Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton Are Not ‘Black Leaders’ for the African American Community

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Who are the leaders of the “white community”? Who are the leaders of the “Asian American community”?

These questions seem silly given the fact that whites and Asians Americans are considered to be free thinking individuals who do not need ethnic leadership. For reasons that I cannot understand, white progressives and conservatives alike seem stuck in the 1960s whenever they use phrases like “leaders of the black community.” What is even more bizarre is the seemingly fetish-like attachment to the archaic notion that people in black communities look to someone like Al Sharpton as a leader.

If there is one thing black progressives and black conservatives have in common it is the shared opinion that Al Sharpton is irrelevant and does not represent “black interests” because there is no person who fills this role. Al Sharpton represents himself and whatever particular non-profit he leads. That’s it. Nothing more.

How did we get here? During the enslavement of African Americans in this country it was customary on plantations for slave masters to designate a mediator between slaves and the people to whom they were owned to communicate demands, grievances, and the like. Increasingly, these became religiously grounded leaders as the plantation church became its own institution. Because African Americans were not given any other leadership paths during slavery much of those energies, and the practice of federalism, happened within the context of the black church. During Reconstruction and through World War II, with the eventual emergence of Jim Crow laws, the black pastor emerged as the primary voice of black communities all over America. The Civil Rights Movement was the last best example of the role that black pastors played as mediators between the dominant culture and minorities.

Beginning in the 1970s, African Americans were more free to participate in the various modes of leadership outside of the church that were previously closed off. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., African Americans were more free to ascend to prominent positions in the marketplace and in politics. The role of the black pastor, then, began to wane as the mediating voice between black communities and the mainstream culture because African Americans were now in Congress, becoming mayors of cities, sitting on city councils, and so on.

The role of the black pastor as a community leader forever changed. It is almost as if the mainstream culture is unaware that this shift happened. It is as if the dominant culture is unaware that black pastors have a significantly less credible role in the black communities across America on social issues for those born after 1970 than they did for black baby boomers. Why, then, are whites so obsessed with someone as played out, archaic, and irrelevant as Al Sharpton?

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SOURCE: Acton Institue
Anthony Bradley

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