“It is both an actual and aspirational class, which ultimately sees its interests as tied to those of U.S. imperialism and its ruling circles.”
In what he called “an afterthought” to his December 21 article on “The Black Political Class and Network Neutrality,” BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon dropped an unexpected bomb. He now has “deep reservations” about use of the term “Black misleadership class,” because “it implies that there is or ought to be a class of good and righteous black leaders.” The term is “sloppy and imprecise,” Dixon writes, adding (I hope) sarcastically:
“Maybe the good ones are supposed to be the ‘real’ blacks and the bad ones unreal. Maybe the difference [is] having or lacking character, table manners, home training or ‘real’ blackness, or even some kind of black magic.”
This is all quite cute, but bears no connection to the way the term “Black misleadership class” has been deployed by every one of BAR’s editors, including Dixon, since the publication’s inaugural issue in October, 2006 -- and by Dixon, Margaret Kimberley and myself in our previous duties at The Black Commentator. It is as if Bruce imagines that he has been in the company of narrow Black cultural nationalists all these years, and has finally broken loose from such mysticism. He appears to believe that his colleagues -- and, apparently, his former self -- have been guided by perceptions of Black leaders’ “authentic or inauthentic blackness,” rather than their “class allegiance.”
“It is as if Bruce imagines that he has been in the company of narrow Black cultural nationalists all these years, and has finally broken loose from such mysticism.”
It’s a broad brush, and inflicted on the wrong people. The language of Black “authenticity” seldom appears in Black Agenda Report, and virtually never from the pens of its editors. During Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, his boosters, mainly in the corporate media, claimed that Obama’s Black detractors were obsessed with the idea that he lacks “authentic” Blackness. However, BAR’s problem with Obama has always been that he is a corporate warmonger – an “authentic” toady for the ruling class. Our critique of Obama has consistently focused on the class that he serves. But Bruce seems to remember things differently.
I have so deeply embraced the “Black misleadership class” terminology, I thought I coined it, myself. But, a thorough Google search of both BAR and The Black Commentator provides no evidence of my authorship. Instead, the first use of “Black misleaderhip class” by anyone appears in the March 17, 2005, issue of The Black Commentator – then under my editorship -- in an article by James Warren, titled “Thirty-Seven Years of Non-Struggle Misleadership.” Warren, who described himself as having “been active in the Black and Labor movement for over 35 years,” refers variously to a Black “misleadership class” and “Black mis-leadership” as standing in the way of “our most prized possession…the ordinary working class men and women waking up as if from a deep sleep.”
The next reference to the term appears in the title of Bruce Dixon’s February 9, 2006, piece, “Failure of the Black Misleadership Class.” However, “misleadership” does not appear in the rest of the body of the work. Instead, Dixon uses the term “black leadership” 17 times, without the prefix “mis.” Three months later, on May 11, 2006, Dixon refers to the “black misleadership class,” and later “the black business leadership class,” in an article titled “The Black Stake in the Internet.”
“The first use of 'Black misleaderhip class' by anyone appears in the March 17, 2005, issue of The Black Commentator, in an article by James Warren.”
In an article titled “The Black Caucus’ Fatal FOX News Embrace,” that has disappeared from the archives of Black Agenda Report but was picked up by Common Dreams on June 6, 2007, Leutisha Stills refers to “the groveling mentality of a Black misleadership class that watches African Americans get their asses kicked every day of the year by Rupert Murdoch and the entirety of corporate media….”
I don’t show up in Google using the BMC term until October 9, 2010 when I condemn “a misleadership class that sells out the people at every turn” in a video of a speech to the Black Is Back Coalition.
BAR editors Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Ajamu Baraka, and Margaret Kimberley have all used the term, in articles posted on March 12, 2015, September 14, 2017, and January 18, 2017, respectively. Coleman-Adebayo blasted the “Black mis-leadership class” for orchestrating an elaborate kabuki theatre in the city of Selma, Alabama”; Baraka excoriated the “black mis-leadership class” for fully participating in “the process to deliver the people’s resources to the ruling elite”; and Kimberley denounced Atlanta Congressman John Lewis for exemplifying “everything that is wrong with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Democratic Party and the black misleadership class.”
Nellie Bailey, an editor and co-host of the weekly Black Agenda Radio program, is a consistent user of the term. Indeed, until Bruce Dixon’s recantation of December 21, all of BAR’s editors cited the sins and crimes of the “Black misleadership class” – with Dixon and me blasting the BMC most often.
