Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Leadership Today

BOND: Is there a danger of further divisiveness if we focus on the concept of black leadership?

CANADA: Well, that’s a great question and I don’t think we have to worry about that danger yet and it’s because I think that there’s still some ambivalence I think in America about what black leadership really means.  If black leadership becomes exclusive, so if Barack Obama, the president, is a black leader, then people are going to be petrified, right, because everybody’s going to think, well, isn’t that what they always wanted — black leadership and now that they’ve got it, aren’t we cut out of this deal and I think that there’s a fear that somewhere along the line, maybe it’s get even time.  It’s like we know you all have been mad so now if you all get leadership — so I think that there’s some degree, people are ambivalent about this, but I don’t think that right now when I talk to people and it’s clear that your mission is to create a set of circumstances that levels the playing field, I don’t feel like people are really worried about that.

I did hear some talk that so many African Americans voted for Obama, right, it was like, oh yeah, he got more of the African American vote than anyone else, and so — but what I try to remind people was that early on, when people thought Hillary Clinton was going to win, he was not getting most of the African American vote.  People didn’t just vote for him because he was African American.  As people began to think, well, you know what, this guy is really talented and good, he won people over and I think people dismissed that and just assumed it was because he was African American and everybody decided to vote for him, so I think the country is learning.  I think that as people are getting more and more used to African Americans in leadership positions, you know, Colin Powell, I don’t think anyone’s worried about Colin Powell in a leadership position.  I think they believe he’s fair and even when he says what he says, people say, well, I wonder if he said that because he was black.  I don’t think they then discount his leadership, so if he said, well, I want to go and lead Americans.  I think people would say, yep, that’s great, because Colin is terrific, we understand that he’s going to be fair because he’s been in that position before, so I think we’re learning to be comfortable with African Americans who talk about black leadership and African Americans who are leaders who are also black, right, and I think there’s a difference that the country is still grappling with, right, because there’s some African Americans, they’re just leaders.

Ken Chenault’s a leader.  He happens to be black.  He runs American Express.  People don’t think he’s a black leader, right, so that’s one issue.  Well, someone will look at me and they say, now, Geoff’s a leader in the black community, he’s a black leader and then I think trying to figure out what that difference is is something I think the country’s still grappling with.  I don’t think it’s divisive.  I don’t think it’s divisive because I don’t think that people have felt that we wielded unfair power over their lives so that they’re excluded.

Now, affirmative action was one of those areas that people said okay, now you’re hurting me, so that’s going too far, right, and there may be moments like that again but I think that there was a leadership style in America that I would consider people who are from my generation which was really looking at the discrimination, the racism, the prejudice, and pointing it out and saying to people I demand you look at this that made people very uncomfortable.  They said, oh boy, I don’t know about Jesse Jackson.  I don’t know Al Sharpton.  They make me nervous as black leaders.  I think there’s a different group of leaders that people are saying, well, this is really about issues and if race happens to be an issue, they’ll mention it but it’s not their issue.  It’s not the issue that they’re dealing with.  They’re dealing with other issues, so I think we’re in sort of a transformative stage right now and everybody’s trying to get used to what this means.

BOND: And we don’t know how it’s going to come out.

CANADA:  And I don’t think we know how it’s going to come out yet.