Black Agenda 2000
                                
Black Agenda 2000

Clarence Lusane analyzes the challenges facing the African
American community today and emphasizes the need for "A Vision, A
Plan, A Strategy."

     CROSSROADS IS PLEASED TO BE ABLE TO BRING YOU THIS EXCERPT
FROM CLARENCE LUSANE'S TIMELY NEW BOOK, AFRICAN AMERICANS AT THE
CROSSROADS, FORTHCOMING FROM SOUTH END PRESS. LUSANE PLACES
CURRENT EFFORTS TO FORGE A BLACK AGENDA IN THE CONTEXT OF
HISTORICAL ATTEMPTS TO COLLECTIVELY ASSERT AFRICAN AMERICAN
POLITICAL INTERESTS AND AFFECT NATIONAL POLITICS. HE INSIGHTFULLY
ADDRESSES THE SPECIFIC CONCERNS AND GRIEVANCES OF BLACK
AMERICANS, THE CONCRETE STRATEGIES THAT HAVE BEEN PROPOSED TO
ADDRESS THOSE CONCERNS, AND THE CONTROVERSIAL MATTER OF THE BROAD
PRINCIPLES AND VALUES THAT SHOULD GUIDE BLACK LEADERSHIP. DESPITE
THE GRIM REALITIES WE CURRENTLY FACE, LUSANE ENDS WITH THE
AFFIRMATION THAT, IN THE COMING CENTURY, BLACK LEADERSHIP WILL
BEGIN TO SUCCESSFULLY TAKE ON THE CHALLENGE OF RESTORING HOPE AND
A SENSE OF PURPOSE TO A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN BATTERED AND
BRUTALIZED.

                           *    *    *

     GIVE US A PLAN OF ACTION...A 10 BLACK COMMANDMENTS; SIMPLE,
STRONG, THAT WE CAN CARRY IN OUR HEARTS, AND IN OUR MEMORIES NO
MATTER WHERE WE ARE AND REACH OUT AND TOUCH AND FEEL THE
REASSURANCE THAT THERE IS BEHIND EVERYTHING WE DO A SIMPLE,
MORAL, INTELLIGENT PLAN THAT MUST BE FULFILLED IN THE COURSE OF
TIME EVEN IF ALL OF OUR LEADERS, ONE-BY-ONE FALL IN BATTLE.
                                      --OSSIE DAVIS

     Which way forward? As Black America stands at the crossroads
of its future, this question gnaws at the intestines of the Black
community and its leadership. The current state of debilitating
circumstances confronting large and growing sectors of the Black
community demands a new, imaginative vision, a new agency by
Black leadership, and a new sense of historic purpose on the part
of African Americans. The construction of a new Black agenda of
struggle requires a grasp of past efforts to achieve group
solidarity, a sober and critical awareness of the obstacles to
group solidarity in the present period, and an exploration of the
possible remedies to these obstacles with a turn toward the next
century.
     The African American effort to collectively forge a "Black
agenda" dates back to at least 1830, when fifteen representatives
from five states gathered in Philadelphia. These ministers, ex-
slaves, business leaders, and newspaper editors, as noted by
political historian Hanes Walton, "adopted programs aimed at
improving the status and security of the Free Negro population."
This process started the National Negro Convention Movement
(NNCM) which would meet six more times between 1831 and 1836. The
movement would eventually split over the issue of whether the
most efficacious strategy for African Americans was to remain in
the United States and struggle for reform, or go to Canada and
set up a colony of Black American emigrants.
     In 1853, the NNCM again gathered and created a Black agenda
of issues and concerns. Among the items demanded by the group was
the "complete and unrestricted right of suffrage, opening of
admission to all colleges and universities, equal justice for all
under the law, and repeal of America's racist laws." They also
sought the abolition of slavery.
