Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon on #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Misleadership Class

Yves here. I’m a big fan of Black Agenda Report and its lead writers, Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon, so it’s a treat to seem them both interviewed on the Real News Network. They provide incisive, unsentimental commentary on politics generally. They’ve also coined the expression “black misleadership class” to describe politicians who’ve traded on their own personal branding, as blacks who presumably would defend the interests of other blacks and members of minority groups, and instead have served as operatives for the rich and powerful.

Obama a classic of this type. As we wrote in a 2012 post, Exclusive: How Obama’s Early Career Success Was Built on Fronting for Chicago Real Estate and Finance:

A central component of the seemingly impenetrable Obama mythology is his personal history: a black man, son of a broken home, who nevertheless got on the fast track to financial success by becoming editor of the Harvard Law Review, but turned instead to working with and later representing a particularly disadvantaged community, the South Side of Chicago.

Even so, this story does not quite add up. Why did Obama not follow the usual, well greased path of becoming a Supreme Court clerk, and seeking to exert influence through the Washington doors that would have opened up to him after that stint?

A remarkable speech by Robert Fitch puts Obama’s early career in a new perspective that explains the man we see now in the Oval Office: one who pretends to befriend ordinary people but sells them out again and again to wealthy, powerful interests – the banks, big Pharma and health insurers, and lately, the fracking-industrial complex…

Fitch gave his eye-opening speech before an unlikely audience at an unlikely time: the Harlem Tenants Association in November 2008, hard on the heels of Obama’s electrifying presidential win. The first part contains his prescient prediction: that Obama’s Third Way stance, that we all need to put our differences aside and get along, was tantamount to advocating the interests of the wealthy, since they seldom give anything to the have-nots without a fight.

That discussion alone is reason to read the piece. But the important part is his description of the role that Obama played in the redevelopment of the near South Side of Chicago, and how he and other middle class blacks, including Valerie Jarrett and his wife Michelle, advanced at the expense of poor blacks by aligning themselves with what Fitch calls “friendly FIRE”: powerful real estate players like the Pritzkers and the Crown family, major banks, the University of Chicago, as well as non-profit community developers and real estate reverends.

Now it in fact has become a central element of the Democratic Party playbook to rely on identity-politics dog whistles both to distract voters from the abjectly awful job the party has done for middle and lower class citizens, and to pit various groups against each other. Given how hard and long blacks have had to fight even to attain the still-inadequate power they now have in the political sphere, it must be even more painful to recognize how often their political operatives sell them out. It’s easier to attack external enemies, whether they are correctly identified or not, than root out the traitors in your own ranks.

JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

As we speak, a state of emergency has been called in Ferguson, Missouri as the streets there are turning up. People looking to commemorate the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing have seen their mostly peaceful protests interrupted by gunfire as police there shot a man they claim opened fire on them. And now from the streets we’ve gotten word of mass arrests of peaceful protesters. And we here at the Real News will have more coverage of the events there in Ferguson as our teams are on their way.

In the meantime however, heavily involved both directly and indirectly in the form of inspired activists and inspiring slogan and hashtag is Black Lives Matter. In fact, some may be newly inspired after this most recent interruption of a Bernie Sanders campaign rally in Seattle. This is what some of that looked like.

ACTIVIST: We are located in King County, where the silhouette of Martin Luther King reigns high, while we spend $210 million building a new jail to imprison black children.

BALL: But there are some critiques of Black Lives Matter, particularly in what one of our guests today says is its inability thus far to challenge the black misleadership class. To discuss this and more are Glen Ford, executive editor and founder of and Bruce Dixon, managing editor of, and we welcome you both to the Real News again.



BALL: So Bruce if we could, let’s start with you. In your most recent piece for Black Agenda Report you do raise this issue of Black Lives Matter not focusing its attention on the black misleadership class and several other critiques. So could you first say a word or two about what you meant there, and then tell us the rest of some of your concerns?

DIXON: What we’ve heard about Black Lives Matter over the last couple of months, among much else, is that they disrupted two white male minor candidates and Netroots Nation. And of course Hillary wasn’t there. And now they’ve done another Bernie Sanders thing in Seattle. And a lot of us are kind of holding our breath waiting to see when and if the Black Lives Matter crew are going to disrupt or denounce a Hillary event or Hillary Rodham Clinton’s career as a whole, because Hillary has been as much a neoliberal candidate of gentrification and warmongering and racism as any Democrat, and really as any Republican in the last 40 years. It’s going to say volumes over the next few weeks whether the prominent figures in Black Lives Matter are going to find room to make that sort of denunciation.

