The Call for a President of Black America

Former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson march with Trayvon Martin supporters through the historically African-American community of Goldsboro on their way to an NAACP rally in front of the Sanford Police Department on March 31, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.  MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES
Former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson march with Trayvon Martin supporters through the historically African-American community of Goldsboro on their way to an NAACP rally in front of the Sanford Police Department on March 31, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.
MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Every so often, an incident symptomatic of deeper issues triggers a release valve for collective despair. The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., sparked a movement much larger than concerns about the aggressive policing of black men. The marches and protests are a larger commentary about the economic and societal disenfranchisement of black people and the response to Brown’s death is a coalescing event, sounding the latest clarion call for America to revisit her unresolved original sin.

But movements need leaders. And while this one certainly has organizers doing important work, it is missing the critical element that black America has not produced for some time: a national, unifying figure. Black America needs its own presidential figurehead—a chief executive who can artfully make the compelling case to the country that we are unfairly and unconstitutionally subjugated. A case that needs to have a face and voice with which the nation can interact, associate and, in theory, negotiate.

Though familiar faces take the mantle in times of uncertainty or calamity, none are the embodiment of the larger, enduring and unrelenting cause. In a survey last year, a plurality of black Americans (40 percent) said there is no leader who speaks (pdf) for them. Even when familiar names were presented, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson or current Congressional Black Caucus members, only 1 in 10 felt these leaders were adequately giving voice to their issues. The most popular name was the Rev. Al Sharpton, but there is a growing sentiment that his vision and approach lack currency. And the individual who might be the most capable, President Barack Obama, has explicitly stated that he’s “not the president of black America,” he’s president of the United States.

The call for a president of black America may, at first blush, sound odd. And some rightly point out that, technically, no such entity exists. But black America is about 45 million people strong and has buying power of just over a trillion dollars. This means black America has an economy roughly equivalent to Portugal’s and a population that is about the same as Spain’s. That should translate to a significant amount of economic and political power. But without a leader to marshal this capital, we’re treated like a subcultural afterthought that only commands national attention when it appears in need of a good squelching.

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SOURCE: The Root
Theodore R. Johnson III

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