Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Style

BOND: Let me ask you a question about your style. Do you have a different style if you're dealing with an all-black group, a mixed-raced group, or a white group? Are you a different person?


BOND: Behave in a different way?

WATSON: No. And I can tell you what I do do. As I told you, my congressional district is very diversified. I have an Armenian community, a Greek community. I have all of Korea Town. I have Hollywood. I have south central Los Angeles. I have some of the wealthiest areas — Hancock Park, Fremont Place, Larchmont, and the City of Los Angeles. And they're all colors. What I do is I go in there and I relate to them on issues of concern to their neighborhoods.

BOND: A moment ago we were talking about tough love and compassion, and there seem to me occasions when you do apply —

WATSON: But they're not mutually exclusive. I want to make that clear.

BOND: No, they're not mutually exclusive. But you do apply kind of a tough love approach. You talked to AKA in 1997 and you talked about Ebonics and how Ebonics is not an acceptable alternative or a stepping-stone and, of course, there're many people who will tell that it's perfectly fine. It's okay to use over here and then you use something else over here.

WATSON: As an educator, I don't put much credence in allowing people not to use the English language because your communication skills will deter you or they'll take you where you want to go. So we don't need to fool our kids into thinking that they can use Ebonics and be successful in this world. The world is too competitive and communication skills are your key into upward mobility and so I don't fool our kids.

I went out to a high school when I was on the Board and there were kids that came in with bedroom slippers on and their hair up in curlers and I told the principal, I said, "Do not allow young people to think that that's appropriate dress for the outside world, the work world. That's appropriate at home." "Well, these kids are — " I said, "That's no excuse. They have to know appropriate behavior, appropriate language, so they can get the job. And so it's your job to educate them, to enlighten them, to train them and let them know what's appropriate and what's not." You can't holler fire in a crowded theater. It's inappropriate. The First Amendment, you see? So we have to teach our children. We can't keep them in ignorance.