In a country as diverse as the United States, we need leaders who can bring people of different races together as Americans, leaders who can help diverse groups understand what they have in common rather than focusing on their differences. We need leaders who will encourage people to be Americans first and hyphenated Americans second—leaders who will help people find common ground. Finding common ground is always the first step in bridging the racial divide. If this does not happen, America’s so-called melting pot becomes a seething cauldron of racial unrest, and racial unrest hurts all Americans. For an example of what can happen when racial discord is stoked by hatred rather than calmed by leadership, consider the tragedy of racial cleansing that occurred in Kosovo during the Balkans conflict in 1998 and 1999.
Make no mistake about it. The easiest thing in the world to do is turn racial groups against each other by exploiting the innate distrust people have for those who, on the surface, appear to be different. Encouraging one racial group to view itself as a victim of another group or to portray one racial group as a threat to another group is a sure way to perpetuate racial strife. This is why effective leaders help their followers learn to view other people as individual human beings instead of faceless members of a different racial group.
All Americans benefit when the races come together in mutual accord and all suffer when one race is turned against another. This being the case, one would expect that leaders of different racial groups would work hard to promote racial accord, reconciliation, understanding, and mutual-support. But this does not happen as often as it should because there are “leaders” of every racial group in America who profit from racial strife, leaders whose economic security and status depend on racial division. I call these perpetuators of racial discord misleaders because real leaders work for the long-term benefit of those they lead. Misleaders, on the other hand, exploit their followers for their own benefit.
The issue of promoting racial division came to the fore once again with the Trayvon Martin killing. Well before the facts of this tragic case are in, three individuals long associated with stirring up racial discord—Jeremiah Wright, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson—were, with the help of liberal journalists and President Obama, at it again. Without racial division, these three individuals lose their access to the media and, in turn, their audience. In other words, they become irrelevant, and the worst thing that can happen to people whose livelihood and status depend on regular media appearances is to become irrelevant.
Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory comments about white people, America, Jews, and Mormons are well-known by now and do not warrant repeating here. Suffice it to say that he does his best to convince listeners that white people are the enemies of black people and that black people who do not buy into his hate-filled rhetoric are “Uncle Toms.” He reserves a special brand of venom for conservative, successful blacks, people such as Condolezza Rice, who he once referred to as a “skeezer” (which means whore).
Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson take a different approach in promoting racial division. Their rhetoric is not as hate-filled as that of Jeremiah Wright, but nor is it intended to promote racial reconciliation and accord. Their approach to stirring up the embers of racial fires is an outgrowth of a concept known as racialism. Racialism is a propensity for viewing every aspect of life through the eyes of race, and only race. To practitioners of racialism, every problem must have a racial cause and every issue should be viewed as a racial issue. This is why neither Sharpton nor Jackson had any compunction about transforming the Trayvon Martin case into a racial battle even before the facts of the case are known.
America is one of the most diverse nations in the world. The population of the United States consists of people all races and most cultures. The only way the great experiment is going to work is if we all learn to live together as fellow human beings who focus on the common ground our Declaration of Independence and Constitution give us rather than as members of segregated racial groups. Leaders who perpetuate the great racial divide in America rather than helping bridge it are not leaders at all. They are misleaders.