Where does effective black political leadership come from?
Now anybody reading this is too old for Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy; only small children believe things they want just miraculously appear. But if you look at their behavior, there are way too many adults with the emotional and intellectual development of small children, who think wishing makes it so.
When you attend a professional team sporting event, there are two groups of people observing the contest. And although they are doing the exact same thing (watching the game), they have completely different relationship to events unfolding on the field.
Let's talk about the largest and most obvious group, the fans. Fans buy the tickets, dress up in team paraphernalia, and cheer or boo the team’s performance on game day. They will engage in endless conversations in person, online and on sports talk radio.
There are people whose emotional identity is tied to the team. Some are avid students of the game. They read and study the team’s statistical outputs. They are so informed that they believe they know as much as the actual coaches and players.
All that notwithstanding, the fans are irrelevant to what we all watch. In fact, you can play any of these contests without a single fan. It's the second group of observers that are the essential prerequisite to the game: the owners.
The quality of the performance we see on the field may be a function of the players and coaches, but the quality of the players and coaches is the responsibility of the team ownership. Coaches don't hire themselves, and players don't sign themselves. The quality of the team you see on the field is a function of the ownership’s commitment and skill at putting together the best possible team.
The team represents the owner in a contest for a limited resource, a championship. There's a reason they hand the championship trophy to the owner before everybody else.
So what does that have to do with us and politics?
Politics is a contest for power in order to control limited resources and social outcomes. Like all competitions, there are winners and losers. You maximize your chances of winning by being represented by the most talented team you can field. Who's responsible for the team representing the black community in the political arena? Short answer – we are!
The failure of black politics in our region must be placed squarely at the feet of the owners of black politics – us! We have become fans in the most important contest that's ever played. Like fans, we show up to cheer and to be politically entertained. We hope for an outcome that pleases us, but take no responsibility for an underperforming team that's never competitive. When we don't like the results, we ask the proverbial, ”Why don't they do something?”
Everything begins and ends with the ownership acting on behalf of its interest. Losing coaches never tell the owners they should get a better coach if they want to win. Bad players never cut themselves because they aren't producing the results the owners want.
Political fans are like those small children that believe wishing and hoping is all that's required. Political owners are those that understand if I want a championship team, I have to build a championship team.
As a community, we are responsible for the team that's in the political arena representing us. They didn't elect or reelect themselves. We hired them and we retain them, and no team is better than its ownership. So the existential question for us is: When and how to we begin to act like owners that want a championship?
Mike Jones, who has held senior policy positions in St. Louis city and county government, serves on the St. Louis American editorial board and the State Board of Education.