Saturday, March 7, 2009

Black Men Leading the Charge

These black men, intellectuals, contemporaries of each other, have led the charge over the years. Let us appreciate the diversity in approaching the common cause of advancement and equality for African-Americans from Booker T. through today.

Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois
Contemporaries of their time, these three black men were leaders following their own path as they advocated a better life for African-Americans during their time.

"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else."
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington Representing the last generation of black leaders born into slavery advocated the advancement of black people through education and self help. He founded the Tuskegee Institute.

Marcus Garvey, leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, was the first African-American leader in American history to organize masses of people in a political movement. The ad above was featured in Garvey's magazine, The Negro World. During August 1920, the UNIA holds its first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Madison Square Garden and adopts the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. He worked with and supported WEB DuBois but later had major philosophical disagreements and described Du Bois as "purely and simply a white man's nigger" and "a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro ... a mulatto ... a monstrosity." In spite of disagreements with his contemporaries, Garvey's leadership influenced next generation civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X.

"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."
W.E.B. DuBois

WEB DuBois, In reference to his disagreement with Marcus Garvey, DuBois once wrote,

These two men were the leaders of the Civil Rights movements. King was a Christian minister who promoted racial injustice with a message of peace for a future of equality in America. Malcolm X was a Muslim minister accused of preaching violence but was also staunch advocate for African-American rights by any means necessary. He founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Both men were assassinated and are considered martyrs for the civil rights fight in America.
Reflection: Since their time, most African-Americans have come to embrace both men as leaders of the movement and appreciate them with all their differences for leading the charge for equality for African-Americans. If they had not been assassinated, however, would their legacy be as strong? Do people always have to die to propel a movement forward? What would be their platform if they were still alive today?

Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Rev. Al Sharpton
These two men came during the transition from Civil Rights to where we are today. Jesse Jackson founded the Rainbow/PUSH coalition and ran for the democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988. Al Sharpton was and still is primarily an activist and community leader and was also a democratic candidate for president in 2004.
Reflection: These men continued the "civil rights style" advocacy after the civil rights movement of the 60's. They transitioned more into the political arena over the past few decades but their relevance as leaders has been questioned as a new generation of African-Americans have been born. Gen X and Gen Y were not alive during the movement and have faced a different set of issues and have created a different style of advocacy and progress. What should the role of Jackson and Sharpton be now? We all have a place in our culture, how should we embrace these two men in 2009? President Barack Obama and Michael Steele

President Barack Obama is the first African-American president. He has made history.

Reflection:  Should he be held to different standards as president? by society as a whole? by African-Americans? Whether you support him or not, his impact on today's society is unquestionable. Should he be considered a black leader such as Booker T., Martin or Garvey when he has not proclaimed himself as such? Could it be that he is actually such a leader but doing it his own African-American man who happens to be the leader of the free world? By just doing his thing, his leadership and success is an example that even though the struggle is still there, we can still be who we want to be.

Michael Steele is the current chair of the Republican National Committee. Elected after six rounds of voting, he became the 1st African-American chairman of the RNC. His prior political offices include Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and Chairman of GOPAC and Chairman of the Maryland State Republican Party. Here are 10 more things you may or may not know about Michael Steele.
Reflection: Two points to make before discussing the afam issue here. Note that I am deliberately using token as a verb not a noun to focus on the act, process and theory as opposed to the individual person.This brings us to my second point. Just because I am bringing up the issue of tokenism should not imply that the skills of the new leader of the RNC are in question.
Amid my first reaction to the news of Michael Steelee as the newly elected head of the RNC, my chief concern/question is this: Is the Republican party is so lacking of diversity that is continues to result to tokenism? The Republicans seemed to use Steele's RNC speech a few years ago was the answer to Obama's DNC speech. They hoped that Palin would be the answer to Clinton. Now again it seems that Steele is being used as the anti-Obama and also as the true token - "see we have a black man too, and we let him lead us!" Is it all staged? Did the previous RNC chair excuse himself from the race due to pressure to let a black man lead? Just another day of pulling the token to up the political ante?  It is yet to be seen if Steele will allow himself to be played as a pawn in the "anti-Obama" role or if he will demonstrate true leadership in his convictions as an African-American individual whether I agree with his position or not.

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