We know that many of the members or followers or however it is you characterize people who are not the leading figures in Black Lives Matter do have critiques of Hillary and do have critiques of the black misleadership class. But it’s not clear that the structure of Black Lives Matter, if there is any structure, permits them to say anything. All we hear from is a few selected, prominent people.

BALL: Well Glen, let me also ask you then the same, or at least a similar question. Why should there be a focus on what you both there at Black Agenda Report call this black misleadership class, even above and beyond the particular critiques or interruptions of the lower-level white mainstream Democratic political candidates?

FORD: Because the black misleadership class for the last two generations has allowed and facilitated the erection of this black mass incarceration regime. The regime that killed Michael Brown. The regime that kills thousands of us every year. The regime that puts millions of us in prison. A regime created for the purpose of containing and terrorizing black people in the United States. And that’s a regime that the black misleadership class has made a huge role in creating. And in facilitating and continuing. So they are our internal enemy working for these external forces.

In terms of the Black Lives Matter shutting down these candidates, I’m totally with that. I wish they would shut all of them down. But I get a little bit confused. If our only demand is that these Democratic, and I guess Republican, candidates for president declare and recognize that black lives matter, so what if they do? What after that? What is the real demand? Are you then going to vote for these same criminals just because they said the magic words, yes, black lives matter? Movements are defined by their demands. And a year after Michael Brown’s death, a year after the emergence of this incipient movement, this movement needs to be about getting its demands together, and that would be something to strategize about and to move forward.

BALL: Go ahead, Bruce.

DIXON: It’s worth noting, too, that Marissa Janae, one of the two women in Seattle who disrupted the Bernie Sanders thing, in her Facebook page the day after she said she did it because Bernie had neither offered an apology for his previous conduct, nor had he put forward a program of criminal justice reform like President Obama. Who in fact, of course, has been the very opposite of a reformer on criminal justice and police violence. So apparently there are leadership people in Black Lives Matter who think that President Obama is the example of what we should want in terms of criminal justice reform.

So there really needs to be some internal discussion that’s public among the members and leading people of Black Lives Matter so that they can kind of straighten that out.

FORD: And if you don’t have that kind of discussion and that then produces reforms, of course everybody’s confused about what is required of these politicians and whether people should be talking to them at all.

DIXON: Yeah. I mean, if you’re a Democrat you have to find out what your position is by watching your leaders on TV. If you’re a member of the NAACP or NAN, you have to find out what your leader’s position is by watching TV. We’re hoping that the Black Lives Matter thing more prefigures the new world that they and we want to build, and that there are some open democratic processes that people can see and participate in that hash out and arrive at their positions, whatever they are.

BALL: Now I did want to ask, because there has been some discussion, in trying to bridge the gaps both politically and generationally we’ve heard some of the old critique that there is a problem with older generations being critical of this moment and this generation’s efforts. The both of you are veterans of the black liberation struggle. Members of the Black Panther party. Veteran journalists and activists as well. How do you respond to that? Not that that critique has been specifically put to you. But how do you respond to that, as it may appear in this moment and particularly in this interview as two veterans of the struggle looking critically and condescendingly at these young Black Lives Matter activists?

FORD: Well I don’t think I’m looking at them condescendingly. I think the conversation, that vibrant, productive conversation that we had at that point in time in the ’60s, really did lead to some extraordinary revelations about what movements should do and what movements shouldn’t do. And that conversation was interrupted by two factors. One, the sheer weight of police repression and murder, and two, by the intervention of what then became this black misleadership class that was more interested in its own upward mobility than in social transformation.

These basic kinds of sociopolitical realities that we saw in the ’60s are actually coming closer to us as we near the stage in which we might say that we have an emerging movement. The same kinds of contradictions are developing. And some of us were there last time around and can point them out. But not in a condescending manner.

BALL: Sure. Sure. Bruce, did you want to [follow] that?

DIXON: I also think that the entire affect, I guess it would be called, of generational conflict and generational this and that is something that was invented by commercial capitalism to sell things to people. And I don’t think we should be dividing ourselves saying that this generation has the key to this, and that generation has the key to that, and this other generation is–that’s really not a valid way, I don’t think, of dividing ourselves.

