One leader's voice can't speak for all

Can't we all just get along? Viewing the local, national, and cable news networks, apparently not. The diversity of African American voices is seemingly a rare phenomena. Apparently, the African Americans must have one leader with one message for the masses. The media's quest for the "black leader" who speaks for the black community has been frustrated by a variety of viewpoints. Imagine that there is no monolithic orator speaking the mind of the black populace. No one man or woman represents every African American community that peppers this land in every conceivable county, farmland, suburb and city. Why, African Americans who grew up in Los Angeles must have the same concerns, needs and opinions as those that live in Needles, The Sun Belt and The Great Lakes. Who is that person? Where is he or she? The quest continues by a shortsighted media, inferring that when African Americans are asked, but cannot agree, there must be widespread confusion amongst the ranks.

A good friend of mine asked me, "Where is the black community?" I thought for a while, trying to comprehend his question. His point is that there is no single, place, region, or body politic that one could point to and say, "There that is the black community." I answered, "I see your point there is no particular black community but there is a concern shared by a vast majority of African Americans, and that is what I believe is meant by the 'black community.'" However, even from that perspective, there is no list of concerns that any person can compile. There are as many solutions and perspectives as there are African Americans.

A recent display of the media's dubious tactics occurred before, during and after the Million Man March in Washington, DC. An event which was very successful, whose message was a long time coming, and I believe, heard by not only those who attended, but by all Americans, African or otherwise. Both the cable and national networks would invite a variety of African American commentators to talk about the march and what it means for the black community. The program would usually match up commentators against one another. One group was in favor of the march, for a variety of reasons. Some thought it important to shift the spotlight away from Louis Farrakhan and on to black men and their reasons for being there not simply atonement, but solidarity, support and recognition. The other group spoke of the antiquated practice of a "march on Washington," when issues that face the black community are both external and internal. They said if African Americans want to march, march into their neighborhoods and make a change where they live, a method of atonement and an approach that does not solicit help from the government. The retort is that as a nation, we cannot ignore racist policies and the ravages of oppression, and besides, we "don't want a handout, just a hand."

On appearance, pitting these groups of respected and distinguished people against each other made it seem as though there is a division amongst black leaders. This begs the question, "Who said these are the leaders of the black community, and moreover, who says they can speak for the black community?" It would follow that a variety of black leaders represent perspectives from a variety of constituencies. Do we consider Pat Buchanan the leader of the "conservative community," Bob Dole the leader of the "Republican community" or President Clinton the leader of the "Democratic community?" Of course not. Each has constituents who must be heeded. Within these communities, each faction has a voice and an agenda. This is also true of the black community.

We must contemplate the concerns of all leaders, because no matter from what community they hail, their constituents must be considered. The effects of 400 years of oppression, racism and indifferent policies cannot be ignored, no more than the fact that marches are indeed antiquated, but sometimes necessary, methods of protest. Voices that spew forth dollar signs are heard first in this economy. Those that can assert economic pressure or provide financial influence will make the movers and shakers, move and shake. Yet, the disenfranchised and unempowered, who are disproportionately represented by people of color, do not have the financial wherewithal to make movers shake. The alternative is political pressure. Marches can create political pressure, but voting pressures politicians directly, making this a legitimate republic. Neither African Americans nor the media can define who is or who is not "our" leader. There are plenty of leaders, with many issues to address. Directors of homeless shelters, school principals, CEOs, shopkeepers, professors, students, and, of course, parents, are all leaders, with important constituents. Support their agenda, and watch the wellspring of change rise from within your own community.

David Benton is the president of the Black Law Students Association. His column appears every other Thursday.

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