     In the post-slavery era and in the first half of the 20th
century, similar agendas and manifestos were developed by Black
and civil rights organizations of the period. These included the
Niagara Movement, NAACP, Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement
Association movement, the Nation of Islam, and the National Negro
Congress, among others. In addition to serving as fulcrums for
ideological debate within the Black community, these programs
shaped the ways and manners in which African Americans related to
the broader political status quo. In the period prior to Fannie
Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's turbo
assault on the Democratic Party, the major-parties ignored these
agendas with a snickering impunity.
     Since the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Black agendas
inside and outside of the body politic have flourished and
multiplied. From the insurrectionary platform of the Black
Panther Party to the revolutionary writings of Black theorist
James Boggs, programs that called for the overthrow of the system
challenged the normative paradigms of reform that generally
defined Black political participation. The Panthers 10-point
program, "What We Want; What We Believe," demanded for African
Americans full employment, decent housing, exemption from
military service, and the release of all Blacks held in jails and
prisons in the United States. It echoed the program of the Nation
of Islam, from which it was derived.
     While most of these programs made demands on the state, one
important document focused on the "White Christian churches and
Jewish synagogues" as the source of racial power in the United
States. In 1969, led by activist James Foreman, the National
Black Economic Development Conference meeting in Detroit issued a
Black Manifesto that called for $500,000,000 in reparations to
Black America. These funds would be used to establish a southern
land bank for Black farmers, publishing and printing facilities,
four television networks, a research center, a labor strike fund,
a Black university, and to organize welfare recipients. In his
speech to the conference, Foreman called for armed revolution and
guerrilla warfare in the cities in order to "bring this
government down." He called for massive sit-ins and disruptions
at White churches and synagogues. It should be noted that the
conference was sponsored by the Interreligious Foundation for
Community Organizations which received its funding from Christian
and Jewish organizations.
     Other agendas that specifically sought a response from the
political system and the major political parties also developed
in the post-1965 era. As Robert Smith notes, these include:
     the platform of the 1972 National Black Convention in Gary,
     Indiana, the CBC's sixty Recommendations to President Nixon
     and its watered-down version of the Gary platform called
     "The Black Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights,"
     a series of "True State of the Union" messages inserted in
     the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD in response to the annual addresses
     by Presidents Nixon and Ford, a series of recommendations
     developed by ad hoc meetings of Black Democrats in 1976 and
     1980 for presentation to the party conventions and nominees,
     a series of "mandates" issued by the National Institute of
     Black Public Officials, meetings of several thousand people
     convened several times since 1973 by the Joint Center for
     Political Studies, and, most recently, the alternative CBC
     budgets developed in response to administration budget
     proposals since 1981 and the platforms developed by Jesse
     Jackson as part of his campaigns for president.

     One of the most full-blown and ambitious plans to develop
which outlined a particular role for every sector of the Black
community, from the churches to those incarcerated, was the Black
Leadership Family Plan (BLFP) put together in February 1982 by
Black organizations and individuals affiliated with the Black
Leadership Forum, the Black Leadership Round Table, and the
Congressional Black Caucus. Activist Ben Chavis, now NAACP
Executive Director, wrote that the plan "comes closest to being a
plan that can not only effectuate a progressive change in the
condition and state of Black America, but also, I believe that
the Plan is a plan for African American self-determination."
Among the responsibilities with which it charged the Black
community were to "support the Black church, protect the elderly
and the youth, excel in education, oppose crime, contribute to
the Black Development Fund, buy and bank Black, register and
vote, hold your elected officials accountable, support Black
family and community life, challenge and boycott negative media
and support positive media, secure and defend the Black
community, and support mother Africa and the Caribbean."
     One of the goals of the plan was the creation of a Black
Development Fund that would be built by contributions from the
African American community. Based on estimates of how much would
be received if the community promised monthly to follow through
on its donations. The Fund would grow to about $1.5 billion
annually, or roughly 10 percent of the estimated national Black
income (circa 1982).
