Older black politicians are likely to
identify racism as our nation's most important problem. Younger
black elected officials, on the other hand, consider education
the most pressing issue. While racism still exists, younger blacks
aren't as pessimistic as older ones.
A new report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, aptly-titled "Changing of the Guard," details the generational differences among black elected officials. The change is a good thing. It's finally time for the younger generation of blacks - with their new ideas and energy - to step up and lead. Our community desperately needs the contributions and perspectives of a new generation of black politicos.
The Joint Center compares and contrasts the views of young and old black elected officials on issues affecting the black community. Younger blacks aren't as willing to seek dependence on big government. They don't see Social Security as the savior of their retirements. Younger blacks like me also acknowledge the sorry state of education in our neighborhoods and are more willing to see school vouchers (that give parents money to move their kids to private or parochial schools from failing public schools) as a viable alternative.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and El Hajj Malik Shabazz took the baton from W.E.B Dubois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. They made great strides. It is now mandatory for younger blacks to be given the baton of leadership and to work with equal vigor and dedication to advance our race for the welfare of our entire nation.
Many older black politicians participated in the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, but they seem resistant to the attitudes of the new generation that resulted from their good work. As the study details, younger blacks attended desegregated schools. They are more likely to have advanced degrees and identify themselves as political independents. They have more confidence in our country's institutions like banks and big business. They also believe we are headed in the right direction.
Young, politically active blacks like me grew up at the end of the civil rights movement. We watched and heard about the struggles of our parents and grandparents. We've experienced racism, but we realize we aren't living in 1969. Things are different in 2002. We face different struggles and opportunities. Because of these differences, we cannot afford to pretend we live in past. We must use the issues, tools and resources unique to our current situation.
Across the country, younger and more conservative blacks are challenging - and sometimes winning - elections against older incumbents. Although challengers primarily come from within the Democratic Party, black Republican candidates are also surfacing. Revolutions, however, almost never occur without a counterattack from the ruling establishment. Liberal leaders like House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) are pumping money into the campaigns of challenged incumbents who toe the party line. And incumbents are waging smear campaigns against young challengers.
NAACP chairman Julian Bond echoed the sentiment of many older black politicians when he dismissed the transition as unprincipled blacks "buying seats at the table of influence." I respectfully disagree. This is a natural trend upward in the areas of self-reliance, personal development and achievement. It is a divine calling whose momentum even the most influential card-carrying liberals cannot stop.
At their recent convention, the NAACP exhibited old guard's mentality. With tired boycott threats, name-calling and scare tactics, it's obvious they feel their power deteriorating. New membership drives are a priority, and they are willing to do anything necessary to stop the membership dike from leaking. They are now trying to recruit members in prisons. But their failure to acknowledge current trends will ultimately prove futile with younger voters.
Younger blacks with conservative leanings
are beginning to make their presence known. Our numbers are growing
with each election. Their youthful optimism and idealism is needed.
Older black politicians are still selling pessimism, but they
will soon find that the younger generation is unwilling to purchase
those old, worn-out goods.
(Ak'bar Shabazz, an Atlanta native, is
a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American
leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.