Don’t Hold Obama to a Race Agenda

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Commentary: Don’t hold Obama to race agenda

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University. She is the author of the award-winning book “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought,” and writes a daily blog titled The Kitchen Table.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell says black politics has come of age, with blacks as equal partners in electing Obama.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell says black politics has come of age, with blacks as equal partners in electing Obama.

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PRINCETON, New Jersey (CNN) — It seems Tavis Smiley has been irritated with Barack Obama for a long time. Smiley is perhaps the most recognizable African-American journalist in the country. He is a fixture on radio and television, and has authored several books that are best-sellers among black readers.

One might suspect that Smiley would be enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by America’s election of a black president.

Instead, Smiley seems annoyed.

In February 2008, Smiley denounced then-candidate Obama for failing to make a personal appearance at Smiley’s annual State of the Black Union. His continuing criticism of Sen. Obama during the fall campaign produced substantial outcry from listeners of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a popular radio program where Smiley had been a well-liked regular.

After Obama’s election, Smiley published a text titled “Accountable” and has repeatedly indicated his intention to hold President Obama “accountable” to an explicitly racial agenda.

The specific policies suggested by Smiley’s books are not substantially different from those of the Obama administration, but Smiley insists on explicit and repeated acknowledgement of race, while Obama typically seeks to address inequality within a racially neutral frame.

Despite writing about race in both of his books, addressing race in the historic Philadelphia speech during the Democratic primary and repeatedly acknowledging that racial inequality endures, Smiley’s critique implies that Obama’s approach to race is both inadequate and inauthentic.

On May 24, TV One aired the latest installment of Smiley’s accountability campaign: a two-hour documentary titled “Stand.” Recycling Spike Lee’s Million Man March film, “Get On the Bus,” Smiley assembled a group of prominent black male public figures for a bus ride through the South.

Ostensibly, this bus trip would provide Smiley, professors Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, Dick Gregory and others an opportunity to reflect on the meaningful upheavals in American society and politics in the summer of 2008. “Stand” was an enormous disappointment.

Its low production value, wandering narrative, flat history and self-important egoism did little to reveal the shortcomings of the Obama phenomenon. Instead, the piece exposed and embodied the contemporary crisis of the black public intellectual in the age of Obama.

The film and its participants (two of them my senior colleagues at Princeton University) appropriated the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to implicitly claim that they, not Obama, are the authentic representatives of the political interests of African-Americans. They used King’s images and speeches, gathered on the balcony where King was assassinated, and explicitly asserted their desire to play King to Obama’s LBJ, and Frederick Douglass to Obama’s Lincoln.

On its face, this is not a bad model. Presidents are deeply constrained by the structural and political limitations of their office. A robust administration needs an active and informed citizenry to engage, push, cajole, criticize and applaud its efforts.

But this appropriation misrepresents rather than preserves King’s legacy. King was a powerful questioner and, at times, ally of President Johnson because he was at the helm of a massive social movement of men and women who were shut out of the ordinary political process. It was not King’s intellectual capacity or verbal dexterity that made him an effective advocate for racial issues; it was his own accountability to that movement.

This is not true of Smiley and his “soul patrol,” who are mostly public personalities and tenured professors largely unaccountable to the black constituency. King’s meager income, though supplemented by the lecture circuit, was grounded in the voluntary contributions of black churchgoers.

Smiley is backed by powerful corporations, like Wal-Mart and Nationwide, that have troubled relationships with these communities. The college profs on the bus are comfortably supported by well-endowed universities. This does not invalidate their views on race, but it does make the analogy with King a poor fit.

Further, Smiley and his “soul patrol” seemed to have missed the intervening 40 years between the era of King and the election of Obama. African-Americans are no longer fully disfranchised subjects of an oppressive state.

African-Americans are now citizens capable of running for office, holding officials accountable through democratic elections, publicly expressing divergent political preferences and, most importantly, engaging the full spectrum of American political issues, not only narrowly racial ones. The era of racial brokerage politics, when the voices of a few men stood in for the entire race, is now over. And thank goodness it is over. Black politics is growing up.

The men of “Stand” yearned for an imagined racial past. By their accounting, this racial past had better music, more charismatic leaders and a more-involved black church.