     The plan also called for the development of an Action Alert
Communications Network, which would respond to crisis situations,
and for building coalitions with "Whites, Hispanics and other
minorities whose interests coincide with ours." The plan,
dependent upon the voluntary participation of the Black
community, had little success. Unfortunately, it also made little
demand on the institutions and systems of power that exerted
decisive control over the lives of African Americans.
     In hindsight, the central defect of the BLFP, as well as
other agendas cited above was that -- despite their necessary and
timely response to the perilous state of Black America -- they
failed to meet the challenge of outlining a wide reaching
visionary projection of the future of the nation, the global
community as a whole, and the role of African Americans in it. It
is within that broad scope that concrete proposals -- from inner-
city Marshall Plans to grassroots political campaigns -- are best
articulated and struggled for. Without that vision, no useful or
galvanizing strategy (or viable leadership) is possible. A Black
agenda for the next century, determined by what is done now, must
have clear goals and demands, and concrete objectives, but also
much more. It must have an engrossing vision of the new century,
rooted in a solid theoretical grasp of the economic, social,
political, and cultural dynamics that move society's engine
forward, and a commitment to principles of democracy,
inclusiveness, and equality. A Black agenda for the next century
must promote and constantly recreate a new leadership prepared to
tackle the issues and political demands of the coming decades.
     Any liberating vision must embrace principles and values
that have too rarely existed in Black leadership praxis. These
principles include, but are not limited to:
     *the goal of democracy and democratic practices both within
the movement for social change and equality, and in society as a
whole;
     *ideological pluralism that allows for a broad array of
viewpoints and ideas about the organization of society, including
those that are critical of capitalism;
     *the leadership of women at all levels of political,
cultural, and economic life;
     *the inclusive incorporation and recognition of the
particular contributions that each generation brings to the
struggle;
     *the necessity of ongoing coalition with other people of
color and Whites that may sometimes mean following the leadership
of non-Blacks;
     *strict accountability on the part of those who claim to
represent Black leadership;
     *collective leadership that does not inhibit or repress
individual contributions and talents, but also does not elevate
individual interests over the collective need.
     These principles distinguish an approach to Black leadership
that has begun to emerge from the electoral and non-electoral
struggles of the last decade. History teaches that strong,
charismatic individual leaders will arise regardless of desires
to the contrary. The significance and role of those individual
leaders must be seen, however, in the proper context. Cuban
leader Fidel Castro, in an enlightening interview with former
Congressman Mervyn Dymally, provides some instructive insight on
this point. He says:
     History is full of leaders. Wherever a human community has
     existed, a leader has emerged. The times determine what is
     required of them...It's a mistake, a serious mistake, to
     think that these qualities are rare or infrequent. I'm
     convinced of this. For a leader to emerge, the only thing
     needed is the need for a leader...I believe that human
     beings, all human beings, have a great capacity for
     political leadership. What must have happened on countless
     occasions is that the possibilities for developing those
     abilities did not arise, because the person lived in a
     different era, under different circumstances.

     The contributions of individual leaders will be significant
and, in many instances, decisive. The Black community, however,
must not succumb to the dangerous tendency to believe that
individual leaders, with their immense strengths and weaknesses,
should be allowed to determine the political agenda, strategy,
and program of the entire Black community. The appropriate
balance between the will of strong, charismatic leaders and the
necessity of collective decision making will be a difficult one
to maintain, but one that must be struggled for if the movement
is to advance.
     Where will and where should the Black community be in the
21st century? This is the pivotal question that must be addressed
jointly and collectively by the Black community and its leaders
at all levels. In a report issued by the Congressional Task Force
on the Future of African-Americans, five possible futures --
ranging from worst-case scenario to best-case scenario dependent
upon changes in the social and economic conditions of the nation
-- are identified. The five paths are responses to either major
economic and social collapse, moderate economic and social
collapse, business as usual, moderate economic and social
expansion, or major economic and social expansion. In all
instances but the last, Black life declines. This means that even
if there is moderate economic and social expansion, poverty will
continue to rise among African Americans; Black health will most
likely deteriorate relative to Whites; communities may become
somewhat more stable, but violence is likely to escalate; access
to higher education will remain stable or decline; and racism
will persist. Racism in this sense is seen as institutional and
systemic rather than just as individual practice.
