Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Adolph Reed: Elite Ratification Of Managerial "Authoriteh" Over The American Negroe Problem

thebaffler  |  The notion that black Americans are political agents just like other Americans, and can forge their own tactical alliances and coalitions to advance their interests in a pluralist political order is ruled out here on principle. Instead, blacks are imagined as so abject that only extraordinary intervention by committed black leaders has a prayer of producing real change. This pernicious assumption continually subordinates actually existing history to imaginary cultural narratives of individual black heroism and helps drive the intense—and myopic—opposition that many antiracist activists and commentators express to Bernie Sanders, social democracy, and a politics centered on economic inequality and working-class concerns.

The striking hostility to such a politics within the higher reaches of antiracist activism illustrates the extent to which what bills itself as black politics today is in fact a class politics: it is not interested in the concerns of working people of whatever race or gender. Indeed, a spate of recent media reports have retailed evidence that upper-class black Americans may be experiencing stagnant-to-declining social mobility—which is taken as prima facie evidence of the stubbornly racist cast of the American social order: Even rich professionals like us, elite commentators suggest, are denied the right to secure our own class standing. It is also telling that the study that provoked the media reports – Raj Chetty, et al., “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective” – rehearses the hoary recommendation that “reducing the intergenerational persistence of the black-white income gap will require policies whose impacts cross neighborhood and class lines and increase upward mobility specifically for black men.” These include “mentoring programs for black boys, efforts to reduce racial bias among whites, or efforts to facilitate social interaction across racial groups within a given area.” That’s pretty thin gruel, warmed over bromides and all too familiar paternalism and no actually redistributive policies at all.

In this context the pronounced animus trained on the figure of the “white savior” emerges as litmus test for the critical role of racial gatekeeper in respectable political discourse. The gatekeeping question has, for more than a century, focused on who speaks for black Americans and determines the “black agenda.” And the status of black leader, spokesperson, or “voice” has always been a direct function of contested class prerogative, dating back a century and more to Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Anna Julia Cooper. Specifically, the gatekeeping function is the obsession of the professional-managerial strata who pursue what Warren has described as “managerial authority over the nation’s Negro problem.” How do “black leaders” become recognized? The answer is the same now as for Washington in the 1890s; recognition as a legitimate black leader, or “voice,” requires ratification by elite opinion-shaping institutions and individuals.

Gatekeeping hasn’t been the exclusive preoccupation of Bookerite conservatives or liberals like Du Bois. Even militant black nationalists and racial separatists like Marcus Garvey and the leaders of the Nation of Islam have pursued validation as black leaders from dominant white elites to support programs of racial “self-help” or uplift. From Black Power to Black Lives Matter, claimants to speak on behalf of the race have courted recognition from the Ford Foundation and other white-dominated nonprofit philanthropies and NGOs. And the emergence of cable news networks and the blogosphere have exponentially expanded the number and types of entities that can anoint race leaders and representative voices.

This new welter of platforms and voices seeking to promulgate and validate the acceptable terms of black leadership has made the category seem all the more beyond question, as black racial voices pop up all over the place all the time. So, for example, the self-proclaimed black voice Tia Oso was brought front and center in the 2015 Netroots Presidential Town Hall featuring Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, where she proclaimed that “black leadership must be foregrounded and central to progressive strategies.” Likewise, the presumed moral authority of race leadership enabled Marissa Johnson and Mara Jacqueline Willaford to prevent Sanders from speaking at a Social Security rally in Seattle—as though the long-term viability of Social Security were not a black issue. The instant recourse to a posture of leadership is how random Black Lives Matter activists and a vast corps of pundits and bloggers are able to issue ex cathedra declarations about which issues are and are not pertinent to black Americans.