Their romanticism ignores the cultural contributions of contemporary black youth, forgets the dangerous limitations of charismatic leadership and revises the fraught, complicated relationship of black churches to struggles for racial equality. And these men ignored the democratizing effect of new media forms, which revolutionized the 2008 election.

Black people were not duped by some slick, media-generated candidate. African-Americans were co-authors of the Obama campaign. Through social networks, YouTube videos, political blogs and new-media echo chambers, black people were equal partners in shaping the candidate and his campaign. There was no need for the entrenched pundit class to tell black voters what to think or how to behave; they figured it out for themselves.

Still, there is plenty to criticize in the young Obama administration: the refusal to prosecute those implicated in the torture memos, civilian casualties caused by drone attacks, bank bailouts and inadequate defense of gay rights to name a few. But black communities are already engaged in these critiques and many others. Black local organizers, elected officials, bloggers, pundits and columnists have taken substantive, specific positions on a broad range of issues.

In black communities, nonprofit organizations continue to work for justice, and charities still try to fill the gap during tough economic times. African-Americans are engaged as mature citizens ought to be: in both discourse and action.

This political maturity is precisely the source of the black public intellectual crisis: What do Smiley and the Soul Patrol add to this process? Their bus never stopped at a Habitat for Humanity site to build a home or at a soup kitchen to serve the hungry. Their dialogue centered more on the relative merits of Aretha vs. Beyonce than on meaningful political issues.

Though they spoke with elders, their self-congratulatory revelry never paused to engage any elected officials, issues specialists or local activists. And while they talked a great deal about women, they never spoke to a woman.

“Stand” was sad because I still believe in a role for black public intellectuals. Scholars and journalists often have a particular capacity for curiosity, questioning and issue synthesis that has real value in public discourse. It was painfully clear that this particular accountability crusade is not informed by any of those skills. Instead, it seems determined to stand in the way of the maturation of African-American politics in order to maintain personal power.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

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Comments

  1. This Sister has been generally disappointing, but I buckled down and began the process of reading this article until I got here:

    “Smiley is backed by powerful corporations, like Wal-Mart and Nationwide, that have troubled relationships with these communities. The college profs on the bus are comfortably supported by well-endowed universities.” There is where I could go no further.

    Tavis Smiley’s relationship with Wal-Mart, and other corporations is certainly troubling, but the burning dishonesty of the writer is mind-boggling, and too much to take. If Ms. Harris-Lacewell’s intention was to put forth a heartfelt analysis – given her association with MSNBC and the wildly corporate backed Princeton University, her sentence would read, “Smiley and EYE are backed by powerful corporations . . . ”

    And so, the question for us all becomes which of the corporate backed mouthpieces are communicating in a language that speaks to the needs of folk that NONE of them are deeply embedded with.

    Ms. Harris-Lacewell has penned the presumptuous article entitled “Why Black People Loved Barack Obama’s first 100 days,” as if Rachel Maddow appoints spokespeople for the Black community.

    Her statement on “racial inequality” (which glaringly does not speak to the perpetration of White supremacy) is the following:

    “Contemporary racial inequality is a screw, and if you take a hammer and start pounding on a screw, you just end up with a mess which means we have to live with the fact that a new generation is going to have to innovate a screwdriver to deal with the new problem. And that screwdriver might not look anything like the hammer. And we can’t keep yelling at them to use a hammer for a new problem.”

    This less than profound analysis communicates a new generational approach that feigns group success based upon the election of one solitary Black President.

    So, I’m saying that the core of her argument is dishonest, i.e. in being unwilling to confess who she’s speaking for, accusing Tavis Smiley of being funded by some of the same folk she is, and then suggesting that the albeit amazing victory of one Black family equates with the success of millions of Black, Brown and Indigenous people, many of whom live in squalor or are perpetually financially overwhelmed, and who flow from generations of same.

    In fact, in another interview Ms. Harris-Lacewell says that when she “looks at Michelle Obama” she is touched with idea that the President sees she and her daughters. But, she – a Princeton educated bi-racial woman and her daughters are NOT a microcosm of the Black experience which is why he is able to envision her reality so readily. It is absolutely natural for him to see her.

