Leadership Requires Accountability
I’ve been working hard on a project that’s kept me from posting. That and the holidays have made me pretty inactive on Medium. Earlier this week, I posted about the struggle I had writing a piece that was harshly critical of Colin Kaepernick. I hadn’t received any comments, so I thought I’d go another week without responding to readers. Luckily, Marley K. came through this morning.
In my piece, I wrote, “Leadership requires accountability.” Marley K. responded:
Way too many people miss this point. You can’t lead without accountability, which is why I have such a hard time turning celebs into leaders. They have too much baggage. I feel like supporting Kaep is kinda like circling the wagons at some point. Protecting Blackness kinda thing.
The cause is noble. Sometimes our change agents are deeply flawed individuals. It takes a keen eye to see beyond a cause or issue to determine how a man truly makes moves. I’m happy to see you are able to separate the two. Most Black people aren’t willing to examine us and speak truth about our people. I appreciate your courage. I have mad respect for your due diligence.
To me, this makes you an awesome writer. Makes me love you even more. This is what good journalism is all about. Give us everything. The good and the bad. Then let us pick a side. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Happy New Year!
Thanks so much for being a frequent commenter and always making me think about what I’ve posted from a different angle. Celebrity leaders make me uncomfortable as well — too many conflicting interests, too much investment in the capitalist status quo, too many grasping hangers-on. It all muddies the waters. The problem is that a lot of people (most?) who take on high-profile leadership roles want to be celebrities too (usually on a much smaller scale than Kaepernick). The “celebrity” problem always arises. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m not sure there’s a way to get around it…
The thing about Kaepernick that gives me some measure of comfort is that, for all his flaws, he’s not an attention-seeker. A certain kind of person would have been leaping in front of every microphone and camera and inundating us with inane Instagram stories and Twitter rants filled with hand-clap emojis, reminding us incessantly about how amazing they are and how much they’ve suffered. They would have been stuck in “curse-out” or some other “look at me!” mode. We should be thankful that Kaepernick is shy. Although, I think on his personal social media, he’s too quiet.
As I said in the piece, I think Kaepernick should be clearer about who is and what he wants. All the reading of tea leaves is part of the reason there isn’t uniform agreement about something as basic as whether or not he wants to play (granted, a whole lot of people are being willfully, disingenuously ignorant). He should come out and say it from his own mouth and remove the grey area. He should also keep showing us Colin Kaepernick the football player — that’s who’s being disappeared deliberately. Punishing him by denying him the ability to practise his chosen profession is the point of all this. Every time he suits up to train he’s fighting back. I also think “football player” is the part of himself that he’s the most comfortable sharing. I understand that it must be painful for him to be training knowing that, without a doubt, he’s better than the people being signed ahead of him. It’s difficult not to be bitter about it. Nevertheless, showing some of that emotional content would be quite a powerful story, I think.
How reserved Kaepernick is is the main reason I was so surprised to see the turn Know Your Rights Camp took. I remember when he did the first one, he talked about packing the backpacks for the kids and wanting to make it personal for them. It’s one of the things that made me want to support him. I get that the organization has grown a lot, but I think there was a way to have maintained that calmer tone. Now that it’s expected that celebrities will turn up, and all the excitement is turned up to eleven, it will be difficult for him to walk it back to be more in line with his original vision.
You’re right that some of our change agents are deeply flawed. They’re only human. I wish more people would find a way to accept this but not use it as an excuse. The unethical behavior I talked about is a pretty big red flag. Not providing advertising for for-profit entities is Charity Organization 101 stuff. It all seems to have been spearheaded by one of the organization’s co-founders, and the other co-founder participated. It started at the top. There doesn’t seem to have been anyone who knew it wasn’t appropriate. Or, if they did, they either weren’t empowered to speak up, or they were ignored. Whatever the cause, it’s a bad look. It also makes me think there are other issues. Kaepernick needs to have everything audited and put on the right path. It’s his name and reputation that are on the line. Everyone else will get to live it down. Everyone having meant well won’t save him.
I agree that there is a knee-jerk reaction to protect Kaepernick without question, but I understand it. The forces that have amassed themselves against him are so incredibly powerful, and they’re focused on persecuting him — one man. Eric Reid is obviously getting some of it too, but he’s been allowed to play again. What’s being done to Kaepernick is some of the nastiest bullying I’ve ever seen. Like all bullying, it’s also meant to intimidate the people watching. I appreciate people refusing to allow it to go down.
I think it’s easier for me to step outside the lines of “Black loyalty” because I’m Jamaican. Our country is still struggling to throw off the shackles of colonialism (particularly the mental ones), but it is overwhelmingly Black. The leadership is overwhelmingly Black. A Black woman has been Prime Minister. We’re used to speaking up against Black leaders we don’t think are living up to their obligations. It’s harder in America. There is an ever-mutating apartheid that is built largely on anti-Blackness. I get the inclination to hold the line and find it hard to fault people for making that strategic decision. Even so, allowing unethical behavior to slide is not the move. Leaders have to be held accountable. They have to take responsibility. I hope Kaepernick does. His cause is noble. He can be too. That’s not the same thing as being perfect or never making any mistakes. Being willing to own up, though? That’s essential.
Thanks so much for your support! It’s quite lonely out here on this island. Most of the people criticizing Kaepernick are acting in unrelenting bad faith. I honestly just want him to know and do better. Happy New Year!