Leadership Requires Accountability — 2
I took a couple of weeks off from posting, partly for a mental health break and partly because I got tunnel vision on a project I’ve been researching. I’m pleased my first post back, Shaun King’s Ongoing Self-own Convinced Me Not to Delete Facebook and Instagram, received a positive response. It’s been fascinating to watch as King’s “I’ll sue you! Don’t test me!” gambit continues to backfire. More and more receipts about him keep being added to the stack, and if you’re not on social media and following the right people, you’re probably missing it. Eventually, some mainstream outlet will pull it all together, though, and the story will get the attention it deserves.
Marley K. shared her opinion on King and his situation:
After going back and reading all the links in your essay, my mind is boggling, but it helped me understand my reluctance to trust him. He seemed to come out of nowhere to me. Mr. King was a little too smooth, and just seemed to come out of nowhere with all the tea. He rose quickly, and he fell quickly. There is just something about men and power. There is a huge need for young, fresh resistance and social justice warriors, but people really need to understand how much work is entailed in it. It’s not just about speaking on a platform, it’s also about being transparent, doing business legitimately, and making the vehicles about the people and not a man. This is a perfect example of how to not operate a cause. It seems like the signs were there, but people missed them.
The signs are always there, but a lot of people are too busy to pay close enough attention. A good portion of those who do see what’s going on stay silent so they can maintain access to a high-profile person. Shaun King built his platform on social media, and a lot of people want access to the attention he’s been able to gather for himself. It’s useful to them. People also stayed silent to protect him. Some of the activists who have stories about him didn’t want to give Black Lives Matter bad press when the movement was being attacked and maligned so viciously. If King had done more to support those activists, if he’d protected them the way they protected him, he wouldn’t be in this mess.
You’re 100% right: It’s not just about speaking on a platform. The work is unsexy, taxing, and incredibly stressful. It’s one of the reasons I’m clear about my role being that of a writer. That’s the way I make my contribution. I’m not an activist. I don’t have the strength for it. I’m hoping my writing about this helps in some small way to spread the warnings of the activists King burned.
That label “activist” has become trendy, and it’s gotten to the point where anyone who has it in their bio gets a side eye from me until they show their work. Sharing Black trauma porn isn’t activism. There’s a way to raise awareness about the issues and demand redress without turning your social media into a digital graveyard. There is a tabloid sensibility that runs through the way King discusses police violence that accounts for his popularity. In a real way, he’s the TMZ of Black Lives Matter reporting. All the self-promotion is the biggest tell about him, though. The way he constantly positions himself to be the hero in the narrative is profoundly narcissistic. I know that word gets thrown around a lot, but I don’t use it lightly.
Narcissism isn’t merely attention-seeking or self-centeredness. It’s a collection of personality traits that coalesce to create a person who is constitutionally manipulative. People who have trouble seeing through narcissists aren’t weak or stupid. It’s just impossible for them to fathom someone being so unrelentingly deceitful. The covert narcissists are particularly difficult to spot, because they often attach themselves to something bigger than themselves (their family, their religion, a political cause, a celebrity or prominent public figure) and pretend to be in service to it. They’re its most loyal servant, its staunchest defender. It’s a kind of narcissism by proxy. They also fake humility convincingly to people who aren’t paying attention. All narcissists sow chaos, though. They can’t help themselves. They share a lot of traits with alcoholics and other addicts. The thing they’re addicted to isn’t simple attention, though, it’s the power of being able to regulate other people’s emotions. It’s why they often seize on any opportunity to create drama and turn it up to eleven. They’re constantly doing too much, and most of them need instant gratification, so they don’t do it particularly competently. They’re usually very skilled at scapegoating others and blame-shifting, though. It’s how they survive for so long: by making everything someone else’s fault. They’re not evil geniuses, though; they’re just adept at giving people enough of what they want to keep them on the hook, and they play the injured victim very well when confronted with the damage they inflict. They prey on our decency and capacity to forgive.
I’m not saying King is a full-blown narcissist, but the way he maneuvers certainly checks a lot of the boxes. As I shared on Twitter, what we’re watching unfold fits the pattern of what happens when a narcissist realizes people are seeing through the false self-image they project. Being found out is their biggest fear. If they can’t just disappear, they become very destructive and often take out themselves and innocent bystanders in the process of trying to maintain the charade. The only move is to get far enough away from them not to be hit by the shrapnel when the bomb goes off.
I ALWAYS follow the money. There are too many places to do your own research for free online for us to keep falling for this okie-doke. Every movement that ends up like this de-legitimizes our petitions and sets us back a decade. We have to make better choices in leadership. Just because it’s Black doesn’t mean it’s good.
The lack of transparency about where all the money ended up is the biggest sign that there is probably some truth to the allegations against King. Someone who’d done things by the book would have been able to produce their own literal receipts and invoices and accounting to show that they were above board. I predict that he’ll lean on “taking on more than he could manage” and “being overwhelmed” to try to explain it all away.
King is in the process of trying to reincarnate Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, The North Star. I’m hoping the scrutiny on him gets people asking questions about the fundraising and how it’s being managed. The people who’ve attached themselves officially to The North Star are well-respected and have reputations to protect. I hope they dig into what’s happening and protect themselves from what always seems to befall King’s projects: failure and questions about where all the money went. Hopefully, someone with the necessary skills and experience will be brought in above him to manage things.
I also hope all this gets people to be more discerning about the many other self-promoters who are maneuvering the way King does. People see his success and are following his blueprint. We all need to be smarter about who we get our information from and who we follow. If the social media of a prominent activist or organization is all sensational trauma porn and self-promotion, and you can’t really put your finger on exactly what it is they do, it’s probably not poor communication. It’s probably what it looks like — people massaging their egos on the back of real suffering.
In 2019, I’m taking things at face value and leaving giving the benefit of the doubt behind. People have had more than enough time to weigh the seriousness of the moment we’re living through and figure out how to conduct themselves and their affairs accordingly.
What a sad commentary you had to write, but I’m happy you’re keeping us informed. I had no clue. I couldn’t hardly stand to listen to him and I work from home so I don’t listen to the radio much anymore. It appears I missed a doozy, thankfully.
I get flack for criticizing Black folks, but I’m never going to stop lol. If it’s not right or good for us, I’m calling it out. And sometimes it’s our own people.
It was a sad commentary to write, and I took no pleasure in it. There are some people who like the knife fights and arguments. I’m not one of them. I really don’t like confrontation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m Jamaican, so if you make me have to, I’ll clap you. But I’d much rather everything ran smoothly and we all got along. That’s not life, though. One of the main reasons I decided to share my piece is because of a sentiment I’ve seen repeated in my Twitter feed. Shaun King was depending on nobody turning up to defend Clarissa Brooks when he started punching down at her. That “nobody” he expects to be ignored and not believed is Black women and femmes. I wanted to do my part to let my readers, with whom I hope I’ve built some measure of trust, know how he conducts himself.
The thing about places like Jamaica — majority Black countries led by Black leaders — is that our people learn almost daily in often soul-shattering ways that sometimes it’s your own people. I understand how different American life is, but I hope Black Americans can learn from our mistakes on this and avoid putting their faith in the wrong people. It having a Black face on it. It walking and talking like you. It coming from the same place as you. It having the same mother and father as you. None of that is enough. We have to scrutinize. We have to ask questions. We have to demand transparency and accountability. We have to be skeptical.
Thanks for reading!