    Just after the election Ms. Harris-Lacewell stated, “we’ve still got very serious basic civil rights issues. And among them is the question of marriage equality for gay men and lesbians.” If Ms. Harris-Lacewell is incapable of seeing the widespread victimization of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples in the US and across the planet, but is readily willing and able to articulate a specific concern for ‘marriage equality’ in terms of ‘civil rights’ then I say she is unfit to participate in discourse on this subject.

    The irony is that that would make Ms. Melissa Harris-Lacewell a perfect candidate for an appointment with the Obama administration.

    If I have my druthers, I choose the folk who articulate concern for those that Barack Obama CAN NOT see rather than the ones he can.

    T.H.

  2. LoveTruth says:

    I agree with only some of what Melissa Harris Lacewell is saying but I have an issue that is an age old issue. Why are we focusing on the faults of individuals such as Tavis Smiley and not certain ideologies or visions that people who are critical of Obama may have.

    The title “Don’t Hold Obama to a Race Agenda” is ridiculous and is what is too often used to marginalized rightful opposition.

    Black political thought has never been solely about race. To reduce it to that is whats immature.

    What Race agenda? If someone is looking for government to address serious issues that disproportionately affect a group of people, how is that somehow unfair. If people want change they must be consistent with everyone they vote into office. No one is saying that black people are not an able body.

    It is hypocritical for Melissa Harris Lacewell to go after Holder’s speech on race claiming that he did not address institutionalized racism and then behave as if when the same criticism is thrown in Obama’s direction, it’s not legit. Obama appointed him, he is in the Obama admin. People are discussing the admin. on a whole when and if they dissent.

    Its identity politics and a “race” agenda when people refuse to hold Obama accountable because they are so enthralled with having a black face in a high place.

    Also, the reason why there have always been these few and selected “race” leaders (which I agree are and always have been unnecessary and irrelevant) is because the powers that be wanted to simplify our politics and movements to single people to blunt its power and leave out the totality of various visions and facts. I am sorry but people keep missing the fact that during the 1960s and 1970s, there were multiple people, organizations and activists not only fighting on a race front but a CLASS (the elephant in the room no one ever mentions) front. They had different approaches, different ideologies however they shared the same terrain. These individuals and groups have been conveniently forgotten in favor of one or two “leaders”.

    I am waiting for someone to write to AIPAC who looks to hold Obama to an Israeli agenda or the Latino community whose “leaders” met with Obama right after he got into office to discuss how he was going to turn their 67% support for him into substantive change. Or the white women who could not wait a weak before having Obama sign legislation.

    What few people fail to realize is that agitation from the black community historically has caused change for other groups of marginalized Americans as well. The Civil Rights Act benefited a great many other groups. Therefore it is not some selfish agenda especially when issues of class is at the forefront.

    This idea that anytime black critiques of Obama are some how narrow to a black agenda is an unfair characterization. If anyone heads over to the Black Agenda Report (who are know fans of Obama) they would see that they speak about issues having to do with militarization and war, healthcare, the economy etc… These are broad issues that effect all people.

    Also, MLK broke with LBJ after he criticized the war in Vietnam. MLK was denounced by the NAACP as well as other organizations and the media. You left that out. It was not a back and forth thing let me compromise when I need something thing. MLK became more radical and less safe for the status quo so aligning himself with a president who no longer was interested in issues pertaining to race and class could no longer do. Read speeches like “The Other America” by MLK.

    I voted for Obama and plan on giving him until the end of the year before I make any real critiques if necessary but this whole gag order that blacks must follow does not sit right with me. It never has and it never will. I was raised with self-respect and integrity. If I disagree, I make it know. I should state that I agree with MHL’s criticisms of Obama with a few extras added in. However, she must get over her obsession with Tavis Smiley. I am no fan of him which is why I choose to ignore him.

  3. LoveTruth says:

    “Just after the election Ms. Harris-Lacewell stated, “we’ve still got very serious basic civil rights issues. And among them is the question of marriage equality for gay men and lesbians.” If Ms. Harris-Lacewell is incapable of seeing the widespread victimization of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples in the US and across the planet, but is readily willing and able to articulate a specific concern for ‘marriage equality’ in terms of ‘civil rights’ then I say she is unfit to participate in discourse on this subject. ”

    Exactly Terry,

    While I am an advocate for equal rights across the board. This is troubling and representative of her deep ties with the white liberal politcal body who have used blacks as pawns historically for their own agenda. Then they want to behave as if they are any better than their more overtly racist white conservative counterparts.