     In other words, by even the most optimistic congressional
estimate, unless there is major economic and social
transformation, "there will be increasing calamity for African
Americans." Most Black leaders and, indeed, the African American
community as a whole, have expressed similar dismal projections.
If the Black community is to be rescued from a calamitous future,
it is clear that Black leadership in the days and years ahead
must be bolder, more strategically efficacious, and more
politically astute than it has ever been in the past. The
struggle for and over the future of Black America gets to the
very essence of the historic crossroads that African Americans
confront.
AGENDA SETTING: THE ROLE OF
BLACK POLITICAL LEADERS
     If there is any lesson to learn from struggles and agendas
of the past, both successful and not, it is that a progressive
vision must be broadly institutionalized and organized and not
just left to spontaneity. The need for organization has never
been greater. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,: "If we
realize how indispensable is responsible militant organization to
our struggle, we will create it as we managed to create
underground railroads, protest groups, self-help societies and
the church that have always been our refuge, our source of hope
and our source of action." In this context, progressive Black
political leaders and Black intellectuals have distinct roles to
play in the restructuring of society toward equality, expanded
democracy, and development.
     A "Black agenda" for the future must make as a priority a
number of concerns both external and internal to the African
American community. The crisis of the cities -- specifically the
material poverty and spiritual despair -- must be addressed
without delay and with mammoth urgency. More than twenty years
ago, writer William K. Tabb wrote prophetically in his classic
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE BLACK GHETTO that if there was no
change in policies towards the inner-city ghettos, those policies
would lead "to racial warfare and urban apartheid."
Unfortunately, much of that prediction has come true.
     A Marshall Plan of historic proportions must be put forth.
An idea that has most aggressively been articulated by the
National Urban League, and supported by a wide array of Black
political activists and Black, liberal, and civil rights
organizations, the Urban League plan calls for a $500 billion
investment in the cities over a ten-year period that would
"address both long-term economic productivity goals and short-
term improvements in social well-being." Seen as both halting the
U.S. economic decline and advancing the educational and skill
levels of African Americans, the plan advocates comprehensive,
long-term financial investments, major reform in education, and
the rebuilding of the nation's physical infrastructure. Due to
the concentration of African Americans in urban centers and their
expanding role in the workforce, "the nation's interests are
intimately tied to the conditions of African Americans," writes
the National Urban League's Billy Tidwell. Critical of the
federal government's lack of investment in youth and
infrastructure maintenance and development, and cuts in funding
for employment training, the Urban League argues that these
trends disproportionately impact African Americans and, unless
reversed, will see the nation ill-prepared for economic growth in
the coming century.
     The focus on improving the skills of the U.S. workforce
through education and investment echoes the views of many of the
liberals in the Clinton administration. Labor Secretary Robert
Reich, for example, argues that in order for the United States to
address the increasing "globalization of economic competition"
and the "accelerating pace of technological change," it must
"reform primary and secondary education...[develop] a system of
voluntary skill standards to let citizens improve the payoff to
training investments...[create] a school-to-work
apprenticeship...[and increase] direct college loans."
     As noted earlier, Jesse Jackson's "Rebuild America" plan
demands a similar, though larger, outlay of funds. He supports
the ten-year, $500 billion proposal of New York financier Felix
Rohatyn and would focus spending on jobs for the inner-cities,
universal health care, educational equality, and the creation of
an American Development Bank that could seed a national network
of urban development banks. Reductions in military spending, fair
and progressive taxation, sensible borrowing, and judicious
investment of workers' pension funds would be the chief means of
raising the necessary capital.
