Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

You Cannot Ignore Race

BOND: That's a great segue to one of the last questions. William Allen writes, "Thinking in terms of race or gender, until we learn once again to use the language of American freedom in an appropriate way that embraces all of us, we're going to continue to harm this country." I guess what he's asking, is there a danger of continued divisiveness if we focus on the concept of black leadership as opposed to leadership?

BRAUN: You know, it sounds good, but he misses the fact that unless you acknowledge that the gorilla is in the room, you can't clean it. You know, you can't rearrange the furniture. You can't — the reality is that without patronizing, without segregating, without diminishing any one group's contributions, really our Americans hopefully will get to the point where color and gender and sexual orientation and ethnicity will be equally celebrated without being demeaned. But we haven't gotten there yet and, frankly, have not yet had the candid conversation about race in this country that I believe is absolutely necessary to liberate it.

You can't get to the point that you want to get to, pretending that there are not differences and problems and pain, but also opportunity all wrapped up in the issue of our history. To ignore it is to ignore reality, and so my view is without just pandering to pain— because you don't want to do that either. You don't want to, you know, just keep picking at a scab, but rather say, you know, I fell down when I was 12 and I've got this big scar on my leg, you know. Now, to deal with the scar, I'm going to do A, B, C, D, and E, but that's not going to stop me from walking and that's not going to stop me from being a whole person, and hopefully we'll get to the point in this country— you know, we're sitting here in Thomas Jefferson's vision, right? His architecture for this school, this university— and I was joking earlier, I said if Thomas Jefferson walked past I'd want to say, "You know, Mr. Jefferson, there's a couple of things I'd like to talk with you about."

You know, here was a brilliant vision and a vision, frankly, that was very much grounded in morality that spoke to the liberation of the human spirit and spoke to people being able to contribute to community based on the best of what they had to give, flying in the face of the contradictions of his slaveholding, his begetting children by his slave mistress, which for all intents and purposes was exploitation. She couldn't have said "No," you know, not to mention how the women in his life were relegated. I mean, you know, the women weren't much better off. I mean, for all intents and purposes, they weren't chattel, but not too far removed from it. And the poor — I mean, you take all those things. You put it as well— how can you talk about liberating human spirit and you've got all this yuck going on over here?

Well, I think that what you have to do is acknowledge what has been and try to move in the direction of your vision and the vision is one of unity around issues of liberty and justice and truth, but until you get there to ignore the reality is to ignore really, it is to shortchange your opportunity to get there.