    I would also like to thank you for bringing up her own corporate bedfellows. She behaves as if this essay did not first go to CNN.

    She is obsessed with Tavis Smiley. Did they have a fling, did he dump her? This is how she is behaving. There is not a moment where she does not write an article about him. Get over him who cares about him. Lets discuss the actual issues.

    Of course it is much easier to attack an individual rather than go after the actual issues.

  4. As momma said, “some folks spend their time jus’ criticizin’ and complainin’……criticizin’ and complainin’…”

    As for me, I’m gonna continue working on political action, organizing with folks who are optimistic and positive enough to get something DONE…

    We have a lot of accomplish before the Republicans steal the power back. In the meantime, I understand what Obama meant when he said, “It’s not about me; it’s about you”. I get it–it’s up to US to create the change we want to see.

    Well, that’s enough spent chatting–time to get back to work!

  5. Yeah, I know what you mean. Momma was complainin’ and criticizin’ people for criticizin’ and complainin’. Our ideas about “change” are not at all the same.

    L.T., We agree in large part, but I don’t follow that woman scorned train of thought.

    Out of all the ways to frame this debate, that train of thought is not relevant to the topic, is grasping for straws and is really a personal affront which you say you reject coming from her

  6. Robert Jr. James McClendon says:

    I’m just too ignorant to read all of this woman’s stuff. Tavis Smiley doesn’t represent me. If Barack Obama had any type of African American agenda, let’s be real, he wouldn’t be president today. Like I said, I’m ignorant – as far as I’m concerned Tavis Smiley and Tom Joyner and them been done sold out. I can’t sit and read so-called educated people talking about “much to do about nothing” non-sense. Obama did it his way – not the Tavis, Jessie, hip-hop, Dr. King, African American, ect. way, he did it the good old- fashioned way – “my mom was white, my two white grand parents raised me, I’m not a threat because I represent everyone, remind you my grand parents were white”. Obama did it his way, just like Smiley doing his crap “they” way on channel 12. I don’t want to hear it!!!

  7. Robert Jr. James McClendon says:

    Hey, just to change the subject a bit, Who’s more popular in America right now – FLAVOR FLAV! or President Barack Obama. They both on tv often, but Flavors known. See that’s the ignorant stuff I be talkin’ about.

  8. I think you all rush to condemn Harris-Lacewell too quickly. Her argument(s) here hold water, but rather than engage them, some of you have chosen to dismiss her. Surely, there are a least a couple of points in this piece that you would agree with.

    Her commentary speaks specifically to the crisis of role for black intellectuals in the quest for racial equality. Her central argument that these men claim to be spokespersons for the “race,” but lack any real accountability to the constituency they represent can’t be quickly dismissed.

    She doesn’t claim that SHOULD be the role of black public intellectuals, but that to imply that it is the case is highly problematic and ineffective to meet the desired goals of social justice. She acknowledges that she’s employed by Princeton. The difference, I would think, is that she in no way suggests that she’s some kind of heir to MLK’s microphone the way cats in “Stand” do. Black Intellectuals played a critical role in the black freedom movement in the 20th century, but to suggest that their role was similar to King’s is dishonest.

    Furthermore, she has more credibility in regard to working with people “on the ground” than any of them. That’s why she questions why they didn’t raise up or mention community organizers, activists, and elected officials who are doing the work to shift policy and empower black communities around social change efforts.

  9. Robert Jr. James McClendon says:

    VCF, I apologize, I didn’t read her piece to condemn her. The first paragraph said it was “much to do about nothing”. Pick up a book, read it, just because you read it that doesn’t make it a good book. You just read it. Nothing”intellectual” about that. FLAVOR FLAV! What Tavis say Chris Rock said about Tupac and Biggie? And what did Chris Rock say somebody needing to do to FLAVOR FLAV? Now I won’t condemn that.

  10. Robert Jr. James McClendon says:

    I didn’t read the lady piece, but looking at her picture she looks like she one of those light-skinned sistas looking for the “come up”. Slimy as it has to be, she got that look like she’ll run and take her piece dead- straight to the hawk-nosed man every time. Type of look that will try to divide conquer the black man so she can squeeze on through. That’s based on her picture, never read her “CNN” whatever.