     In 1992, the Congressional Black Caucus, in response to the
Los Angeles uprising called for a $30.90 billion package of
emergency aid to the cities. This included $5 billion for job
training, $3.45 billion for housing, $10.09 billion for
education, $4.12 billion for economic investment, $7.6 billion
for community development, and $640 million for crime and
violence prevention programs. The CBC insisted that funding could
be obtained by lowering the spending cap on the defense budget
while elevating caps on domestic spending. Unfortunately, this
proposal (and other legislative maneuvers) required the agreement
of President Bush which was not forthcoming. In the end, as
mentioned earlier, a scaled-down version of urban aid was finally
passed by Congress -- and later vetoed by Bush.
PERIOD OF TRANSFORMATION
     This period of transformation through which U.S. capital is
working its way provides a somber context in which to view the
reformist and radical economic proposals being sought by Black
leaders and activists. Reforms, though necessary, have in the
past insufficiently addressed what amounts to the recurring
structural crisis of capitalism, i.e., the inability of a system
based on profit to rationally eliminate unemployment, poverty,
and perpetual crisis. The historic challenge confronting Black
leaders (and others) is to fashion a program of economic reform
that, given the global economic crisis, must assume a long period
of instability and transition that at the same time progressively
meets the needs of the nation's poor and disadvantaged. While it
is clear that the socialist models of the Soviet Union, Eastern
Europe, and elsewhere did not have the answer to either questions
of economic development, mass democracy, or political pluralism,
it is equally clear that Western-style capitalism, as noted even
by Black leaders of the past such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin
Luther King, Jr., has reached its historic limits. Not only has
economic restructuring become necessary, but the political will
and movement to create the kind of economic democracy that begs
for deliverance must be mobilized, organized, and
institutionalized. The next century will witness the abandonment
of both leftist and rightist models of political institutions
that, in effect, undermine democratic participation and act out
assumptions that can't serve to move humanity forward.
     Much of the debate within the Black political community over
whether African Americans should remain in the Democratic Party,
migrate to the Republican Party, or participate in third party
efforts misses the point. The further democratization of the
nation, essential to the advancement of the Black community and
other ill-served sectors of the society, will not be achieved
through traditional political party activities, be they right,
left, or center. A genuine democratic flowering will witness
numerous political models -- some in the form of parties, others
not -- that will correspond with the real needs, interests, and
political culture of those most in need of those vehicles of
empowerment. This is not a call to or sanctioning of anarchy or
social chaos; it is a recognition that traditional political
party structures and cultures are non-democratic in nature and
depreciate the contributions of those who are unable to negotiate
the political and ideological norms that inevitably develop.
     Participation in party politics should not be abandoned,
however. Indeed, a more intensified and strategic involvement in
major- and minor-party politics is necessary. As long as the
major parties determine policies and institutions that affect the
lives and destinies of tens of millions of people, it is
suicidally foolish to surrender opportunities to shape,
influence, or control those decisions. Third-party efforts have
also been important to African Americans. As vehicles of radical
anti-racist proposals, third parties have the potential to
construct the type of coalition politics that can collectively
pressure policy makers to institute necessary reforms and broaden
the level of participation of those dispossessed in the
governance of society. These activities do not prevent the
creation of other political forms that more appropriately address
and meet the interests of local, state, and national groups.
Specifically, these emergent forms, already in existence from
coast to coast, can more effectively attack the problems of the
current system in ways that are more progressively democratic,
egalitarian, and concrete.
     The need to build coalitions will grow in the years ahead.
There are compelling political and practical reasons why African
Americans dare not attempt any "go-it-alone" strategies. African
Americans and whites will continue to be a shrinking proportion
of the population as Latino and Asian population groups grow. In
1990, African Americans represented 12.5 percent of the
population, non-Latino whites 74.2 percent, Latinos 9.5 percent,
and Asians 3.8 percent. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2050,
the non-Latino white population will have shrunk to 53 percent
while the African American population will have increased
slightly to 15 percent. The big gains, however, will be in the
Latino community, which will grow to 21 percent, and among
Asians, who will increase to about 10 percent. The Native
American population will remain about 1 percent.
