One of my favorite Looney Tunes episodes is when Marvin the Martian says to Bugs Bunny, “Take me to your leader.” I believe that Marvin thought the leadership hierarchy on earth was similar to that of his home planet. For decades, Whites in power within our nation’s institutions, specifically the corporate and political elite, have asked the same question of Black people whenever we’ve had a grievance or whenever they’ve needed something from us. They say, “Take us to your leader.” However, what they’ve really meant over the years was “Which of your leaders can we ‘work’ with? That man will we anoint the Black leader.” In the 20th century, the Black response to that question has largely depended on who was available and with which leader we can get the most from with White people. That’s led to conflict and crisis within the Black community among leadership who competed for legitimacy and glory.
There was Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, DuBois and Marcus Garvey, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, King and Malcolm X, King and Kwame Ture, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), SCLC and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Church, The Black Church and the NAACP, the NAACP and SCLC and I can go on. Of the names and organizations listed, the corporate and political elite had those they anointed and those they did not; spying on them all. Today, some believe that the Black leadership baton was passed from Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton and then to Barack Obama. I hate to disappoint but there is no “grand wizard” amongst Black people and White folks certainly do not appoint or anoint leadership within the Black community. Black people must recognize that any and all conflicts and/or crises of Black leadership have been manufactured and grossly over-exaggerated to keep us fractured and ineffective.
Many Whites suffered from the Marvin the Martian syndrome; some still suffer from it. Leadership in the Black community was not and is not organized in the same ways leadership among White has been and continues to be. However, some Blacks too suffer from that same line of thinking; that there must be one Black leader to represent us all. Some have been condition to believe that there must be a Black leader or messiah to right all that’s ‘wrong’ with Black people. That mindset is problematic for two reasons. First, there is nothing wrong with Black people. What needs to be fixed in American society are the institutions that are systematically racist i.e. the criminal justice system, the banking system and the political system to name a few. Secondly, you cannot anoint someone as the “Black leader” over all of Black America. Authentic leadership doesn’t work like that. The “Black leader” is a myth that serves two masters; Whites who are more comfortable consolidating the masses into one face they can meet and ignore at their discretion and Blacks who are content with waiting for someone to change their destiny rather than change it themselves. There are those in the Black community who have been too distracted and desensitized by the fruits of integration in the forms of materialism, self-promotion at the expense of their dignity and pseudo-inclusion, but I digress.
Colin Kaepernick is a leader within the Black community. He witnessed what was wrong in our society. He felt pain and he had concern. He educated himself and spoke with others who shared his sentiments. All of his learning, discussion, feelings and reflection culminated in a protest that has not only bought him legitimacy as an activist and advocate on behalf of Black lives, but has facilitated a conversation about the overall Black condition in various circles nationwide; from police brutality to inequities in housing, education and economic status. While Mr. Kaepernick has a unique forum, we (Black people) can do what he did. Many of us have. There are many leaders around the country who have protested and organized on behalf of Black people. They have not waited for their “anointing” by any man, but they’ve received a spiritual awakening that demands that they fight for the humanity of a people whose humanity has been ignored for generations. For all the talk about addressing the cop out of “Black on Black crime,” it is these leaders throughout the Black community who fight to save Black lives from the explicit bias of police forces nationwide as well as from the influence of materialism and the pains of poverty that inform criminal activity in Black communities.
Black leaders, such as the activists in the streets; the artists who write, act, dance and sing; the academics who educate and attack ignorance with vigor; the journalists who reveals truth; the school teachers, the counselors, the mentors, the coaches, the parents, the grandparents, the siblings, the cousins… these are the leaders on the front lines each and every day who haven’t waited for the white appointing and anointing according to the manufactured scale of Black leadership seniority. They’ve become leaders on their own; working simultaneously for the good of Black people. The leadership of the past has cultivated the leadership of today. Black baby boomers have given the charge and Black Millennials have gladly accepted their task.
Black millennials don’t have time for your archaic notions and models of leadership. They aren’t here for your pomp and circumstance. They’re not brand loyal; whether it is Coke, Pepsi or Clinton. They’ve only got time to organize, protest, disrupt and piss off; that’s leadership. Don’t think so? Check your patriotism. Maintaining the privileges of Whiteness isn’t patriotism; protesting for justice for all is. These leaders are patriots; more patriot than those who fought against Anglo rule while asserting their right to rule over Africans and the Indigenous.
To borrow another phrase; the more things change, the more things stay the same.