Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Leaders: Lifting Others

BOND: Now, do black leaders have an obligation to help other African Americans or is there -- or will there be a point where that obligation ends?


RASPBERRY: You mean blacks who are leaders in other areas?


BOND: Yes. Ken Chenault has risen to the top of great American business and he's black. Does he have an obligation to help other black people that's distinct or just an obligation to help people generally?


RASPBERRY: That's a profound question and I think whatever the philosophical answer is, I think the practical answer is that those African Americans who achieve great success, especially in mainstream situations, assume some responsibility for at least letting their co-ethnics know how they got where they are, and it's a different -- it's a different responsibility than letting people know how I achieved greatness. I mean, there are people who can be inspired in useful ways by having a conversation with somebody who looks like them and I think that's not much of a price to pay for success.


Should you deny it to others? Of course not. You are a professor, and the form of the question that comes to a university professor is excruciatingly difficult. There was an important exchange at the Atlantic Monthly a few years ago -- a university professor says, a law professor says one of the highlights of his year is the Christmas dessert he and his wife give for the law students at his university. He invites the black law students over to his home and they just sort of talk and kick back and -- and another professor says, "Why, what an awful thing. Here is a professor who is supposed to be modeling fairness making aspects of himself available to one group of students based on some imagined racial kinship and by implication denying this to other students. How unfair can one be?" And I think how you wrestle with that kind of question says an awful lot about you and about what you think the state of our progress to be.