     These new racial configurations will either create new
tensions between racial and national groups, or become an
opportunity for a truly pluralist, non-racist foundation upon
which to build U.S. society. It should be noted that differences
between African Americans and other groups may become secondary
to differences within national ethnic groups, as Latinos break
down into various Central American groups who will probably
occupy a lower socio-economic status than the older Mexican or
Cuban communities. In a similar way, older Asian immigrants, such
as the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese American communities will
probably separate from the newer Southeast Asian groups of
Vietnamese, Cambodians, and others. Black leaders will need to
grapple with the complexities of these new relationships even
while confronting classical forms of racism and discrimination.
     In the short run, political reform within the present system
is desperately needed. This includes everything from campaign
finance reform -- not normally seen as a "Black" issue -- to
ballot access. In terms of electoral politics, easing access to
voter registration and voting at every level still is an
unfulfilled goal. The Motor Voter bill, signed into law by
President Clinton, is a significant step in the right direction.
The new law allows for registration when drivers' licenses are
renewed, at military recruitment centers, and at social service
centers, thereby reaching millions of unregistered voters.
Supporters of the bill also wanted unemployment centers included
as sites, and sought to have codified into law provisions that
would allow same-day registration for federal elections. These
recommendations were gutted in the congressional bargaining that
surrounded the bill. Although organizers could claim victory in
getting the bill passed, they were quick to point out that it
does not address the more numerous instances of democratic
violations which occur at the local and state levels. In too many
jurisdictions around the nation, it is still a burden to register
and vote. Inconvenient locations, insensitive registration hours,
and lack of registrars dilute the voting potential and democratic
involvement of millions of voters.
     Also, ballot access provisions that prevent or make it
difficult for non-major-party or individuals to get on the ballot
must be overturned. Currently, the leading advocates of this
reform have been activists affiliated or tied to the New Alliance
Party, with which many Black activists have difficulty working.
In 1992, non-major-party Black federal candidates Ron Daniels,
Gerald Horne, and Gwen Patton all struggled to get on the ballot
against unfair state ballot access laws. An expansion of
democracy clearly means equalizing the playing field so that
candidates not tied to the either Democratic, Republican, or
traditional state parties can get on the ballot without
extraordinary and biased effort.
     Outside of the electoral arena, other political goals and
strategies must also be applied. Historically, protest has been a
critical part of the arsenal of weapons used by African Americans
to advance their agenda. On civil rights issues, such as
statehood for the District of Columbia, it is clear that nothing
short of massive and ongoing protests that disrupt and create an
atmosphere of political disequilibrium will shock the national
consciousness into addressing the concerns being raised.
     Howard University political scientist Ron Walters often
points out the difference between SYMBOLIC protest and DISRUPTIVE
protest. In the former, there is a preemptive agreement with the
forces of the state or target of the action about the limits and
parameters of the protest. Pre-arranged arrests or bargains
ensure that neither side is made uncomfortable for any extended
length of time. More important, there is a tacit, though often
explicit, understanding that there will be no fundamental change
in the behavior of those being protested against. In disruptive
protests, however, the goal is to stop business as usual over a
prolonged period or as long as necessary. Protesters are willing
to disobey the rules of the game and go beyond what is acceptable
to the state or the opposition. The civil rights sit-ins are an
example of disruptive protests that confronted a hostile populace
and an even more hostile police apparatus. Although marches,
rallies, and symbolic protests have been and remain important
weapons in the arsenal of resistance, protest leaders must also
be prepared to advance peaceful tactics that disrupt systems of
discrimination and inequality. A march on Washington, whether
with 100,000 or one million people, does little to challenge the
system except in symbolic or rhetorical forms. On the other hand,
a poor peoples' march on the nation's capital with the commitment
to pitch tents and stay until legislation is passed that
addresses the concerns of those constituents quite dramatically
challenges policy makers and political leaders to respond.