BALL: But you do think it’s important to divide ourselves, at least to a certain extent, ideologically and politically. And I think that’s, if I hear you correctly, that’s the longstanding critique that you two are looking to bring to bear on this.

By the way, we’ve also just gotten word that Bernie Sanders has gotten his first national trade union endorsement from National Nurses United. What–again, as veterans of both black liberation struggles, of union struggles, how do you see–does this latest endorsement impact what’s going on, and how do you think that this will play out in terms of the Black Lives Matter critique of Bernie and any other candidate?

FORD: I’ll say that the nurses’ group is endorsing a candidate who is a Democrat, who will endorse Hillary Clinton at some point. And the point here is that the Democratic party is a criminal organization. And how can one be happy when people give money to criminals?

BALL: Bruce, you want to respond to that?

DIXON: I can’t add anything to that.

BALL: No, it’s very well said. In our last interview here at the Real News with Patrisse Cullors, one of the three co-founders of Black Lives Matter, when I asked her about this question of critiques coming from behind the prison walls from political prisoners, Jalil Muntaqim in particular and his concern that they were not advancing beyond Occupy Wall Street politics, part of her response was that she felt that the critique was misplaced given that she and her colleagues are, as she described themselves, seasoned trained activists and Marxists. And I’m wondering, since we’ve not heard much public discussion or association with Black Lives Matter to Marxism, what the two of you coming out of Marxist forms of struggle might have to say about that, or what you would maybe expect to see in a movement guided at least to a certain extent by Marxism.

FORD: Well, we have a situation in this era in human development in which all kinds of people call themselves Marxists. Whether people are Marxists, are members of parties that at one time or now say they’re Marxists, or what brand of Marxist they claim to be really does not say much and doesn’t impress me at all. An avowal of Marxism is not an accreditation as far as I’m concerned. Let’s talk some politics about the reality and see if we agree about things.

BALL: Bruce, do you have a comment?

DIXON: The reality is in my last Black Agenda Report article I called Ms. Alicia Garza, quote, a brand-savvy Democrat, because she talked like a Democrat, she called the Democratic party the progressive movement, which is what you always–which is what brand-savvy Democrats call the Democratic party these days. She said that the main focus of Black Lives Matter now was to help select the Democratic field of candidates and influence that field. She even offered the old and traditional advice that Democrats have been offering at least since the ’70s in my ears, that says that we need to know that no candidate is going to be perfect and no candidate is going to do everything we want, but these are our choices that we’ve got to make.

And Ms. Garza was directly asked by Davey D, the interviewer, what she thought of establishing third parties. And also like a true good Democrat, she completely ignored that question. So you know–.

BALL: So just as we get ready to wrap up here, let me ask you both, in the aftermath of the recent convening in Cleveland of the Movement for Black Lives conference and your calls here for an advancement in the politics of Black Lives Matter, how would you like to see this carry out, this advancement? How would you like to see these conversations that you both suggest need to happen publicly, that are critical of the direction of Black Lives Matter? How do you suggest that they be carried out?

FORD: As I said, movements are defined by their demands. There has to be a broad-based conversation about what the demands of this movement are. And remember, Black Lives Matter with the hashtag is an organization. People keep on using that same term to describe this whole emerging movement. I think that as we develop this movement and a politics of the movement further, the movement will find its own name and it will be a name that has something to do with its demands.

I think that the most immediate kind of demand that this movement should have–this is my opinion, and the opinion of others with whom I work–is the demand of black community control of the police. That is the logic so far of the activity that has gone on in this incipient, emergent kind of campaign.

But that’s just my little contribution, and other folks’ contribution to the dialog that ought to be ongoing. What is not a demand is just asking people to say the magic words, yes, black lives matter.

DIXON: There are obviously Democrats in Black Lives Matter, and there are obviously some people who would call themselves Marxists in Black Lives Matter, and there are probably many things in between. And there needs to be a lively public back and forth among them about what they represent and what their organization and organizations represent, and there needs to be lines of accountability between leadership and followership, however you define these things. And criticism and self-criticism among them all. And I think the best things will happen for us and for whatever the movement is calling itself.

BALL: Well, Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon of, thank you very much for joining us again here at the Real News.

FORD: Thank you.

DIXON: Thank you.

BALL: And thank you all for joining us as well. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.

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