I want to commend former state representative Joshua Peters for his commentary “Black politics in a time of revolution” in The St Louis American. Peters’ cogent insight into the emergence of new Black political leadership that will change the character of Black politics as an effect of the Black Lives Matter movement establishing itself as the legitimate heir of the Civil Rights Movement is spot on.
At least since World War II, Black political leadership had been incubated by Black protest movements, whether it was the traditional Civil Rights Movement or its legitimately angrier offspring the Black Power Movement. These movements shaped and informed the political identities and personalities of the Black men and women who entered the political arena. They were the individual expression of the collective Black political will, which generally meant their
default political position was in opposition to the political status quo. This opposition to the status quo helps to explain the major policy changes directed at
improving the condition of Black Americans, including affirmative action and minority economic participation in projects that required the support of public resources, as well as the rise of urban centers of Black economic political and economic power like Atlanta, Detroit and Washington, D.C.
So, what happened?
There were two transformational American presidents in the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Though diametrical political opposites, they were transformational for the same reason: they defined the American political culture and operating reality for multiple generations. So, from the early 1980s on, whether you’re a Democratic, Republican or Independent, you have been living in the political universe as defined by Ronald Reagan.
The ascendancy of Clinton Democrats signaled the Democratic acquiescence to the reality of the Reagan Republican hegemony. This also was the beginning of the first generation of Black politicians who were not a product of a mass Black social action culture. They never fought the battles that won the policy concessions they benefitted from, and because of that they had no
understanding that the corners you fight to win are corners you have to fight to keep. In 2017 Black St. Louisans thought they had a chance to once again elect a Black mayor after 16 years of what could charitably be called retrograde white political leadership. But five Black candidates filed for the office along with one white candidate, and St. Louis elected a white mayor with just 33% of the vote.
“Entrepreneurial environments may be creative and vibrant, but they're also chaotic and disruptive, and they produce way more losers than winners,” I wrote at the time. “Our core problem is our culture is producing entrepreneurial politicians with a focus on personal ambition and not politicians who are guardians of our collective interests.”
The 1990s saw the emergence and rise of what I call Black entrepreneurial politicians, who go into politics for themselves. Their racial and cultural identity is still Black, but they function as discreet individuals. This Black entrepreneurial political class is at the root of the Black community’s current alienation and lack of enthusiasm for politics.
Over the last 30 years, an explosion of Black political success (including the election of a Black president) has not resulted in public policy that improved the lives of the Black community. This disconnect is a function of entrepreneurial political thinking that evaluates politics in terms of what it means for the politician personally, not the Black community collectively. Black
entrepreneurial politicians view each other primarily as competitors and are no longer inclined to hunt as a pack or rally to protect the herd from a dangerous predator. Peters references this lack of political congruity when he writes that the Black political establishment is out of tune with the Black community. The orientation of current Black political leaders is to manage and work to improve the status quo, whereas for the Black community the status quo is the existential threat. As the Black community continues to grow and sustain Black Lives Matter, it will produce political leaders that are products of this changein the Black community.
If you think of Reagan Republicanism, Clinton Democratic accommodation and Black entrepreneurial politics as The Empire Strikes Back, then perhaps in this emerging new Black political leadership resulting from Black Lives Matter is The Return of the Jedi.