THE STRUGGLE WITHIN
     Black and White conservatives have consistently declared
that neither Black nor civil rights leaders have addressed the
issue of Black behavior, and they demand internal changes. In
fact, in no period in history have Black leaders avoided the need
for internal and external change. In the 1980s, neoconservatives
were able to set the parameters of the political debate about the
value and utility of the Black and civil rights agendas. At the
same time, cuts in social programs, from housing to education,
removed any semblance of a social safety net and contributed
fundamentally to the very real deterioration in material
conditions in Black life, inaugurating an era of internal
violence and self-destruction virtually unparalleled in Black
history. Yet these changes must also be seen as a form of
(negative) response and resistance to racism and Reaganism.
     It is within this context that the current wave of
apocalyptic behavior has matured and must be understood. While
Black political leaders must be careful not to fall into the
ideological trap of Reaganism, and like some Black conservatives
consistently blame the victim, it is critical that the crisis of
spirit and escalating self-destructive behavior that has come to
grip too many Black communities be addressed. In particular, the
savage Black-on-Black violence, dramatized brazenly in Hollywood
films and rap music, poses a new challenge for Black leaders and
political activists, who must propose concrete resolutions to a
situation that has left Black, Latino, and poor communities
terrified and open to draconian, final solutions.
     Professor Amos Wilson in his BLACK-ON-BLACK VIOLENCE reminds
us that Black violence, criminal behavior, or self-destructive
proclivities do not happen in a vacuum. He provides some valuable
insight in his argument that racism has fueled false notions of a
Black criminal class, fostered the criminalization of Black male
youth, and led to the deadly and pathological consequences being
played out on the streets of the cities. He contends that "Black-
on-Black criminality and violence represents quests for power and
outraged protests against a sense of powerlessness and
insignificance." He argues that this behavior operates as a
response to racism and in the interest of racism. This
perspective echoes the views of other Black political
psychologists such as Frantz Fanon, William Grier, and Price
Cobbs. Wilson recommends as a preventive measure the "appropriate
socialization of children, equitable and fair organization and
distribution of national and community resources, the provision
of Afrocentric educational training and of equitable occupational
opportunities." While Wilson's perspectives are important in
framing the context in which Black violence and self-destruction
occur, they do not address the means by which communities and
Black leadership can reverse these trends in a timely manner.
     Writer Cornel West has been another voice attempting to sort
through what he terms the destructive "nihilism" that has created
widespread despair, frustration, and fear among many African
Americans. He states in frustration that "the major enemy of
Black survival in America...is neither oppression nor
exploitation, but rather the nihilistic threatýthat is, loss of
hope and the absence of meaning." He and others point out that
African Americans went from having the lowest suicide rate in the
nation before the 1970s to having the highest suicide rate in the
nation in the 1990s. West believes that there is a direct link
between the self-destructive and outer-destructive behavior of
young Blacks, capitalist market relations, and the crisis of
Black leadership. An omnipresent corporate and consumer culture
has promoted a market morality that places little value on human
life, caring, or service. He concludes that "new models of
collective Black leadership "must emerge that promote an
"affirmation of Black humanity" that rescues Blacks from the
despair and hopelessness that prevents movement forward. This
collective leadership, West argues, "must exemplify moral
integrity, character, and democratic statesmanship within itself
and within its organizations." Only in this manner can Black
leadership intervene effectively and positively in halting the
murderous cycles of Black violence permeating the community.
BLACK RESISTANCE AND
THE CALL OF HISTORY
     A number of futures face the Black community. It is critical
that Black leaders not dwell on what is certain to be the bleak
and desperate future if current trends remain constant, but
instead focus on a positive alternative future that can be a
result of disciplined and committed struggle. New leaders must
bring to the Black community another vision of development and of
the future. In the Black America that can be in the next century,
there will be startling differences in the political, social, and
cultural life of African Americans. Black women will play a much
more visible and central political leadership role than in the
present. The new (and perhaps some of the old) civil rights
organizations will be woman-led and more profoundly democratic.
