I’ve been screaming “We don’t need another hero!” for the last few weeks. Just because Al Sharpton and Cornel West had an argument on live television does not mean that there is a crisis in black leadership, or that we as a country even need to pay attention. First of all, there is no black leader. Secondly no one is looking for one. This debate, dispute, (whatever word fits it best) is ran by the media, who have for the last several decades elected black leadership for us. Cornel West’s role in criticizing the Black President is justified and patriotic, but his racial analysis, personal hurt feelings and confusing a Black President with a “Black Liberator” has blurred any real points has tried to make.
None of the “leaders”, or the news segments they promote about the state of black people, ever addresses the ideas of real black change and organizing. We seem to be stuck talking about when it is okay to say the dreaded “n-word”, or reacting to some obvious case of racism. Rarely are there any black speakers to bring on about the Prison Industrial Complex or the rate of AIDS in America. When they do discuss something pertinent and personal about black people, like fatherhood or drug addiction, it seems to be our “leaders” defending black people against the accusations of not handling fighting our demons. Yes, black people need to take charge of our own destiny, but no, CNN is not the place for that to happen.
Literally no one follows Cornel West he just has fans. Well deserved fans, because he speaks and writes eloquently about philosophical dilemmas in the African American world and the U.S. in general. He has made no organized call to action that black people have responded to. That has to be a prerequisite before you call someone a leader. With that as a bar, Farrakhan is a leader, and Jesse Jackson use to be a leader. At this point in history though, no black man, or black organization for that matter, can mass mobilize black people around a single issue. Let’s call West what he is, a philosopher, and honor his contributions to our dialogue in that way.
On that note, Barack Obama is obviously not a black leader. And to the dismay of some media elected black leaders before him, he’s never been a black leader. Barack Obama is the President of the United States. Cornell West, and sometimes Tavis Smiley, have gotten on Obama for his lack of leadership in the Black community. This is a role he’s never undertaken, and one that he most definitely cannot fulfill now. Should he be more active in the politics that help improve the lives of African Americans? Of course! But he would argue that extending the unemployment benefits and passing health care are things that are helping the disproportionately poorer African American community, and the things that fall right under his job description.
Elder black statesmen like Jackson, Sharpton and West are confused right now. They didn’t think they’d live to see this moment, or at the very least thought that who ever this black messiah was, he’d have to be blessed by them first. You know Jesse thought if he wasn’t Jesus, he’d at least be John the Baptist. On top of that, most everyone assumed that there would be a black liberator before there was a black president. We envisioned that our neighborhoods would rise to the acceptable caucasian levels of poverty, AIDS/HIV, education, crime and drugs. This would be led by the champion of the next generation of civil right movement. Steeped in the history of southern Church roots with stories of their grandfather joining in at sit-ins and freedom rides.
Cornel West is correct in calling The President of the United States a “mascot for oligarchs and a puppet of plutocrats”, but his blackness has nothing to do with it. Cornel West brings up the possibility Obama’s white heritage affecting his decision making as a) real news (of course Obama has a white sensibility and a minorities understanding, that is the story of his life) and b) a diss. He sounds like a punch drunk Bernard Hopkins aimlessly swinging verbal jabs at Donovan McNabb (who once again, just like Obama, stays above the dirty politics of our countries racial imagination). More than one political pundit has questioned whether Cornel West is personally conflating Obama not liking him, to Obama not liking black people.
West makes a valid point that gets lost amongst his racial mudslinging and ethnocentric psychoanalysis. He shouldn’t (I don’t think he truly meant to) chastise Obama for HAVING a pass on economic and social issues. He needs to be mad at Black America for GIVING him that pass. That’s real.
This countries greatness relies on criticizing the president, it’s the only reason we are not a despotic leach on humanity. What has made this country great are all the oppressed people pointing at these sacred founding principles and calling out the leaders of this country, telling them to put up or shut up. That role does not stop once a minority has gotten the job of president. The founders of this country, with the exception of a few of the actual framers of the declaration of independence and the constitution, did not believe half the stuff they signed their name on. They where trying to justify why sending other men to die over their tax rates, but you can’t scream “I hate the price of tea” if you’re a landless, penniless soldier and get amped about it. So they said it was about freedom, God given rights and equality. Then to galvanize the spirit of any nation you have to make your founding principals sacred, the constitution and the declaration of independence are second only to the bible in their importance in this country. But literally, George Washington did not see me as his equal. If he had a time machine he would not look at Obama and say my dreams for country have been fulfilled. He would ask why no one has whipped this nigga within an inch of his life.
People have always been delusional about what the first black president would be like. Cornel seems to miss the point that the unstated but none-the-less understood black agenda has never been the overthrow of the oligarchic system that this country has, it has been the assimilation. Think about it, 80% of Black History month has always been about celebrating the first black man to do something white men has always done. The radicals, the revolutionaries like Nat Turner, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, have been marginalized in mainstream public American education. They are only mentioned at all because the ripple they left in history was so large, and they represent the lesser of two evils when it came to the black problem, explaining why their less threatening (but equally necessary and courageous) counterparts like Douglass, Dubois, Carver and King dominate our history books. Men who have demanded the radical and revolutionary change of this countries financial system have been run out of the country or assassinated (see Dr. King after he started harnassing his considering power and influence to attack poverty instead of just racism). The black president and the black liberator where never going to be the same thing. That was never possible.
Obama’s greatest accomplishment is that when I tell an 11 year old black boy with no father to be found that he can grow up to be president if that’s what he really wants, he believes me. I’ll always appreciate Obama for that, while simultaneously calling him out when he’s wrong.