Posts Tagged ‘W.E.B. DuBois’

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This series celebrates the accomplishments and explores the wisdom of our foreparents.
The Story

In a recent article regarding the chaos in Ferguson, Missouri one writer wrote that people that came down that as people came down to join and chronicle the protests a question that continued to come up was who was the leader of these rallies. The journalist stated that the question was often met with ambiguity or indifference.

It appeared that these young had come and assembled without leadership. For the previous generation this may seem like an odd occurrence or an indication of a lack of organization. In the extreme this may even seem like anarchy but the truth is that the world has changed since the struggles of old and so have the people.

Messianic Model

It has often been discussed about the state of Black leadership. The civil rights champions have begun to wonder who will take their place and continue the fight. This strange new generation with their social media, texting, and education seem to be ill equipped for the fight ahead of them. But I submit to you that every generation is given what the need to meet the world in which they live. The only reason that anyone cannot see this is if they have spent the majority of their lives in a world that no longer exists.

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“And I know that oftentimes older people are very distressed by the fact that young people just don’t know what it meant to struggle to get this far. And in a sense its good they don’t know because it’s good that they can take for granted what we had to fight for. Because that way their vision can be much more far reaching.
– Angela Davis

In the Black communities of the past there has often been one individual who has risen from the masses to lead the movement. For America this has given the perception of the messianic model of Black leadership where one person such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rev. Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton. These singular activists became voices for entire movements despite whatever affiliation they had to a larger group or organization. However, one of the most wholistic movements of the Black community, The Black Power movement, was built on a model of group leadership. Granted their was a hierarchy of leadership and certain individuals and voices stood out from the larger group for instance Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, and Kathleen Cleaver will always be remembered as voices of The Black Power Movement. But the overall mission of the Black Panthers was to empower communities to lead and struggle for themselves (hence why they were chapters of Black Panthers nationwide).

The Problem

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I for one could not tell you who the national leaders are of Jewish America, or Latino America or Chinese America. And maybe that’s ok. Enough with all the celebrity and pomp and circumstance around finding the nation’s next household-name for the black community. Time for black leaders to realize we need many names to help lead many communities.

-Kevin Powell

Searching for the face and/or voice of Black leadership is dead. The wait is over. The leaders are here and they will appear in the dust of the battle because leaders don’t make movements; movements make leaders.

We have gotten so accustomed to one person as the leader of the struggle tha we are waiting for the rise of this messiah. We have forgotten that a movement is made of many bodies, many voices, many leaders. We cannot wait for that one person to arrive; we must all be that one person.

The Point

We, the people of the community must be willing to assemble in ambiguity of leadership and write the programs that will guide our struggle. This model will be the standard for groups across the nation to struggle for justice and equality under the leadership of the principles and ideology that we have crafted instead of under the will of one person.

What we have learned is that there is no one God ordained sinless Moses who is going to lead us through the Red Sea. We will walk together and part that sea collectively when we reach it. Who’s the leader is so much less important of a question than what is the struggle and how do we plan to win it. Out focus has to be about getting our communities what they need and not judging the voices and faces that speak for us. Whoever the leading voices of the struggle are they will be as imperfect and flawed as we are – as they should be – we will never find a messiah in a man.

The question is then: Who can lead the way in this effort? Here comes a new idea for a Talented Tenth: The concept of a group-leadership, not simply educated and self-sacrificing, but with clear vision of present world conditions and dangers, and conducting American Negroes to alliance with culture groups in Europe, America, Asia and Africa, and looking toward a new world culture. We can do it. We have the ability. The only ques tion is, have we the will?