  11. Sweeney says:

    She may be a wanne-be Soledad O’Brian, but atleast we know she’s part African American. Soledad is working on “Hispanics in America” coming this fall. She’s going to exploit whoever to stay on top. I imagine that’s where people like Ms. Harris-Lacewell are getting their clues from on CNN.

  12. LoveTruth says:

    “Furthermore, she has more credibility in regard to working with people “on the ground” than any of them. That’s why she questions why they didn’t raise up or mention community organizers, activists, and elected officials who are doing the work to shift policy and empower black communities around social change efforts.”

    This is my issue with her. While she condemns the idea of having spokespeople…she gives just as much attention to such spokespeople than anyone else. As I said, ignore them and make your voice louder. I find that she attacks people more than ideas as I said! There are a great many people who are leaders and members of grassroots organizations and and are working effortlessly to try and make change in their communities who have a great many criticisms for Obama however it is easier to attack notable people personal as she has proven time and time again she is good at.

    I am familiar with Melissa Harris Lacewell. her obsession with Tavis Smiley must end. In order to make him irrelevant, you must stop making him relevant.

  13. LoveTruth,

    If I understand you correctly, you don’t think her analysis is off base, you just think her energy is misdirected? Is that right?

    What spokespersons has she made a habit of attacking? As I can tell, she’s written about Tavis twice. Once around the time of SOBU during the election last year and this one.

  14. LoveTruth says:

    VCF,

    I will begin by saying that Melissa Harris Lacewell whether on panels, via her blog, or even her Twitter cannot go three days without making reference to Tavis Smiley and attacking him. It turns into attacking people instead of attacking actual ideas. It is also a clever way to marginalize all people on the black left from saying even remotely anyhting critical of Obama without being labeled as shallow, immature and opportunistic which is far fromthe case. Tavis Smiley, Dyson and their likes do not truly represent the black left. Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report does, for example. Davey D just posted a video of Glen Ford who I believe I had mentioned above as someone she should contest. I am waiting for some of these people to actually discuss certain realities domestically and foreign. Glen Ford brings it each and every time and very rarely (and never when it comes to Obama) can anyone offer a real rebuttal.

    He knows his history, he understands how power works and how it is gained, he understands that issues on a global scale, he understands our political system and so on and so forth. He makes people like Melissa Harris Lacewell, Michael Eric Dyson and company (they are company) seem 4th grade.

    More importantly, Her analysis is off base! I am annoyed to no end of her narrow defintion of “black politics”. I contested some of the points she brought up including her selective use of history.

  15. LoveTruth,

    It sounds to me like you don’t disagree with MHL’s critique because you believe that Dyson, West, Smiley, & co. ARE shallow. You just think that MHL is shallow, TOO. Is that fair?

    In some respects it seems that you would levy a critiques of them that MHL provides in this particular article:

    “The era of racial brokerage politics, when the voices of a few men stood in for the entire race, is now over. And thank goodness it is over. Black politics is growing up.”

    “A robust administration needs an active and informed citizenry to engage, push, cajole, criticize and applaud its efforts.”

    “The college profs on the bus are comfortably supported by well-endowed universities. This does not invalidate their views on race, but it does make the analogy with King a poor fit.”

    “There is plenty to criticize in the young Obama administration: the refusal to prosecute those implicated in the torture memos, civilian casualties caused by drone attacks, bank bailouts and inadequate defense of gay rights to name a few. ”

    You obviously follow and pay considerable attention to her work in media. Much more than I. I tried to find what you referenced above, but didn’t find much (four mentions in her blog, some twitter convos with responses to her article, a link to an article on her website.) From what I see, she covers a lot of bases. Especially in her DuBois lectures at Harvard. Frankly, I’m just not seeing the obsession with Tavis that you describe.

    But rather than debate that, I think what I want to know is, what specifically in the text of this article do you dispute? I saw your critique of her characterization of King’s relationship to LBJ. But to say that King was “at times” an ally to LBJ is a factual to me.

