Who Speaks for the ‘Hood?: How Black Leaders Failed Us


(“Black Power Fist” image courtesy of Osiris Black)

“Follow the leader is the title, theme, task/ Now ya know, you don’t have to ask.” – “Follow the Leader”, Eric B and Rakim

An election was held in Harlem yesterday to elect a new national Black leader. For months, top contenders, Rev. Jesse Sharpton and Dr. Cornel Smiley, had been trying to out shine each other in an attempt to grab the coveted title. However, when the final vote was cast, the late rapper “The Vanglorious Makaveli Smalls” won a decisive write-in victory. Sharpton and Smiley took the first flight out of town, ashamed that the biggest civil rights leaders in the world had been beaten by a rapper from the ‘hood who was murdered 15 years ago.

For the last few years, there has been an uncivil war going on in the Black community between Rev. Al Sharpton, reppin’ the old school Civil Rights crew, and the intellectual tag team of Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. For months they have traded disses back and forth like a “Freestyle Friday” battle over who is the legitimate leader of the masses of Black folk.

Problem is, neither side really speaks for the streets – especially the youth. It can even be argued that the late Tupac Shakur is still more politically relevant to this generation than today’s Black leaders.

Traditionally, Black leadership has been made up of members of the middle class who use the poor as political pawns. In 1957, E. Franklin Frazier wrote in his book, Black Bourgeoisie, “As the intellectual leaders in the Negro community, they have never dared think beyond a narrow, opportunistic philosophy that provided a rationalization for their own advantages.”

How many forums have you watched on C-Span where a bunch of highly educated Black “leaders” in expensive suits talked for three hours about the problems facing America and not a word was relevant to the ‘hood ?

As Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote in The Mis-Education of the Negro, “One of the most striking evidences of the failure of higher education among Negroes is the estrangement from the masses, the very people upon whom they must eventually count for carrying out a program of progress. ”

The biggest scam played on the streets by “Black leaders” is the “non-economic liberalism” con, which Harold Cruse discusses in his book, Plural But Equal. According to Cruse, groups like the NAACP traded Black economic empowerment for the impotent, feel good ideology of civil rights. So people died for the right to sit next to a white person in a restaurant when they should have been fighting to own the joint.

The fight over who should be the leader of Black Americans can be traced back to the 1843 National Convention of Colored Citizens and the debates between Frederick Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet. According to Bradford Chambers in “Chronicles of Black Protest, ” Garnet wanted to go hard against slavery with his “Call to Rebellion” speech, but his efforts were undermined by Douglass’s softer call for “moral suasion.” Because Garnet was seen as too radical, Douglass became America’s first national Black “leader.”

During the early 20th Century, the fight for Black leadership was between Booker T. Washington and Dr. WEB DuBois. Washington was the reigning champion after the 1895 Atlanta Exposition, where he delivered a speech that, according to his book, Up From Slavery, was used to “cement the friendship of the races and bring about hearty cooperation between them.” Dubois, however, wanted to intellectually and politically challenge the idea of white supremacy. After the death of Washington, Dubois went against Marcus Garvey, an advocate of Black Pride, self sufficiency, and a strong identification with Africa, as discussed in detail in Dr. Tony Martin’s work, Race First.

The conflict of the ’60s was between the Civil ights leaders led by Dr. Martin Luther King and members of the Black Power Movement who followed the ideology of Malcolm X. Because they were less threatening to the staus quo, the followers of King became the “official” Black leaders.

During the late ’80s, a second Black Power movement emerged via Hip-Hop, as young Black kids began to identify with the outcasts. Instead of repeating the “I Have a Dream Speech,” Hip Hop artists such as Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy began to sample speeches by Kwame Ture, Dr. Khalid Muhammad, and Min. Louis Farrakhan. Also, a new generation of Black youth begin to embrace Afrocentric thought, courtesy of scholars like Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, and so-called “conspiracy theories” by Del Jones and Steve Cokely, who mainstream Black leadership had deemed political pariahs. These vibrations still flow through underground, conscious Hip-Hop, even in 2012.

This is the real reason that the torch was never passed to the Hip-Hop generation. Although the old school Civil Rights leaders always complain about how young people aren’t willing to “pick up the mantel of leadership,” in truth, they ain’t givin’ that up without a fight. The only way to get that golden mantle is to pry it from their cold dead hands. Even today, it is the clones of Dr. King who sit on the thrones of Black leadership, as they have the cable news networks, radio stations, and magazine covers on lock.

But we have something they never will – Hip Hop and the ears of the streets.

Hip-Hop still remains the most volatile weapon that can be used to challenge the status quo. What if rappers used the money that they are spending “makin’ it rain” in the clubs to build more Black businesses? Or instead of rapping about “Rack City,” they used their words to make a strong “Black City?” Maybe it’s time for the Hip-Hop Nation to overthrow traditional Black leadership and replace them with people who truly rep’ the poor and oppressed in ‘hoods across America.

The choice is yours.

Like Nas asked on “My Generation, “What’s up with tomorrow?/ Will you lead? Will you follow?”

TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. His website is www.NoWarningShotsFired.com. He can be reached at info@nowarningshotsfired.com or follow him on Twitter (@truthminista).