Brother Dixon now prefers to substitute “political” for “misleader.” He writes that the “black political class” (Dixon does not capitalize “Black” -- I do) “happens to be a class to which most of us don’t belong.” But he is the one guilty of “sloppy” and “imprecise” usage. Bruce and I and the rest of the activist/writers/analysts at BAR do belong to the broad Black political class. He is restricting membership in the political classes to elected officials and, presumably, lobbyists, corporate media commentators and business friendly civic organization “spokespersons” that carry the rulers’ political water. Grassroots political activists are written out of Dixon’s definition of “politics” -- even those who dedicate most of their waking hours to “people’s” causes. Most Black preachers and academics (except those whom media award the title “public intellectual”) would be excluded, too. The bourgeoisie certainly prefer the narrowest definition of political class, restricted to those who speak for Power.
“Grassroots political activists are written out of Dixon’s definition of ‘politics.’”
For those of us who don’t work for the rulers, “political class” winds up being of little use, much like the term “the chattering classes.” We all chatter. The question is: Who is chattering to whom, about what, and in whose interests?
“Black Misleadership class” is not a ‘scientific” term. It is weaponized political terminology, with specific meaning based on Black historical and current political realities. Most often, in our usage at BAR, the term refers to those Black political forces that emerged at the end of the Sixties, eager to join the corporate and duopoly political (mostly Democrat) ranks, and to sell out the interests of the overwhelmingly working class Black masses in the process. It is both an actual and aspirational class, which ultimately sees its interests as tied to those of U.S. imperialism and its ruling circles. It seeks representation in the halls of corporate power, and dreads social transformation, which would upset the class’s carefully cultivated relationships with Power.
We know who these people are, based on their political behaviors. Our job, as conscious “political” people, is to expose their treachery -- so that the Black masses will reject their “misleadership.”
“Until Bruce Dixon’s recantation of December 21, all of BAR’s editors cited the sins and crimes of the 'Black misleadership class.'”
The following is excerpted from an article of mine that has disappeared from BAR’s archives, but which was picked up by the August 31, 2014 Greanville Post, titled, “Black Folks are Going Nowhere Until We Discard the Black Misleadership Class.”
“The current Black Misleadership Class voluntarily joined the enemy camp -- calling it ‘progress’ -- as soon as the constraints of official apartheid were lifted. They exploited the political and business opportunities made possible by a people’s mass movement in order to advance their own selfish agendas and, in the process, made a pact with Power to assist in the debasement and incarceration of millions of their brothers and sisters. In the case of Black elected officials, their culpability is direct and hands-on. The professional ‘interlocutors’ between African Americans and Power, from the local butt-kissing preacher to marquis power-brokers like Al Sharpton, serve as the Mass Black Incarceration State’s firemen….”
Students of Black history will immediately recognize the role played by these Black “firemen”: they are the “House Negroes” that Malcolm X inveighed against; the aspiring or professional “type of Negro” who, when the master’s house started burning down, “would fight harder to put the master’s house out than the master himself would.” -- Malcolm X, Wayne State University, January 23, 1963.
Malcolm struggled on behalf of the “field Negro,” the working class masses. “House Negro” and “Field Negro” were not scientific terms; they were political weapons that resonated among the Black masses. They had sharp, cutting edges, designed to rebuke and isolate the internal enemy, and to discourage other Black people from collaborating with the ruling class.
Our mission today is no different.
They are the 'House Negroes' that Malcolm X inveighed against.”
In 2013, in a speech marking the first national conference of Students Against Mass Incarceration, at Howard University, I explained why BAR makes “full use” of the term, “Black misleadership class”:
“Some folks might think we mainly use it as an insult. And we DO.
“We believe that denunciation and shaming of those behaviors and politics that are destructive to our people is a good and useful thing to do.
“When people who claim to be Black leaders aid in the destruction of our people, they deserve to be insulted -- “buked and scorned,' as we used to say.
“So, of course we mean to insult these people that we call the Black Misleadership Class….
“They wanted to put their own upwardly mobile faces in high government and corporate places. That meant preserving the system -- not tearing it down.
“They wanted to celebrate their own upward mobility, not agitate for social transformation. So, after 1968, they helped shut the Movement down.
“In order to consolidate their own political power, and curry corporate favor, the Black Misleadership Class directed Black people’s energies toward the narrowest electoral politics and the crassest materialism. Their modus operandi is to treat the masses of Black people as cheerleaders for the upward strivings of a few.
“The ultimate expression of that madness, is that the Black Misleadership Class poured all of its energies into protecting a symbol of ultra-upward Black mobility -- Barack Obama -- while the bottom fell out for the Black masses.
“This is the same class that has historically been far more ashamed over Mass Black Incarceration, than outraged. They resent those Blacks who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, because they mess up the petty bourgeois picture of Black America that they like to paint.
“They have no use for the rest of us, except as props in their for-profit productions.
“So, damn right, we like to insult the Black Misleadership Class. It’s part of our political work. They need to be insulted.
“We need a Movement, not just to deal with our external enemies, but also our internal ones. Because they are killing us, from the inside out.”
Brother Dixon may be willing to give up a perfectly good weapon, but I am not.
Down with the Black misleadership class! Power to the people!
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].