselves. The ladder to leadership is access to the mic on the part of local communities via news reporting, and that ladder has been removed by the owners of corporate print and broadcast media, including Black-owned Radio One and TV-1.

When Mr. Pitts and others say "we don't need black leaders" and "nobody speaks for Black America" they are buying and spreading the same corporate lie that informs the practice of Radio One, TV-One, the owners of corporate media, and a current black presidential candidate --- that there IS NO BLACK AMERICA as a political entity --- that Black America exists purely as a marketing convenience. We can listen to Black music, we can buy Black books, patronize Black businesses, sometimes attend HBCUs and elect Black public officials, according to this twisted logic --- but the only way there are no Black leaders is for there to be no Black political consciousness, no black political identity. Of course this is a transparent lie.

There is a Black polity, whether the corporate media acknowledge it or not, whether Mr. Pitts acknowleges it or not.

He is preaching capitulation to the elimination of black journalism. He is preaching that we don't need black public space in the media to discuss our situation. By preaching the "end of Black leadership" Mr. Pitts is effectively preaching Black political suicide, the abdication of any collective role in our own affairs. All there will be left to do is to shut up and be passive consumers, not conscious political actors.

Bruce Dixon
Managing Editor

Lovebabz said...

Mr. Dixon,
BRAVO! I love this post--it sets the tone for elevating this discussion. I am not so concerned with Mr. Pitt's motivations for blasting Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, except to say that insulting other Black men seems to be the quickest way to journalistic fame. I think focusing our energy on who speaks for Black people takes us away from working on issues that need all our intellectual capital. It costs nothing to hold a negative spot light to anyone whether it's Reverends Jackson or Sharpton.
It does cost us our immediate attention to the issues at hands. We all speak for Black America. Now what are we going to do concretely to elevate the causes that need Black Power? We can debate and analyze and flex our intellectual muscles all day, but at the end of the day Brothers and Sisters we got some shit in front us.

Aaron & Alaine said...

While you may not appreciate the way Pitt has framed his point as a too narrow analysis of what is really a wider issue, it is a fair beginning point. Notwithstanding Bruce's point that corporate control of media reduces black polity to little more than a target for marketing, Jesse and Al have been more than willing to play the role the media has given them, as often to our collective detriment as they have accomplished anything worthwhile.

Lovebabz suggests that talking about who leads black america diverts energy from more important issues. Perhaps; however, it does not negate the validity of the initial point. I would argue that Jesse and Al by their willingness to be co-opted by consolidated media have diverted much energy into media worthy spectacles, while the underlying issues and the community capacity to address them go lacking.

So its not an irrelevant topic nor do I think you can properly characterize it as an insult to be critical of Jesse and Al, particularly given that you can identify a variety of ways in which their media whoring has been quite harmful to the cause of black america. It may be that you can subsume that as a smaller part of a yet larger issue, but I find it as good a starting place as any to raise the issue of accountability. These men divert a lot of black people's energy to little purpose other than spectacle, leaving them no further enlightened, equipped or effective than before they stirred them up in most cases. Indeed in a world where the black polity has really got to get its stuff together, it is shameful that these two and other lesser practitioners of the race hustle are not called to account for their foolishness and lack of vision. Shame on them and shame on us.


Bruce A. Dixon said...

It is not my custom to refer to Jesse and Al as "whores" though I have
many, many disagreements with them. But if for the sake of argument,
we say that's what they are, then those who make the media decisions
are pimps, the real shot callers in this. Focusing all our
"accountability" talk on the alleged whores and leaving the pimps free
to do what they will seems a little twisted to me.

Especially since these pimps are custodians of the publicly licensed
airwaves and the publicly financed and subsized cable and electronic
media regimes.

Real leaders emerge from grassroots struggles. But when corporate
media control refuses to allow news coverage to exist that
disseminates news about these struggles to the mass of our people,
substituting sports and celebrity coverage, vapid talk shows and crime
news --- it is they who are preventing new leaders from emerging ---
not Jesse and not Sharpton. It is they who are propping up these two
straw men for whites to alternately mock, attack and hug up to as
proxies for all of us.

Starting and ending our "accountability" sessions throwing rocks at
Jesse and Al will change nothing, as it does not challenge the people
with the actual power in this situation. Ritual denunciations of Al
and Jesse will not boost new grassroots leaders in our communities to
national prominence. Only fundamental challenges to the media regime
will do that. And the media that reaches most of our people, most of
the time is commercial black radio.

Make them accountable, make them deliver news by covering the
struggles ongoing in our communities, and your new leadership will be
manifest. Jesse and Al with then have to adapt, or be interred in the
Museum of Old Black Leaders, wherever we decide to put that.

Dark Daughta said...

Hierarchical thinking will always be the downfall of any revolutionary movement for change. Keeping a few men at the top and looking to them for guidance has never worked and never will.