Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Challenges

BOND: And now all of a sudden someone has come along to say it's okay to talk about these things. These are serious problems. That is a real exercise in leadership.

NORTON: And it really taught me something about leadership that I had not known before. I was scared. I was thinking, "Well, people are going to say, 'Oh no, here's she's like Moynihan.' "

BOND: She's going to dump on black men.

NORTON: Right, dump on black men. But it taught me something. It really did teach me that I had -- that we patronize black people when we believe that they don't want to hear self-evident truths and that the burden is on us to find a way to say it, so that they want to hear it from us, but not to assume that it should not be said at all. And every experience I've had in talking about the black family ever since has reinforced that.

By the way, I find the same thing about other verboten subjects like what you do if you're in a room and somebody says something that's anti-Semitic. I know what you'd say if somebody -- white people sit there and say nothing. If a black -- if some language is used that is derogatory of blacks, we're the first to criticize it. And it does seem to me that you find a way. And I have -- and it's rare that that's happened, that you find that kind of comment. You'll find it in black groups about Jews or even about Hispanics, somebody who is kind of not in the room that you feel, and you've got to find a way to say, "You don't mean Jews, do you?" Or, "You mean -- ?" And the person will normally say, "Oh, no, of course, what I mean is -- " But you don't let it go by and you don't assume that nobody wants to hear it, but that if you find a way to say it, precisely because you're in the room. We're in the room together. The fact that we're in the room together and they feel free to say those things means you are free to say why perhaps that's not the thing to say.

BOND: But, again, that strikes me as a leadership definition that you're in the room, you're having this conversation, things are said that shouldn't be said or ought to be challenged, and typically people just let them go, pass them by or skip to another subject. And it takes some degree of leadership to say "No."

NORTON: And where did I learn that? I learned that from resenting the fact that white people sit around talking about black people in all kinds of ways --

BOND: When we're not in the room.

NORTON: When we're not in the room. And reinforcing, and have over the centuries reinforced racism because nobody would say, "Look, come on." And if that has been our critique, and boy, it's been our critique, it really does not pay for at least -- I don't expect the average black person to feel that they've got to get up and do this, but it does seem to me that ever so gently, it is a burden of leadership.