by Norman Kelley
Al Sharpton’s entrance into the 2004 Democratic presidential race is evidence of a decaying black political culture where ego trumps politics. It is the last gasp of a tradition that has been transformed over a generation from bold, effective and results-oriented politics to rhetoric and symbolism, argues crime writer and social commentator Norman Kelley. As Kelley shows, what Sharpton covets is the sobriquet—The Head Negro in Charge (HNIC), a symbolic political mobilization that replaces effective politics and organizing. “The HNIC syndrome has seen the rise of symbolic leaders—Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Sharpton and now Russell Simmons—who may be charismatic,” Kelley writes, “but are politically unaccountable to the very people they claim to represent, namely African Americans. The transformation has been underway since the 1970s, but most African Americans have yet to confront it.” HNIC syndrome is both a symptom and response to the failings of black political and cultural orthodoxy, of a sclerotic black elite represented by the NAACP and the Black Congressional Caucus, who have embedded themselves into the machinery of the Democratic Party and the conservative movement.
This is a strong, critical examination of black political and intellectual leadership in the post-civil rights era. According to crime writer and journalist Kelley, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Cornel West, among others, suffer from the HNIC (Head Negro in Charge) syndrome, a condition in which self-appointed black "leaders" are more interested in getting attention for themselves, and being seen as leaders, than in legitimately trying to improve the lives of African Americans through public policy and economic development initiatives. Such leadership without political accountability is a change from a generation ago, says Kelley, who also singles out the Democratic Party and black elected officials for taking the black vote for granted. For more accountability, Kelley recommends strategic nonvoting-blacks organized to withhold their votes from ineffective candidates in regions where blacks are a cohesive voting bloc that Democrats rely on. Kelley's tone and presentation is that of an astute and informed citizen willing to shake up the system to make it better. Refreshing and readable, this original work is suitable for public and academic libraries.-Sherri L. Barnes, Univ. of California Lib., Santa Barbara Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Paperback: 246 pages