Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Connecting With Different Audiences

BOND: Do you have a different kind leadership when you’re dealing with groups that are all black or mixed race or all white? Are you different in these situations?

BERRY: Well, I communicate with people I hope and I try, in ways that will let them understand me and I try to sense — it’s just like sensing an audience when you’re speaking, like what — how will I talk to this audience to make them understand what I’m saying, so if I’m talking to an audience of people who are all black and they have certain common experiences, I know that there are certain things I can say to them that I don’t have to explain.

If I’m talking to white people, there’re certain things that I may need to explain. I may not. You can’t always make that assumption so I don’t think the message is any different; I just think the way of communicating it may be different.

BOND: I was thinking about the recent example of Hillary Clinton in Selma, adopting this, what —

BERRY: Oh, you mean dialect.

BOND: Some kind of dialect and the crowd listening to her responds enthusiastically. Now, I thought that was because she was quoting a well-known hymn — “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” and I mean, that’s an automatic response with the audience but she came in for a lot of criticism for that.

BERRY: And I thought, too, like you, when I heard it, I thought it was because she was quoting the hymn and that’s the way the hymn goes and that’s the way the audience saw it.

BOND: Indeed so.

BERRY: That was there.

BOND: Yeah. Is there a performative element in leadership? Do leaders have to perform a different way to different audiences?

BERRY: Some of the leaders in the past that I know about and studied were very aware of this. Du Bois used to talk about it all the time and that he taught himself to be able to project and explain things to a larger audience than a little group of intellectuals and that that required some training and some work but that that was necessary if you wanted to be in the arena and you wanted to talk to people and have them understand you and engaged, if you wanted to be engaged, so there is a performative element. I don’t mean that you have to be false, but you have to be able to connect with people and that’s absolutely necessary.