– W.E.B DuBois

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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“Our Black Year” by Maggie Anderson is a chronicle of her family’s endeavor to buy Black for a year. The book is definitely worth a read. It makes Black people think about what it means to be Black in America and the progress of Black people from an economic perspective. Because the book inspired so much thought and brings to light a number of issues, I will probably have a series of posts related to the book.
In several sections of the book, Our Black Year, Maggie Anderson addresses DuBois theory of “The Talented Tenth.” The Talented Tenth is phrase coined by DuBois to identify those Black individuals who would be leaders for the Black race. I have heard people in recent years using this term and I’m not sure if they actually support the theory or if they just assume its a good idea because W.E.B. DuBois created it.
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Let’s take a look at some of the main ideas about The Talented Tenth that DuBois detailed in an essay from his 1903 volume, The Negro Problem. In this theory DuBois states:
The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.
And so we come to the present–a day of cowardice and vacillation, of strident wide-voiced wrong and faint hearted compromise; of double-faced dallying with Truth and Right. Who are today guiding the work of the Negro people? The “exceptions” of course. And yet so sure as this Talented Tenth is pointed out, the blind worshippers of the Average cry out in alarm: “These are exceptions, look here at death, disease and crime–these are the happy rule.” Of course they are the rule, because a silly nation made them the rule.
All men cannot go to college but some men must; every isolated group or nation must have its yeast, must have for the talented few centers of training where men are not so mystified and befuddled by the hard and necessary toil of earning a living, as to have no aims higher than their bellies, and no God greater than Gold.
These figures illustrate vividly the function of the college-bred Negro. He is, as he ought to be, the group leader, the man who sets the ideals of the community where he lives, directs its thoughts and heads its social movements. It need hardly be argued that the Negro people need social leadership more than most groups; that they have no traditions to fall back upon, no long established customs, no strong family ties, no well defined social classes.
In essence, DuBois was lobbying for Black people to receive an education equal to that of White people so that their could be a formation of Black leadership. He believes that Black Leadership will be made of the exceptional Black people who will lead the race and solve the problems plaguing the Black community.
The Problem
There are several problems with this theory in general and two huge problems with the idea of any Black person seeking to follow this model in this day and age.
First, it is ridiculous for any intellectual or educated Black person to put stock in this ideology when DuBois, himself, recanted this ideology in 1948 when he wrote:
When I came out of college into the world of work, I realized that it was quite possible that my plan of training a talented tenth might put in control and power, a group of selfish, self-indulgent, well-to-do men, whose basic interest in solving the Negro problem was personal; personal free dom and unhampered enjoyment and use of the world, without any real care, or certainly no arousing care, as to what became of the mass of American Negroes, or of the mass of any people. My Talented Tenth, I could see, might result in a sort of interracial free-for-all, with the devil taking the hindmost and the foremost taking anything they could lay hands on.
I’m just gonna say, hmm…
Secondly (as if DuBois didn’t say it plainly enough), the creation of these “exceptions” who should outshine “the blind worshippers of the Average” is divisive and perpetuates the fallacious mindset of the Black Bourgeoisie that somehow material wealth and education can place above your race.
From these notions comes The Messiah Complex. A psychological complex in the Black Community where individuals feel powerless and await some great Black Messiah to swoop down and save them from the race issues of America. It’s counterproductive to national Black progress to think that only a select few Blacks will be able to save the entire race.
Anderson identifies herself and her other well-to-do Black peers as members of The Talented Tenth who are given the charge of uplifting and saving the impoverished Blacks from themselves. She speaks about how “identity with poverty leads to laziness” and her frustration with what she calls the “advancement is betrayal perspective.” Those two statements stand out because they pissed me off so bad I had to sit the book down for a few hours to regroup. I do agree that glamorizing and glorifying ghetto life isn’t healthy or helpful for anyone. However, we cannot ever judge a person by who they become in order to deal with the tragedy that is life. We cannot ever judge a person by the life they have had to lead because of circumstances that were behind their control. We cannot ever judge a person for finding any way to live themselves and their life in a world that is constantly trying to get them to hate both.
For the Black Bourgeoisie (the term I think most applies to these contemporary Talented Tenthers) believe that they are the ones being judged for not being able to identify with ghetto culture and proclaim that the lesser Blacks are attacking them by calling them well outs and are persecuting them for their advancement when in truth the very thought that they could save the people in the ghetto – because certainly these individuals are too ignorant and uneducated to save themselves – is in it’s very premise is offensive. Therefore, they should not be surprised to find those individuals defending themselves. Let me also say that there are wealthy Blacks and poor Blacks who do not fall into either of these categories, Anderson is not one of them. Anderson proves this in a scene in the book when she and her husband are in the hood and a guy pulls up beside them with his car radio thumping. She is immediately offended by both the language of the music and the volume. She waits until the man emerges from the car and details his baggy clothes and his good fronts. She then turns to her husband and says “a successful business owner? And her husband responds “a successful business man and we don’t want what he’s selling.” Seriously?? Anderson has spent pages discussing the importance of Black unity and her frustration with the assumptions of Whites and Blacks as it persons to Black businesses but she would sit in her car and not only have the same kind of discriminatory thoughts about another Black person and be so ignorant and high-minded as to actually give them voice?? And yet we are to believe that she and her counterparts, self-proclaimed Talented Tenthers are going to save the entire Black race unbiased?? Not hardly with that attitude.
The Point
Effective leaders of today do not tower over their fellow-man as if they’re some god to be worshipped without question or doubt. This is evidenced by President Barack Obama who was criticized for having started his career as a community organizer instead of some high profile law firm. However, it was ability to make country feel that he was standing beside us and understanding what we were feeling. He didn’t promise us he would fix the country, he promised us that we would fix it together.
It is my firm belief that the psychology of change dictates that if you are going to change anything (especially a person) you must provide validation of its existence as it is by accepted without pretense or judgement what it is. If the Talented Tenthers must not separate themselves from the Black community as a whole. No matter whether they can identify with it or not, whether they like it or not, whether they agree with it or not because that’s what a messiah does. Christ proclaimed to have become all things to all men that he might win them over and hence he hung out in the hood with the drunks and prostitutes just as he sat in the temple with the priests and just as he graced the halls of kings and he saw them the same. That is how Christ gained so many followers. It is highly unlikely that a person can suspend all of their opinions in a way that allows them to reach everyone, which is why it is highly unlikely that the ideology of The Talented Tenth is relevant for the Black community of today. Which is why we must never look for a messiah in a man. So, put that Talented Tenth shit to rest.
I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,
An Angry Black Man