Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Leadership: Exploding Myths

BOND: What do you see as your greatest contribution as an African American leader? We’ve already agreed you are a leader.

IFILL: Okay, if we must. I think it’s being there. I think it’s exploding myths about who we are. There’re a lot of people for years who could very conveniently fall into this notion of defining black folk as just being people on the street corner or people who weren’t about anything — or, heroic, you know, someone standing on the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and giving a fabulous speech, or an athlete or an entertainer but nothing in between. There aren’t a whole lot of folk, and I probably know them all, who do exactly what I do and that explodes a whole notion about what journalism is, about what broadcast journalism is, about what someone who can speak for the country and asking someone who’s running for president or vice president a question. My presence explodes a lot of notions. I’m very keen on that, about what limitations are. And I don’t really care if it explodes notions for people who were thinking the worst of black people. I care that it explodes notions for my godchildren and that they take it for granted that it is possible or that someone is supposed to be in that chair or that when Barack Obama was elected and I said to my twelve-year-old, at the time, godson, “Isn’t it great, we have a black president,” and he said, “Yeah, uh-huh. Could I go play?’ We did what we did so that he could say that and be impressed but not overly impressed by this. For him, his life is a lot broader than that and it is not defined solely by that, yet he sees that guy there and that means there are possibilities. And that’s important.

BOND: I’m surprised when you began speaking about this, you said you didn’t care as much if it exploded myths held by people who think poorly of you. Why not?

IFILL: I just can’t spend a whole lot of time —

BOND: No, I don’t want you to spend all your life doing it.

IFILL: No. I mean, I just — there’re people who are going to form opinions and expect you to spend your life proving to them that their opinions of you are wrong. I haven’t got time for that. A good example is before the vice presidential debate in 2008, a lot of people decided I was a terribly horrible biased commentator because I was in the middle of writing a book in which Barack Obama was going to be a featured player, a book about race. I believe that they were more upset that I was writing a book about race than I was writing a book about Barack Obama. Because it wasn’t a book about Barack Obama. No one had seen it. No one — I hadn’t written it, so I knew were reacting to something else. And because they were reacting to something else and it was something which I knew to be incorrect and wrong, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to prove to them that I was fair. I just had to do the job and I had to do the job as much for myself and the people I represent in my profession as I had to do it for people who were going to be naysayers whether there were facts who supported it or not.

BOND: Did you think that some of those people may have been simply misinformed? And having some information might’ve made them better people?

IFILL: They were willfully misinformed.

BOND: All right.