  16. LoveTruth says:

    I will begin at the bottom and work my way up. The reason why you think that King was an ally to LBJ “at times” is because you may not be aware of King’s shift in ideological focus after 1965. King was aligned with LBJ up until the Civil Rights Act was signed then things slowly began to go down hill. King’s relationship with LBJ went south when he spoke out against the Vietnam War, LBJ’s neglect of the efforts of the Great Society, American capitalism, materialism as well as other more systematic issues. It was not an “I will be friends with him when convienent” sort of agreement. King broke his alliance with LBJ. That is not how Lacewell made it seem.

    “There is plenty to criticize in the young Obama administration: the refusal to prosecute those implicated in the torture memos, civilian casualties caused by drone attacks, bank bailouts and inadequate defense of gay rights to name a few. ”

    I already noted that I agreed with what she outlined in this portion but she did not go far enough. These were not his only offenses for me.

    “The era of racial brokerage politics, when the voices of a few men stood in for the entire race, is now over. And thank goodness it is over. Black politics is growing up.”

    I offered a rebuttal of this simple logic already. The reason why there always seem as if there were a few men speaking for an entire race is not because the race chose them, its not because of any inadequecy in black politics, it has to do with who is promoted or spoken about amongst the dominant white community. Have you noticed that CNN, MSNBC and others only tap certain people each and every time they need commentary on a particular topic. This goes back to emancipation.Simplified revisionist history has successfully managed to erase the diversity and complexity of black political thought and those involved. This is the issue.

    This is not a sign of immaturity in black politics but more a clear indicator of the limited public space given to black opinion historically. Attacking Tavis Smiley is not going to open up space but instead lead to the same downfalls of previous points in time for example the squabbles between A. Phillip Randolph, DuBois and Garvey over Pan Africanism as well as DuBois and Washington over accomodationism. The rivalry between the Black Panther Party and the US Organization over the issue of revolutionary nationalism vs. cultural nationalism. While the latter was one of the few to actually turn violent, the others were mostly back and forth ideological debates such as this one. These are only a small, small, small portion. While it is good to engage in debate, we too often seem to overlook the real issue at hand. Its like a group of people in a kitchen arguing over what to cook and how to cook it. In the midst of the arguing, there is nothing getting cooked and there are people starving outside.

    While the white dominant community launched their assault to demobilize and destory us, our squabbling weakened our ability to fight back as a collective. This is why so little has changed in this respect outside of the players.

    P.S. please excuse my longwindedness, sentence structure, typos and misspellings.

  17. Robert Jr. James McClendon says:

    Right on, Love truth!

  18. LoveTruth,

    “At times” does not suggest a a permanent alliance or even one for the majority of time. All it means is that on some occasions, MLK was a strategic ally of LBJ. I’m aware of MLK’s shift. But the fact of that shift does not dispute the claim that he allied with LBJ “at times.”

    Her list of offenses, I don’t think was intended to be exhaustive. Especially since the objective of the article was not to list his shortfalls. That may be an article that she should write, but surely that shortcoming does not render her premise here moot.

    I think your last point is one where I have the most confusion and potentially most disagreement. You state that the the model of “racial spokespersons” is a ploy historically exercised by dominant whites to diffuse black freedom movements. I think this is true in some cases (though it is much more complicated than that), but is disputed by the list of persons you generated in the above post.

    I would hesitate to say that Randolph, Garvey, DuBois, (at times) Washington, and even King (along with Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Farrakhan, Thurgood Marshall, etc.) were prominent leaders because they were strategically tapped by dominant whites to be “spokespersons for the black race” with the intention to divide and conquer. I would argue that the model of single charismatic (male) leadership also contributed to the squabbles between leaders that you mentioned and went a long way to internally diffuse black political and social progress.

    That model of leadership is not product of revisionist history. In fact, it’s one that King himself felt was strategically most beneficial to the movement. For more information on this point, I would suggest that anyone read ‘Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision’ by Barbara Ransby. Chapter 6 in particular offers a well researched assessment of conflicts in organizing strategies throughout the black freedom movement of the 60’s. With particular attention to debates between Ella Baker (a chief organizer and architect of the CRM) and King.