More African American women will be elected at the local, state,
and national level. More African American women will guide
community organizations and cultural enterprises. From local
community politics to national and international concerns,
leadership in the Black community will be more diverse and gender-
balanced.
     In the next century that can be, a revitalization of
positive and developmental values will also have been reborn
within the Black community. Black leaders will exhibit and demand
a morality and value system that is nurturing, caring,
sacrificing, and humanistic. These values will translate into
attitudes and perspectives on social and economic policies. A
commitment to educational excellence, for example, will be the
norm. Anything less will be unacceptable to students, parents,
teachers, administrators, school board members, and political
leaders.
     A new spirit of community and willingness to serve will also
exist. The sense of contributing to community and society,
discouraged in this age of materialism and individualism, will
dominate and be a major component of child-rearing and educating.
The impact of this new spirit will be broad and revolutionary in
its impact on how people in the community relate to each other
and to those outside of the community. Homicides, as well as
substance abuse, will drop considerably as communities also
wrestle changes in the criminal justice system that no longer
criminalizes whole generations and as alternatives to trafficking
are implemented. Community security will be rooted in the organic
community.
     A visionary perspective on Black life in the next century
does not necessarily or romantically see an end to racist views,
personal discrimination, and racial intolerance, but it does see
a path to the elimination of systemic and institutional racism.
How we think about race and what actually constitutes "racial
relations" will continue to expand beyond the paradigm of Black
and white. A cultural flowering will witness more cross-cultural,
multi-ethnic patterns of living and relating while, at the same
time, preservation and promotion of the rich, uplifting, and
valuable cultural heritage of African Americans, Latinos, Asians,
Arabs, Native Americans, and other peoples.
     It will be important for the Black community to acknowledge
both similarities of conditions as well as important differences
that give rise to critical policy questions that for the most
part have not affected the Black community. These would include
issues such as language and legal status.
     Battles will be fought on a much higher plane to redefine
popular culture and to purge the racist, sexist, and
nationalistic images that contribute to the climate of
discrimination and hate that currently permeates much of U.S
culture. As part of the world community, images of
internationalism will also become more common and necessary.
     The central task of Black leadership in the period ahead is
to restore hope and a sense of purpose to the community. It is
unlikely that the politics of accommodation will be able to meet
this challenge. At this point, however, neither is it clear that
those who have been critical of the move from protest to politics
will be able to rise to the occasion. The difficult days of which
Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in his last hours are upon us.
     Perhaps the most important step that Black leaders can take
at this point is to recognize the means and manners by which
African Americans resist oppression on a daily basis. In this
time when frustration with leadership is high, the Black
political movement is in retreat and on the defensive, and
conditions rapidly abrade, it is critical to identify and grasp
the significance of individual resistance. As the brilliant young
historian Robin D.G. Kelley observes, the gulf between the
"everyday" and what is thought of as political struggles must be
bridged. In his writings on the struggles of working class
African Americans during the civil rights era, Kelley examines
the means by which the Black community forged a collectivist view
of itself that had important relevance to the political struggles
of that era. His insights on the period, I believe, are of
immense value in the present as when he writes, "In the end,
whether or not African Americans choose to join working class
organizations, their daily experiences, articulated mainly in
unmonitored social spaces, constitute the ideological and
cultural foundations for constructing a collective identity." A
Black collective identity, fettered and molded by class and
gender experiences, still exists and must be creatively melded
into the effort for progressive social transformation.
     Breaking through the Black rage that has engulfed so many
and channeling that passion into a movement for collective social
change is the challenge before Black leadership across the
political and ideological board. Encouraging signs abound as
lessons from the distant and recent past are being absorbed and
analyzed. If changes on the Black political landscape that have
occurred in the last decade have clarified the mission and
responsibilities of Black leadership, particularly of the new
radicals, then a future of hope is not only possible, but well
within our grasp.