Creative Leadership in the Black Community

Dell Gines has written about some “types” of leadership that are in evidence in the Black community – and have failed to be effective in the formulation and/or implementation of initiatives serving the Black community. 

While Dell’s classification identifies three types of leadership: accommodationist, lose-lose, and creative; I’d argue that there are some missing pieces here.  I believe that Harold Cruse did one of the best jobs of outlining the contours of Black leadership in the US.

Dell writes: “The accommodationist leader is the one who believes that all things can be accomplished through gently accommodating the powers that be, in hopes that some day altruistically they will throw you a bone.”

I would argue that this type of leadership is motivated by nothing of the kind.  Altruism is not part of the game of politics.  It has never been part of the game of local leadership.  Politicians, including the most skillful black accommodationist of all time (Booker T. Washington) perceive power relationships clearly.  The calculus may be purely personal (seeking personal benefit to the detriment of the group), but it is contingent on sustaining a role as gatekeeper.  Therefore, the accommodationist is not seeking altruism.  That leader is seeking due compensation for the WORK of pacification, obfuscation and confusion related to any number of prioirties born in their community, but opposed by their benefactors.  Accommodationist leadership is seldom naive.  This form of leader is placed through the willful imposition of a figurehead by an external actor.  The value of this leader to that external actor is the ability to provide timely and accurate information about – and control over – the community under their charge.  Booker T. Washington was supremely effective because his accommodationist tactics were predicated upon an incomparable organization that provided timely and accurate information for his use.  Washington was also wise and shrewd enough to withhold certain information from his benefactors when it did not suit his purpose.  To underestimate accommodationist leadership is to roll the dice in a manner akin to the Braveheart hero William Wallace.  His battlefield betrayal by Robert the Bruce was authored by Robert’s accommodationist father who brokered a deal with the English king.  Wallace was unprepared and paid for it with his life.

The second type of leader, the “lose lose leader,” is defined as operating “under a crash and burn mentality. Because they are only defensive minded, or only can function from a defensive position, they are constantly backing up or standing still as opposed to moving forward. Because of the way they see the world, they never over pro-active solutions to eliminating some of the negatives in the black community. In addition, they usually become known as the angry voice or the voice of condemnation and bad press. What this does is eliminate the desire of people who want to aid in finding solutions to the black community, but may need guidance in doing so, out of fear they are going to get condemned by the lose lose leader.”

There is certainly some truth to this depiction as well – but beneath the covers, there is a motive that closely approximates that of the accommodationist leader.  The “lose lose” leader does not have a viable organizational base.  In other words, this leader is incapable of mobilizing a group to render benefits to that group – and this leader lacks the funding and institutional resources to render benefits.  So, this leader is left with the threat of instigation to secure personal benefit.  As such, the inflammatory rhetoric ceases to be deployed as a tactic to convey legitimate indignation.  It becomes a principle means of accruing hush money from benefactors.  The lose lose leader and the accommodationist are really two sides of the same coin.  This common ground must be understood if Dell’s type of creative leader is to have any success.

The new creative leader, as I’ve read from Dell’s piece, is headed for a rough road.  The capacity of this new creative leader to “bring the War” will be severely tested.  After all, the accommodationist and the lose lose leader have often already established ties with the two purveyors of force in black communities: police and criminals.  The new creative leader sounds a little too intellectual for that sort of work.  They cannot afford to be.  The academy and the penitentiary have to be reconciled.  Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom and Malcolm X’s Autobiography are magnificent guideposts to that reconciliation.  History teaches us that alliances between the Black Panthers and El Ruqans were uneasy; similarly were they uneasy in South Africa between the ANC and that nation’s criminal element.  The ties that bind are not so easily dismissed by classification and require hard work, honest talk and a willingness to walk in the next man’s mocassins.  New creative leaders will have to understand the root cause of the existing paradigms they seek to displace.  

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