    Here’s a link to a review of the book by Rufus Borrow followed by a quote from his review that summarizes the premise of said chapter:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4044/is_200504/ai_n13642515/

    “Baker despised the single charismatic leader model of leadership. The leadership model that made sense to Baker was that whereby the people looked primarily to themselves and identified leaders from within, rather than have leaders forced on them by outsiders. In this regard hers was truly a “radical democratic vision.” Of course, Baker knew from her experience in civil rights organizations that the favored leadership model was that of the individual charismatic leader. Her repudiation of this model kept her in hot water with the dominant male leadership of the NAACP (Walter White) and SCLC (Martin Luther King Jr.). ”

    I invoke this research, because I think it gets to the heart of MHL’s claim here. I read the article not as an attack on Smiley, Dyson, & West per se, but rather an attack on “Stand” as another attempt to force leadership on black communities rather than letting leaders be identified from within. It’s another exercise in appropriation of a charismatic male leader ideal, that if believed, ultimately disempowers black communities in the long term.

  19. LoveTruth says:

    Oh boy…

    “I would hesitate to say that Randolph, Garvey, DuBois, (at times) Washington, and even King (along with Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Farrakhan, Thurgood Marshall, etc.) were prominent leaders because they were strategically tapped by dominant whites to be “spokespersons for the black race” with the intention to divide and conquer.”

    That is not what I was saying at all! You erected a strawman argument on this one.

    “I would argue that the model of single charismatic (male) leadership also contributed to the squabbles between leaders that you mentioned and went a long way to internally diffuse black political and social progress. ”

    To come back around and state the point that I was trying to make! This is the point that I am making instead of looking at their shared terrain, the squabbling weakened their ability to counteract external forces. This is most visible in the rivalry between the Us Organization and BPP. This even extends from politics into other movements such as the Black Arts Movement. The black womanist movement has been tied up in the same type of thing. My bringing up the squabbles between black political leaders and organizations (only
    a few) historically was to highlight this ongoing dysfunction.

    Next…

    I read the book you mentioned. I have studied black politcal thought in depth. I am discussing it in its entirety. I think the point that I was trying to make was lost on you completely.

    In addition, revisionist history has simplified black politcal thought, period.

    I understand where MHL was coming from but it was deeply flawed and here is why…

    We need to stop being so reactionary.

    If we continue to go after these men, we are giving them importance. I said this already. If we continue to go after people, we lose track of ideas. This is my contention….this is what I mentioned in my first comment and this is how I still see it. You probably do not get it because you wrote a comment basically saying things that I agree with but had little to do with my critique of MHL’s article.

    I think Al Sharpton said it best when I called into his show with a critique of him. He basically said that he is not blocking anyone. “They just prefer to sit around and discuss how irrelevant and opportunistic I am instead of actually doing things themselves”.

    We do not need leadership at all. It does not need to be identified at all because the crowning of anyone as “leader” regardless of who is doing it, it will cause problems.

    My second issue, there are real critiques that need to be launched in Obama’s direction. While she claims that she has her own critques, she still behaves as if Obama is above critique especially with anyhting having to do with black communities.

    I agree with Glen Ford’s take entirely.

    One last thing,

    “At times” does not suggest a a permanent alliance or even one for the majority of time. All it means is that on some occasions, MLK was a strategic ally of LBJ. I’m aware of MLK’s shift. But the fact of that shift does not dispute the claim that he allied with LBJ “at times.”

    I did not need to write all what I wrote before. It does! She should have said “at a point”.

  20. LoveTruth says:

    The dominant community has had their hand in who gets the largest platform. They have historically. Today we don’t have activists, we have academics and individuals that reign from some corporate entity or another. Most of which I cannot stand so you will never hear me mention them but in passing.

    The classic newly crowned black leader is Bill Cosby? I heard him being refered as that in an article I read once and I nearly died laughing. The man’s understanding of social issues is simplistic at best. Nothing he says is profound but he has a platform…I wonder why?

    If anyone wants to see how irrelevant black public “intellectuals” and figures are read “Getting It Wrong: How Black Public Intellectuals Failed Black America” by Algernon Austin. Also follow his blog over at the Thora Institute. He is a classic example of going after ideas and not people.

  21. I’m writing from my phone, so I’ll be brief.

    What’s your read of Ransby’s book on Ella Baker? Do you agree with her characterization/critique of King?

  22. Robert Jr. James McClendon says:

    This writer ain’t that deep, you all. Just trying to “come up”. She’s working on another one as we type.