*I love “morning after” politics.
Like everything, foresight tends to be a rare commodity and hindsight always has 20/20 vision.
With the Primary Elections under our belt, it’s time access political reality in black communities, nationwide. While at Jackie Lacey’s victory party, I was in a conversation (with mixed company) about how much politics has changed just in the last twenty years. That same question could be applied to the world, as the world was quite different in 1992 than the one we live in now. However, the notion that Los Angeles County chose a black woman as the leading vote getter in the primary and sank the political ambitions of the person almost everybody though had “next” for the D.A. in November, was mind-boggling. The lesson was that political forecasting is not always political reality, and shifting views about everything play large in people’s political choices. It’s a reality the black community has yet to embrace. Who’s “got next” in the black community is as much of a guess as trying to forecast the winner of a beauty contest—everybody looks good on the front end, but everybody can’t get to the final choices. Plenty of people think they “got next” in a political culture that’s changing.
It might be time for a community wide discussion on the transitioning political culture of our state and our nation. The nation is no longer just in black and white, literally and figuratively. The world has changed. Twenty years ago, African Americans were the nation’s largest “minority.” Today, it is not. In Los Angeles, African Americans were the largest “political” minority, meaning it had the largest numbers of registered voters and elected official than any other minority in the city. Today, they aren’t. The claims that were once ours to make are no longer valid. It doesn’t mean black people are not still key players in the game. It means they have to be more strategic than they’re ever been to remain relevant. The worse thing that one can be in a transitioning political culture, or in any political reality, is irrelevant.
The problem is now the black community has an absence of political guidance that keeps vanity runs in check and keeps reality in perspective. Beyond the pretentiousness of playing “Kings” (Queens) and “Kingmakers” that some politicians (and preachers) and civil rights leaders have assumed, there needs to be a constructive discussion about what our (black) interests are, who truly represents them and how can they be realized in the construct of the nation’s, and the city’s, new politics. Plainly put, black community politics have grown tired and predictable. We elect someone to office, and becomes all about them—and not about the people. They serve for the next seat, not for the next generation—and they don’t change the community’s political reality (quality of life). It takes someone else on the cultural playing field to point out the holes in the black community’s hand and they are now calling us out on it.
This was never more evident that at a recent community meeting about future leadership in the city’s 9th District, non-black community constituencies straight up asked the black community after a presentation of the presumptive “favorite,” “Is that the best y’all got?” We know it’s not, but it’s the one who says he’s “next.” Just because you called “next” first, doesn’t mean you’re next. This is not playground basketball. This is people’s lives politicians (and wanna-be politicians) are playing with. What it displayed was that others in the new political reality are not prepared to accept or cosign our community’s antiquated foolishness in selecting and electing political leadership. The paradigm shift is now prepared to shape our community’s politics. Do we sit back and watch it happen, or do we help shape our own reality in a collaborative construct? It’s not just “a black thang” anymore. We need to wake up.
The politic worked in reverse with the county’s D.A. race. The community sought to challenge the incumbent’s choice for D.A., simply because they didn’t like the incumbent. They never looked at this candidate. Now, I know some of it was an aversion to the “master can’t make our choices for us” politic, and I get that. But handpicked leadership has always been what our community has been about. Black “kingmakers” have made as many bad choices as good ones over the past two decades. No need to name names, but you could probably name them.
The point is a good choice is a good choice, no matter who picks them. Former Speaker, Willie Brown, used to say that when other people are trying to help you—you shouldn’t reject help. But some in the L.A. black community tried to reject it, opening the door for the City Attorney to jump in the race with a million and a half dollars to exploit a purportedly “weak field.” The person who thought he was the best choice, finished third out of the run-off. The point is other communities know how to check megalomania, and they know how to check their megalomaniacs. The black community hasn’t learned how to do that yet. But they need to.
The passing of H.H. Brookins recently reminded us of how community used to sit down and discuss our political prospects and political reality. This was before the process got dictatorial—in the 1990s and early 2000s. This was when the whole community assessed their best chances of winning a seat and went with the most sensible political reality for the community, not for individuals. I never liked the term, “It’s not your time,” or “It’s not your turn,” because there always seemed to be an aspect of tainted favoritism tied to it. But the reality is that there is a season and a reason for everything. And sometimes, we have to help people see that a particular season doesn’t include them. Not that it won’t in the future but, sometimes, we have to help people get out of their own way, and get them out of our way in the process.
This is not about discouraging real viable candidacies. It’s about recognizing when vanity runs jeopardize true political opportunities. Part of being able to win, is being in a position to win. Being in the race is much different than being in a position to win. Now we know anybody can run…but the black community needs to return to reason during these critical political seasons. The reason that it can’t reason is because nobody wants to call the meeting. That way, no discussion can be had. Everybody can be a prospect and nobody can be excluded. Not the best way to fashion political reality. Rudderless is directionless. Somebody has to steer the boat.
Three blacks wouldn’t have been in the race forty years ago when we running Tom Bradley for Mayor a second time, or even twenty years ago. Two of them would have been asked to sit down. Now that the people have spoken in 2012, and an African American woman now has the opportunity to become the first African American and first woman D.A. in history of Los Angeles, the black community needs to embrace this political reality for the opportunity that it is. One that the transitioning political culture helped create—no less—and the community almost slept, for the most part, but now sits in the lap of the black community to help decide.
This could be a lesson in political maturation for a community that has fallen behind the times, politically. Everything is no longer in just black and white. Politics is in technicolor now.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.