“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”
“Stumbling is not falling.”
— Malcolm X
Ah, beautiful, wonderful, complex Malcolm. Our leader, a hero to me. He spoke truth, no matter who it was about or what it involved: “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.”
As I listened to a radio documentary on Malcolm, I was reminded that we must accept that our leaders aren’t perfect. They are human, they are great, and in some cases they are magnificent; but they aren’t perfect people.
Manning Marable, who passed away just as his extensive autobiography on Malcolm was being released, wrote of a very complex man who might have lived contrary, sometimes, to the image we projected onto him. Some who read this work might be disappointed, others enriched. Either way, I encourage you to read it for yourself rather than to take any pundit’s word for it, including mine.
We must accept that perhaps the stories about Dr. King and his love of women might have some substance, and I say, so what?! Does it make him any less a man?
Does it diminish the fact that he gave his life, an event that he not only saw in a vision of his own, but that he shared with us in one of his many great sermons? Does his death for us mean any less?
I don’t think the idea of projecting perfection onto our leaders is a Black thing. I believe it to be a human thing. Some of us believe that judges and police officers and the like are righteous and just, even beyond reproach, not as a matter of their person necessarily, but as a matter of their chosen profession.
For others, if we don’t believe it, we surely hope that it is so. We have to trust in some things, true enough; but as Malcolm taught us, we don’t have to trust blindly. We don’t have to be “chumps”!
No matter what you read and believe or don’t believe in Marable’s work, my prayer is that it does not diminish in your eyes the price that Malcolm, Martin, Fannie Lou, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Maya, Oprah, and countless others known and unknown have paid to lead. Let me hip you to it, give you a little taste of it, from personal experience.
First, you give up all rights to peace and privacy. Everyone’s problems in the organization become your problems, because those problems prevent the work or block the excellence required in the work, and therefore they must be managed, or addressed, before the excellent work can be done.
You give up all rights to privacy, responding to almost a hundred emails a day and countless phone calls, trying to respond to needs inside and out. No peace and no privacy.
You also, it seems, give up your right to make mistakes. If you try to lead out of goodness, some distrust it, and you find yourself trying to convince your own people that you mean to lead for their good and not for their harm.
Sometimes you have to fight for them to believe this, too, while you battle “the outside,” fighting for too few resources and ever-growing need. Everyone projects onto you what some of us project onto the judge or the doctor, for example — a sense, it seems, that the leader loses their humanness and transforms into someone who is faultless. We must grow to see that this is nothing but fantasy on our part.
If our leaders are working for our good, not because of what they have told us but because of the results we see in the quality of our lives — because of the campaign promises kept, or because the leader makes the priorities of the village their priorities — let us support them in the cause. Let us stand up, rise up, and get involved!
Dr. King advised us that we alone have to write our own Emancipation Proclamation. The alternative is to (in the poetry of Langston Hughes) “wait on Roosevelt.” Dr. King said that the word “wait” to the American Negro has almost always meant “never.”
Can you dig it?
Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at www.kmojfm.com, or read web posts from Lissa at www.kmojfm.com. She welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.