#751 – Dick Bernard: "Detroit", "leadership"

Yes, comments are solicited.
After writing the post on Detroit, yesterday, my friend, Michelle, a community activist in my town, wrote some comments which I felt were very pertinent, among which was the following, with an important beginning caveat:
Michelle: I don’t want people to think I put blame at the feet of the African American community solely for Detroit. What I am saying is that we ALL SHARE in the blame, and that should include the African American Community. “African American communities should have worked harder to find and groom strong, moral leaders who when they got their chance at running Detroit, which many, many did, could have been more effective in representing the true needs of the community.”
(I strongly suggest reading her entire comment for context. They begin below the photograph.)
Michelle is white, and so am I, and at the risk of being assailed as a know-nothing, here goes, anyway.
First, I think it is a safe presumption that Detroits failure is, to a certain very powerful element in our society, a useful political success, on many levels. Some of those who denounce it are privately cheering it.
As the propagandist did in his post, and the editor added the photographs to illustrate the disaster, Detroit is useful to gin up negative emotions (which is viewed as a positive by the architects).
Similarly, while government in Washington these days is demonstrably reviled by the populace, the whole purpose of gridlock is to make government seem to be the problem rather than a good. Dysfunction drives a wedge between government and the very people it benefits. Dysfunction is politically useful.
In the White world, where I have lived my entire life, there are endless leadership pyramids, from committee chairpeople to “Dads”, ad infinitum. Over history, it has helped to be in a better situation starting out. The ultimate beneficiary of this was born yesterday in London: Princess Kate and Prince Williams newly-named first-born became, at birth, third in succession after Queen Elizabeth. He has no dues to pay. He picked the correct parents.
There are endless other examples. I don’t even need to list them. We live them every day in every place. Start with the pre-eminence of White Men (but not all white men are equally powerful); women, on and on….
Add in the impact of an entire national history in the U.S. of slavery and it is easier to understand why African-American communities have a bit of difficulty getting traction in political organizing and positive exercise of power.
In this context, the positive example set by the Obama’s is a huge threat to the established white power structure in this country.
(Occasionally that power structure will let in some person of color. Yesterdays Minneapolis Star Tribune had a column by one of these folks, Peter Bell, of the conservative Center for the American Experiment, and others. But Bell and others pay a price of admission.)
The best book I ever read about the stated and unstated lines between black and white in this country was Jimmy Carters gentle memories of growing up in rural Georgia: “An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood.” Check it out some time. He simply tells it how it was during his own early life.
The white power structure – a tiny minority of all whites – is a minority, and knows it.
But “power to the people” does not come the way most of us seem to go about it: working within the usual constructs of power.
The conversation needs to change, and the first lesson is to remind ourselves of the rules, and then break those rules of engagement, such as believing the myth that money is more powerful than the vote, etc.
Gandhi said it well: “we must be the change we wish to see in the world”.

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