Part one of a series that will examine how the Talented Tenth that W.E.B DuBois described is largely failing the black community today.
The term “Talented Tenth” was used by W.E.B DuBois to describe a leadership class of African Americans who used their higher education to engage in politics, advocate for social change and shape culture. DuBois came to embrace the possibility of leadership coming from individuals without formal education but his earlier vision was largely realized in some of the most notable black leaders in the 20th and 21st century, with the crowning achievement being the election of the first black president.
The problem is that the world that DuBois saw in the early 20th century is very different than ours today. It may not feel that way to many black people but our country has made significant progress in the past 50 years. The types of explicit discrimination that were legally permissible and socially accepted decades ago have largely been outlawed. This doesn’t mean that we’ve reached full equality but it does mean that today’s fight is different than in years past. It also means leaders need a different set of tools and tactics to effectively press for change. Unfortunately many of our leaders, from pundits to professors to politicians, often misuse their tools and misapply those tactics. One reason why is that they act like doctors but not physicians. Allow me to explain.