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April 16, 2005

Kilson on Black Elites

I didn't read all of the tables in Kilson's interesting article. That's mostly because the most interesting of them didn't have any data for my father's time, let alone my generation. If there's anything I'd like Fryer to check out it would be the distribution of African American professionals, longitudinally. In other words, I'd like to see evidence documented by statistics, that indicates the extent to which the black middle and upper middle classes have diversified and expanded in the post-war and post-civil rights eras.

Meanwhile Kilson concludes:

One crucial lesson for today’s Black elite at the dawn of the 21st century can be drawn from the foregoing discussion of the formative-phase Black elite outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership pattern (from 19th century to 1940s). Namely, the formative-phase Black elite set a high-standard example of the outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership orientation, especially in light of the racist-restricted miniscule modernization resources that our White-supremacist structured American society permitted the formative-phase Black elite to acquire.

There is also a second crucial lesson to draw from the foregoing discussion. Namely, that today’s early 21st century Black elite has a tremendous obligation to bear in regard to replicating an outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership pattern that is comparable to the pattern fashioned by the formative-phase Black elite from the 19th century to 1940s.

Indeed , as I will discuss in Part II of this essay, given today’s Black elite’s new mainstream status in both the economic and political structures of early 21st century American society – providing it new economic resources and public policy influence – the future outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership pattern should be superior in quality to what the earlier Black elite could achieve. I myself believe that today’s early 21st century Black elite will fulfill its outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership obligation. Today’s Black elite confronts a situation involving 40% of today’s African-American households that suffer numerous social crises.

I have mixed opinins about Kilson's conclusions. I agree that there are Talented Tenth aspirations among us, but that Progressivism and race raising is nowhere near as important as it once was - that the relative amount of time elite blacks need to consider and dedicate themselves to their inferiors is less . Furthermore, I would argue that the social capital with which blacks are endowed allow their elites broad responsibilities in mainstream organizations which far outweigh those that can be accomplished via progressivism and aggregation. This sets up a paradox that Kilson seems to ignore. There are more things that black elites can do, but it's not entirely clear that they need to or want to.

I think that it is very difficult to establish the connectivity the black elite would require to become a self-sustaining force in American life. I am optimistic and hopeful about that becoming an eventuality, but I do have grave concerns that a great deal of energy my be dissapated in search of that Black Establishment. But I also say that it's a great mystery which I am bound to pry open and discover, not the least because I think I deserve a seat in the star chamber. But beyond my selfish reasons for wanting to be a part, I think that there are a goodly contingent of my peers who are puzzled about how this thing might come together.

As much as most of us complain about the NAACP, it's always there (like BET) and you can rely on its ability to draw attention to itself. So whatever they say cannot be ignored, nor can Sharpton or any of the other Fungibles. And yet it seems impossible to determine with any accuracy the extent to which their policy pronouncements and rationale is shared by the African American public. All we hear is criticism, but where is the consensus? This whole problem of working with a default consensus is what keeps black politics stagnant between the Rock of the Republicans and the Hard Place of the Democrats. (I don't know how to spell Schilla or Charibdis). Most of us would rather be elsewhere, but elsewhere has no permanent address.

So latent in the energy and motivation, and even egos of the black elite, is a formula for black political amplitude if not unity. And what must happen is that the content of that political desire must be made manifest through self-representation. This is central to the Black Power Imperative. It is what we want for Iraqis, it is what we want for ourselves.

Still, will we aggregate successfully? There is a paradox. America has to be open enough for successful blacks to feel as though the limits on their success is entirely their own doing and not due to latent institutional racism. Yet America has to be closed enough for them to take the burden of lifting their racial brothers seriously. Absent both conditions, there's no real reason for this elite to take its duties beyond friends and family. Cues will continue to come from the big dogs like Cosby, but it's still an iffy proposition. I agree with Kilson that the spirit is willing and the chances are good, but this cuts awfully close to home in many ways. Is it essential or is it optional?

Posted by mbowen at April 16, 2005 02:07 PM

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Holy cow, this blog has been on fire this weekend! On travel, cell phone only connectivity--will read and digest.

Posted by: Chap at April 16, 2005 11:39 PM

As much as most of us complain about the NAACP, it's always there (like BET) and you can rely on its ability to draw attention to itself. So whatever they say cannot be ignored, nor can Sharpton or any of the other Fungibles.

They can be ignored, but the media don't want to ignore them because they give good sound bite and conservatives don't want to ignore them because they provide the Black boogie man that they need.

Tell me, if they can't be ignored, how is it that conservatives ignore Jackson when he goes on his yearly campaign to get Black parents/guardians to take their children to school the first day and then STAY INVOLVED IN THE SCHOOL ALL SCHOOL YEAR?

And yet it seems impossible to determine with any accuracy the extent to which their policy pronouncements and rationale is shared by the African American public.

OK, so how long have I been saying the same thing?

In my strong criticisms of "Black conservatives" and stating that "Black conservatives are their own worst enemy", haven't I said it's an insult to Blacks, in general, that "Black conservatives" state that Blacks follow "Black leaders" without question?

Posted by: DarkStar at April 17, 2005 01:00 PM

Well, my angle isn't so much on conservative or liberal at this point, but at aggregation. So I'm interested to know how and where black elites organize themselves to lift the boats, if they do so at all. IE what did the people on Tavis Smiley's panel do before Tavis called them, and if it weren't for NPR would Tavis be able to call them at all?

Posted by: Cobb at April 17, 2005 08:44 PM

Before NPR there was Tom Joyner. It was that partnership that got him the big audience. The panel was the 3rd one they had.

To your point, from what I saw, they were able to gather, but nothing came out of it. I always contended, and caught heat from the ivory tower types for it, for saying that folks like Skip Gates shoot for their peers instead of the norm.

PhD's are in a class by themselves, regardless of race. So why write some huge tome in academic-speak instead of plain English? That's where Tavis comes in. He breaks it down. Cornel West's most widely read book, "Race Matters", was very easy to read and digest.

The "Isis Papers" was horrible, from my P.O.V.

But most work seems to be getting done, not by the elites, but by the -- for lack of a better phrase -- working class.

Posted by: DarkStar at April 18, 2005 05:48 PM