Politics Mondays: No Longer One Voice For A Whole Race by Lawrence Temple Jr.
In reading Jabari Asim's excellent article published Dec. 31 concerning the question of who qualifies to be a spokesman for African-Americans today, I was reminded of a former co-worker. Since I am black, this co-worker felt compelled to bring up famous blacks every time we spoke, assuming, I guess, that as a black man I spent every waking moment thinking about Tiger, Serena, Venus, Oprah, Bill, Michael (Jordan or Jackson,) Puffy (as he was known then) Janet or (for those a little older) Sidney. I am convinced that he meant no harm. But our conversations show a misconception that many people of all races have: that all blacks share the same interests, opinions and points of view.
Well, just as every Irish person cannot be a member of Riverdance, and every Asian cannot do karate, all blacks do not think alike. That is why there can never again be one Booker T. Washington or Martin Luther King-type leader who can supposedly speak for all black people. We are as diverse as any other race of people.
Of course, there are issues and problems that are shared by many in the black community. Employment, education, racial profiling, criminal justice issues, teen pregnancy and other issues disproportionately are affecting black people. But it is naive to believe that anyone who wants to saunter into the Oval Office has the right to speak for all of us. The social problems I mentioned don't affect all blacks to the same degree. Some of us are sheltered somewhat by a middle-class shield of money and geography and are removed, to a degree, from some of the worst of those social ills. And, even when we can agree that we are all at least partially affected by these problems, we will not all agree as to how to address these problems.
Let me explain: As I write this, I am reflecting on the diverse group of African-American family, friends and associates that I have. Let's see. Two of my friends are black lawyers and Republicans. I have another friend who is so liberal he makes Jesse Jackson seem like Ronald Reagan. I have friends who are decidedly Christian in their worldview and others who have absolutely no use for religion at all. I know black people who believe that George W. Bush dynamited the levees in New Orleans to drown black people and others who still have Bush bumper stickers on their cars. I know black people who are single, married and divorced. I know people who hail rap music moguls as heroes of black capitalism and others who blame hip-hop for all that is wrong with us. Some of my friends say Bill Cosby's famous comments were right on, and others say he was dead wrong. Black people have many opinions, like anyone else.
It used to be blacks were glad to have anyone speaking on their behalf. It was seen as a victory for us just to see any black person on TV, regardless of who they were. Just having public exposure was a major accomplishment. But now, since integration, civil rights acts and expanding of the black middle class and opportunities, blacks express a diversity of opinions, not just satisfied that someone wants to be a "black voice."
Even in the time of Martin Luther King, every black person did not agree with his methods. At first, some blacks felt his sit-ins and boycotts were too aggressive, too much too soon. By the mid-1960s, other blacks felt he was too slow, and that nonviolent protests would never garner significant results. But, his was the voice that broke through to the American conscience, so the civil rights movement went his way, the way of integration (to a degree, but that's another essay) instead of the more radical and sometimes separatist views of other black voices of the '60s. The point is, if there was a diversity of opinions then, there is definitely one now. So, no one person is going to be the spokesman for the whole race.
Ask yourself, who is the spokesman for all white Americans? Michael Moore? David Duke? Paris Hilton? Ashton Kutcher? George Bush? The ACLU? Fox News? The very question is ridiculous. Similarly for blacks, no one person has cornered the market on black opinion. And that is, in itself, a sign of progress . . . I think.
Lawrence Temple Jr. , a teacher at Atlantic High School, lives in South Daytona. This article appears in The Dayton Beach News Journal
Lawrence Temple Jr.
Monday, January 9, 2006