Crisis in Black Leadership

1 January 2017

The Crisis in Black Leadership “The Crisis in Black Leadership” is one of the essays in the book Race Matters written by Cornel West and published in 2001. West is a well-known professor, author, and critic of social issues affecting African Americans. West graduated from two prominent American Universities, Harvard and Princeton. In “The Crisis in Black Leadership”, West carefully discusses the problems and makes compelling arguments as to why there are shortage of genuine black leaders, but his points are not without shortcomings.

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Although West leadership classifications are well thought out, they are dominated by insinuations and his criticisms. One of such insinuations comes with West’s idea of the Black Political Leadership. West was always quick to point out what was lacking in the present day black political leadership, yet he never provides any solution or examples of what he is referring to. An example of this is his description of the “race effacing” managerial leader whom he criticized for trying to reach a large white constituency while keeping a loyal black one (59).

Thomas Bradley and Wilson Goodes as model of Black political leaders who tend to embrace progressive development while silencing the prophetic leaders. The argument here is disappointing and confusing because it raises more questions than answers. Why is it wrong to work cooperatively with other races or with the political mainstream? Does he believe or advocate violence as a means of achieving fairness? Another criticism comes against West’s definition of “race transcending” prophetic leader”. In -1 is view, Harold Washington was one of this kind of leaders.

The description that West offers for this category is “an elected official and prophetic leader with personal integrity and political savvy, moral vision and prudential judgement, courageous defiance and organizational patience”(61). Once again, he has failed to produce an example of what he is talking about. In short, this kind of leader in his opinion has to be perfect. No wonder, these kind of leaders are not common because there are no such thing as perfect human being not even West himself.

The next criticism was in what West described as “race identifying protest leaders” (60). They function as leaders who white Americans must appease so that the concern of the poor blacks is overlooked and forgotten. His definition of this type of black leaders is that they view themselves in the line of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. , Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer and yet self eluded” (60). He states that these kind of people are trying to model themselves after Malcolm X. and Martin Luther King, Jr. Once more, he failed to identify those he was referring to.

The question then becomes, does this kind of leader get criticized or regarded as a sellout because he has a large black constituency or because he is working with white people and the mainstream? If the answer is the former, then his whole argument becomes very confusing and raises yet another question: is he for or against black leaders leading in the black communities? Conversely, if those leaders were criticized simply because they wee working together with other races, then, West is a segregationist, to put it mildly.

Another criticism that West makes was what he described as “ race embracing rebels” who wrongly compare themselves with W. E. B. DuBois (65). West states that instead these “rebels” fall into the line those old stereotypical black college professors who thrived on being the “ big fish in a little pond “ (65). He applauds their resentment of the white Academy but rejects their reproduction of similar hierarchies headed by themselves in the black communities. Again, West did not name names of -2 those he was referring to. His argument here is not very clear.

Does West welcome the dismantling of the white Academy and anything that resembles it no matter where it exists? If so, this should be commended. West described the present – day black scholars as “mere academicians, narrowly confined to specialized disciplines with little sense of the broader life of the mind and hardly any engagement with battles in the streets” (62). Then he points out that the quality of black intellectual work has suffered more than others because one, the academic system of rewards and status, prestige and influence, puts a premium on those few black scholars who imitate the ominant system elevated by institutions of higher learning.

Two, many black scholars deliberately distance themselves so far away from the main stream Academy that they have little to sustain them as scholars. He sees frustration and isolation with this group because there are only few periodicals for cross – disciplinary exchange, few organs that show interest in this situation, and few magazines that focus on analysis of black culture and its relation to American society, infrastructures for black intellectual activity are limited. Again, his criticism here does not hold water.

First, the black intellectuals do not have to limit their ambition, study and research only to black culture or black related issues. Second, he did not explain how the black intellectual work has suffered because of the academic system of rewards and status. West has yet another category of black intellectual leadership which he described as “race distancing elitists”(64). These black intellectual leaders are mostly found at the the more exclusive universities and colleges. They regard themselves are the “talented tenth” who have near monopoly on the sophisticated and cultural gaze of what is wrong with black America.

West needed to include himself with this group, but did he do that ? No. He fits every description in this group, from belonging to an exclusive university to telling everybody else what they are doing wrong. -3 “ The Crisis in Black Leadership” is a very good and complex essay which needs a close attention to grasp everything, claims and arguments of Cornel West. West said many things that I agree with and others I do not. West appears inconsistent in some of his views in this writing. First, he sang the praises of the black leaders before and during the civil rights era like Martin Luther King, Jr. ho did not only believe in peaceful non-violence resistance but also believed in racial integration.

On the other hand, he criticizes the present day black leaders for working together with other races and describes them as sellouts in his “race effacing” leadership type. West also, condemns black intellectuals for working with the mainstream Academy. These are contradicting and confusing views to the reader. Then, he referred to himself as one of the “race transcending” leaders which cannot be further from the the truth. How can that be? West never held any elected political office.

According to his definition, A “race transcending prophetic leader” should be an elected political official and a prophetic leader with personal integrity and political savvy, moral vision and prudential judgement, courageous defiance and organizational patience” (61). He has never been tested in most of these attributes. The only thing he has been doing is to criticize everyone which does not by itself solve any problems. West needs to go out there and put some of his views and theories into practice.

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