CROCKETT: The myth of black leadership

Black Americans are not members of a tribe, and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are not their tribal leaders. Photo: AP Photo

COPPERAS COVE, Texas, August 22, 2013 — Blacks in America are not a separate “community,” and we do not need to have leaders who speak for us. The myth that we do is very old, and very wrong.

Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton have the same right as everyone else in America to express an opinion. However, even though Jackson and Sharpton are black, they have no more right to speak for all black Americans than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have to speak for all white Americans.

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That idea is preposterous.

From the mid-1800s to the early 1970s, the idea that blacks were a separate cultural and political body, not just another flavor in America’s melting pot, seemed so self-evident that even blacks bought into it.

Elected black politicians didn’t just represent their voting constituency, but their race. 

Aside from icons like Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington, black leaders with national stature were rare. In the south, where the hierarchy of the plantation was still prevalent, blacks would bring their problems to someone recognized by whites as a black leader; he in turn, hat in hand, would try to convince the whites to address them.

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The practice was not only demeaning, but designed to serve the interests of whites.

It wasn’t until the Montgomery Bus Boycott propelled Martin Luther King Jr. into the national spotlight that America began to think in terms of a national black leader.

King’s wasn’t the only prominent black voice at the time, but his message of non-violence was more palatable to the white establishment than the angry messages of Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, H Rap Brown and others. Among blacks and liberal whites, King’s battles with Washington in the campaign for civil rights and justice, the March from Selma to Montgomery, and the March on Washington solidified his status as a “Black Leader”. 

Martin Luther King Jr. was never the leader of the black people!

There is no office called “Black Leader.” No one was ever elected as the leader of the black people — not Jesse Jackson, not Al Sharpton, not Oprah Winfrey, not anyone!

But still the idea that there is one black person who speaks for all black people is perpetuated by white and black commentators in the media. It is s not only offensive and insulting to blacks in America as a whole, but is as ludicrous as the idea that one white person could speak for all white people.

Black people are not members of a tribe. They are not monolithic. They are as diverse as any other American ethnic group. They are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Independent. They are liberal, conservative, moderate, concerned or indifferent, rich, middle-class, and poor; and they have the same leadership as the rest of America — the President of the United States and the United States Congress.  

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More from Derek Crockett: From My Perspective
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Derek Crockett

Derek Crockett is a retired Engineering Technician with a love for technology, and industry experience ranging from the production of printed wire boards to the manufacture of semi-conductor production tools. Derek is a resident of Copperas Cove, Texas, and has worked for many of the world’s leading technology companies such as Solectron, Samsung, AMD, and Applied Materials. He now writes technology related news articles and reviews at


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