We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era

By Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters | Go to book overview

Foreword

Professor Robert C. Smith has produced a work, the breadth and depth of which accomplish an important milestone in the scholarship of black politics. While the summarizing of a significant part of the political history of the black community for the past thirty years is, in itself, an important feat, he subjects the discrete events which comprised this history to a most aggressive, exacting and on the whole superb analytical microscope. In doing so, he teases out some of the most important questions in the field, and consequently, in the use of politics by the black community. Along the way, he produces some gems of insight and theoretical importance. For example, on his way to defining the essence of the ideology of "black power," he also develops a thought that may be useful in defining the project of black politics in general. Smith's thesis is that struggle over racial meaning is a constant and dynamic tension between the black perspective and the attempt by whites to impose the dominant perspective on a racial event.

Dr. Smith uses this paradigm to examine the civil rights movement in order to determine its impact on the political agenda of the 1970s and concludes that it fell short in many respects. The most significant impact, he suggests, is that it furthered the process of political incorporation to the point that a new generation of leaders have emerged within major American political institutions at every level of government. He concludes, correctly, that this alone did not have much of an effect on the quality of life in the black community. The historical irony must be noted, however, that the civil rights movement ushered in an electoral politics movement at a time when resources began to be withdrawn from major urban areas.

He also looks at major events of the 1970s such as the Black Political Convention of 1972 and the agenda it produced, the other Black Political Conventions which took place in the 1970s and the Humphrey‐ Hawkins Bill—the centerpiece of the policy agenda of the 1970s. In all of these, he concludes, the process of political incorporation which was supposed to be the instrument of their realization has had nearly the opposite effect. In fact, it has been so ineffectual as to be incapable of shielding the black community from the conservative politics of the "Reagan revolution" of the early 1980s and from its attempt to foist

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