New Black Leadership Emerging 50 Years After Selma (4/4)
TRNN’S Eddie Conway speaks to Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford about the accomplishments and challenges facing the black community on the 50th anniversary of Selma
EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to the Glen Ford report. I’m Eddie Conway. And today we’re going to discuss several things.
There are in the black community and communities of color people that are working, people that are raising their families, people that are going about their business. And to a great degree they seem completely unaware of the devastation that’s going on down on the ground among young people, among impoverished people.
I guess the question is this–and I always bring up this thing that we looked at historically in Germany when things were going on in the Jewish community and very few people were paying attention to it, and eventually it caught up with the whole entire community. Is this a problem for the working-class blacks and the families that are trying to, like, stay out of harm’s way? Is this mass incarceration? ‘Cause it continues today, the drug stuff and so on. Is this a problem for those people that are ignoring it?
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: This was a crisis of black leadership. And that’s why I begin by talking about how one segment of black America that was able to take advantage of the opportunities that came from the death of Jim Crow has taken over our politics and pursued their own selfish ends without regard for actual state of life of the rest of black America. And so we have this misleadership class which speaks the language of the master, whose only ambition is to get as close to power as possible, who–and when they shape the conversation the black community, it becomes a useless kind of vocabulary. People don’t even have the vocabulary nowadays to describe their condition. And that’s because much of our leadership was murdered or, like you, put away for decades and decades, and the rest scared–much of the rest–scared into submission by this police state terror in the ongoing terror of the mass black incarceration state, which can come and get you at any time. And so we don’t have–it’s not just we don’t have role models. We don’t have the language to describe our condition. And how do you devise solutions to your condition if you can’t even describe it?
And so people who are trying to organize this new movement have to harken back to events and political discussions of 40 and 50 years ago in order to make sense of what’s happening all across our country today.
CONWAY: Is that the advice that you would give them, to look toward history? Or would you–.
FORD: Well, you don’t just–and I’m sure you wouldn’t advocate that folks just up and try to reform a replica of the Black Panther Party. But you do have to know how you got in this situation, how we came to have the kind of useless leadership that we have now in black America. How did that happen? When did it happen? Who are they beholden to? How long has this been going on? All of these things have to be discussed, and it has to be historically and materially grounded. And so you do have to go back to those seminal times in the late ’60s and early ’70s when this mass black incarceration regime began, ’cause that’s what people are fighting, whether they know it or not.
CONWAY: And I agree. I wouldn’t recommend to duplicate the things that we did in history. Those were experiences that we had, those were things we learned from. We made some mistakes, we made some gains. All of that should be looked at. But I’m looking at young people today, and I’m seeing that they’re organizing new formations, they’re organizing in different kind of ways without a authoritarian kind of leadership. They’re sharing the leadership. They’re having, like, Democratic kind of circles. What you think of–and I know right now they’re just protesting and stuff, but what do you think? Do you think this has the potential for starting to address some of the problems in our community?
FORD: The conversation is about self-determination, although that is a term that is not used, it’s not part of the vocabulary, and therefore the discussion of self-determination is a crippled one until folks can get used to the language. But that’s really what this is about. When you say that you don’t want these police in your community at all, that you don’t respect them having authority in your community, you’re talking about your right to self-determination. And it is the job of organizers and the job of us older heads to impart the vocabulary that can make this self-determinationist discussion actually come alive and be fruitful so that we don’t speak in euphemisms and broken political language.
CONWAY: I don’t know that the “hands up, don’t shoot” is about self-determination. I hope that people look beyond that “hands up, don’t shoot” kind of thing and demand to be treated like human beings. I’m hopeful that that will be the next stage of this, but I’m not sure. I mean, are you hopeful that we’ll get beyond “I surrender”?
FORD: Oh, I always have faith in our people. We shall overcome, but not in the ways that some folks think that slogan should act its way out. But we will overcome.
CONWAY: Thanks for joining me.
FORD: Thank you, my brother. It’s a great thing to be in conversation with you.
CONWAY: Thank you for joining The Real News.
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