Past persecution of African-Americans by our own government and the bull's-eyes historically painted on our leaders plays a significant role in the African-American community's unyielding support and affinity for President Clinton. "They're out to get him," is the mantra, "just like they were out to get Huey, Malcolm, Martin," etc.
It is beyond dispute that many of us relate to Clinton in an unprecedented way. Just as African-Americans' love affair with JFK began with his simple telephone call to Coretta Scott King convincing us that he cared, we now believe Clinton is speaking to us directly when he says "I feel your pain." Clinton seems to invoke a deeply personal reaction from many of us. Feelings of simple loyalty (he's done well for us) and political pragmatism (he'll keep doing well for us) no doubt also play a role.
Support for Clinton and his policies, however, also comes from a phenomenon that has roots far deeper than African-Americans' feelings for this particular President. This phenomenon tells us much about ourselves as a community and the state of our politics.
The fleeting stranglehold that modern political liberalism has on the African-American community is no accident. It is the result of a rather sophisticated and very conscious campaign to maintain power. The goal is to retain control over the influence made possible by the African-American community's wholesale allegiance to this liberalism, and to control the spoils that this allegiance makes possible.
African-American support for and loyalty to left-of-center ideology has not only empowered the Democratic Party, but it has also created a large class of black political and business leaders. These individuals recognized long ago that their ability to maintain their position correlates directly to their ability to maintain the belief that liberalism will materially advance the plight of blacks as a whole. To achieve this goal, they created an omnipresent demon and assumed the status of the fearless but threatened leader. Over time, this self-preservation strategy became a systematic defense mechanism to ensure the community's political unity.
This strategy has conditioned African-Americans to look beyond real issues to discern conspiracies and agendas, and to support individuals with little or no regard for their personal character or integrity. These leaders are vigilant in maintaining the community's focus on what is allegedly being done to African-Americans by others, not what they're doing (or not doing) to us or for us.
Why? They do this because the political fallout that would result if the community focused on the issues and measured them on their merits would herald their political demise. Elections would be won or lost not by who shouts the most and who can articulate the most elaborate conspiracy, but by who can educate our children, keep our communities safe and clean, who can ebb the tide of moral decay and who has a vision for our future.
By way of example, teachers, principals and administrators making up the public education bureaucracy recognize their existence is tied directly to continued black support. They believe school choice will be the death knell for their near-monopoly. Instead of advancing the merits of the public education system and battling it out in the arena of ideas, however, these leaders instead make the issue black and white. They claim, "We're the only ones who care about black kids" and "Black kids wouldn't get educated without public education." So, if you're really black, you must support it.
Some African-American leaders employ this same methodology when they become the issue. Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry knows he is a fraud who is unable to defend his actions, so he clothes himself in his race. "Authentic" blacks support him while his detractors are Uncle Toms and white bigots.
As the nation's capital attempted to battle the drug abuse rampant within it, it had a leader who arguably had yet to defeat drug abuse in his own life. Pursuant to the strategy, however, Barry's arrest was tainted by the perception of a real or imagined agenda. Instead of sending the clear message that the violence and broken homes caused by our inner cities' battles with drugs is unacceptable, we allow the perception of an agenda to set our own. Barry was reelected not because of his leadership, but because "they" are after him.
President Clinton is a beneficiary of the same dynamic in place to preserve
the African-American community's present political identity. The resulting
psychological predisposition to "rally around the fallen" weakens
the moral foundations of our community. Within the black community, President
Clinton is playing on the same team with individuals who have mastered the
art of completely disassociating personal conduct or accomplishment from
leadership. When the going gets tough, these people shroud themselves in
self-victimization and let the legions judge them by their hopes rather
than their faith. It works, unless you're a black man married to a white
woman who's been nominated to the Supreme Court, and who doesn't give a
minority set-aside about political unity within our community.
(J. Douglas Minor is an attorney in Jackson, Mississippi and a associate
of the African-American Leadership Network Project 21.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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