Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Race Consciousness in Contemporary America

BOND: Let me ask you a couple of questions about race consciousness. How does race consciousness affect your work? Are you a leader who advances issues of race or society or both? Is there a distinction between these? And is there such a thing as a race transcending leader?

JEALOUS: Yes, and I think we’ve had race — we certainly have had leaders who’ve transformed racism throughout out career. I mean, throughout our history, throughout the centuries in this country. Ed Brookes [sic] was just honored in Congress the other day and he was elected to the Senate I think, or at least went into office first in the 1960s in Boston. And people say, “Oh, it was just simply impossible,” and he transcended racism and to me, it’s really racism that defines race. I mean, race isn’t a scientific — you know, there’s no scientific basis, there’s just a cultural basis and the cultural basis is bias.

In my own life, I guess I’m both aware, very aware, that I’m black, and I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I mean, it was — race is both I think something that’s fundamentally passive. You’re just sort of born and there’s an understanding. In my case, the understanding was that my father knew that his children would be black when he married my mom, both by law at the time and by the fact that he was being disowned from his extended family. His brother and his mother stood with him but from his extended family, so — but it’s also something that you affirm and I can remember once being asked by four guys from a book they’d done on kind of young black male leaders. Each of us were asked the same question by ABC News and I was the only one who wasn’t shown. We were asked, “Why is it the toughest thing in America to be a young black man?” And the other three had answered the question as it was asked and I’d rejected the premise, and I said, “Well, considering the experience of my mother and my sister has taught me is that racism and sexism compound each other so I just don’t think that’s necessarily so,” I said, “but also frankly, I don’t know a black person who if you really gave them the option would opt to be white. There’s a lot of good about being black — jazz music, hip-hop, black women, whatever. There’s just a lot of good about being black,” and obviously that wasn’t fit for ABC News. But at the same time, race is extremely limiting in creating political consensus in this country. So in a lot of studies done that show if you lead with racial disparities, you kind of turn off and you harden people against you who not are in the affected group. And I think all of us really yearn to kind of live beyond race.