Which Ethnic Leaders Have Followers?
Print Friendly and PDF

A continuing question here at iSteve is whether media-proclaimed ethnic leaders actually have many followers. For example, there is little evidence that that the well-funded "Latino leaders" who get quoted in English-language newspaper articles actually have many followers. A Pew survey asked Hispanics who the most important Hispanic leader is, and 74% said Don't Know or There Isn't One. The déformation professionnelle of these synthetic Hispanic hierarchs constantly cited in the Washington Post and the New York Times claiming that the vast numbers of voters who are their followers want, above all else, more immigration is that they have their jobs only because white people with money and power look at the Census data and figure they need to get on the good side of the coming tidal wave. Not surprisingly, these spokesmodels argue, in turn, for an even bigger tidal wave to make them even more employable in the ethnic leadership racket.

There actually are leaders who in the spring of 2006 turned out hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to march through the streets of big cities: they turned out to be funny drive-time disk jockeys on Spanish-language radio stations. But the English-language press hasn't wanted to go there, for several obvious reasons. And there's little evidence that English-speaking Latinos even know whose these disk jockeys are. Plus, the funny DJs haven't been able to think of much of anything for their listeners to do as a follow-up. The May Day marches of 2006 featuring vast throngs waving Mexican flags were a political disaster that helped sink amnesty in 2006, and weren't repeated in 2007. 

And, in Florida, there are, most definitely, Cuban leaders, whom you don't want to cross, as Ozzie Guillen recently discovered. 

In contrast, African-Americans have lots of leaders who they really do seem to enjoy sort of following, at least as long as they are being entertaining. Rev. Jesse Jackson has lost a little off his fastball 44 years after he waved the bloody shirt, but, 25 years after Tawana Brawley, Rev. Al Sharpton can still bring the heat, as the Trayvon case shows. When the anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan called for a Million Man March in 1995 and gave a speech about numerology, there was much snickering in the press about how the crowd wasn't anywhere close to a million. Then, however, people started looking at the pictures of the crowd Farrakhan had conjured up and ... holy moly, I don't know what a million men looks like, but that was a big crowd. 

Among the Marchers, for example, was Barack Obama, who took time to fly from Chicago to Washington for the October 16, 1995 event. His mother died of cancer three weeks later on November 7, 1995, unvisited by Obama. Dying mother or Minister Farrakhan: who is more important to an aspiring black politician?

Plus, there are lots of local black leaders, such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who do pretty well for themselves. For instance, U.S. Senator Barack Obama donated $52,770 to Wright's church in the 2005-07 tax years.

Moreover, black leaders have a credible weapon that other groups don't have: As Tom Wolfe pointed out over 40 years ago in Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, they profit by playing the riot card, by claiming to be the only thing holding their followers back from burning down the cities again. That doesn't mean that "black leaders" actually can keep blacks from doing bad things. As Wolfe noted in 1970:

Every time there was a riot, whites would call on "Negro leaders" to try to cool it, only to find out that the Negro leaders didn't have any followers. They sent Martin Luther King into Chicago and the people ignored him. They sent Dick Gregory into Watts and the people hooted at him and threw beer cans. During the riot in Hunters Point, the mayor of San Francsco, John Shelley, went into Hunters Point with the only black member of the Board of Supervisors, and the brothers threw rocks at both of them. They sent in the middle-class black members of the Human Rights Commission, and the brothers laughed at them and called them Toms. Then they figured the leadership of the riot was "the gangs," so they went in the "ex-gang leaders" from groups like Youth for Service to make a "liaison with the key gang leaders." What they didn't know was that Hunters Point and a lot of ghettos were so disorganized, there weren't even any "key gangs," much less "key gang leaders," in there. That riot finally just burnt itself out after five days, that was all.


So, perhaps its most useful to think of "black leaders" as being more like "rock stars" than as powerful in the sense of getting followers to do things they don't want to do. In 1978, Ted Nugent could get 300,000 white people to show up in one spot and hold their lighters up, but Ted's personal dislike of drugs didn't seem to have much effect on them. Similarly, Rev. Al has had made many admirable criticisms over the years of the message of hip-hop to young black males, but you can't make much of a living doing that. Deep down, Rev. Al disapproves Trayvon Martin's Twitter handle, but where's the money in that?

In any case, the rock star concept is helpful in thinking about the various Ford Foundation-funded Latino leaders who are so frequently quoted in the national press: how high would you have to get to think of any of them as rock stars?


The most interesting, complicated, and (of course) least discussed case are Jewish leaders. Unlike with Mexicans, there is a lot of talent, a lot of organizational skill, and a lot of money available.

There are, of course, numerous overt Jewish leaders, such as Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, whom you don't want to cross.

As we've seen with illegal immigration, where Jewish-Americans tend to agree more with their fellow American citizens than with their self-designated leaders, the bad habits of self-appointed Jewish leaders shouldn't be blindly imputed to their putative followers. The déformation professionnelle of Jewish leaders is particularly obvious. As Israel's quasi-governmental Jewish People Policy Institute recently noted:

“World Jewry today is at a historical zenith of absolute wealth creation. … one can say that Jewish wealth is higher than almost any other ethnic group worldwide.”

You may have noticed, however, that you haven't heard much about the JPPI, compared to, say, the SPLC. Realism doesn't sell. Fear and loathing are proven moneymakers, as the SPLC's quarter of a billion dollars in assets proves. To make a nice living in a Jewish organization, you don't need to appeal to the rationality of most American Jews, you just need to tap into the emotions of a few rich ones.

You'll notice that the SPLC is not an overtly Jewish organization. Theoretically, it is supposed to fight Souther Poverty, but it never seems to employ many blacks in important positions.

But, I want to talk here about an even more "informal sector" of Jewish leadership: the spontaneous billionaire Jewish avengers who sometimes suddenly spring up to ruin the the livelihoods of public figures pour l'encouragement des autres.

With about 35% of the Forbes 400 Jewish as of 2009, a Jewish leader can be his one and only own follower and still have a major impact.

For example, in 2003, center-left pundit Gregg Easterbrook wrote one sentence on his blog at Marty Peretz's New Republic implying that Jewish executives have a lot of power in the entertainment industry and should avoid making ultra-violent movies. Now, you might think that being pals with Marty Peretz would mean you are safe from accusations of anti-Semitism. Moreover, Easterbrook's big brother Frank Easterbrook is a heavyweight federal judge, currently the chief judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, so, I, personally, would hesitate before shoving around a member of the Easterbrook clan.

But, Easterbrook was immediately fired from his other job as a columnist for ESPN by Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

The general response was that Easterbrook had it coming. How dare he claim Jews are influential within the media? CNN anchorman Rick Sanchez suffered the same fate in 2010. (And here's how Sanchez's career was going a year later.)

As an influential 20th century Jewish thinker once pointed out, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Except when it doesn't.

This is not to say that there isn't much criticism of Jews by other Jews on an ad hoc basis, especially over Israel (especially motivated by the Likud-Republican Party connection), but, domestically, there are two things lacking:

A). The notion that there bad habits that Jews are prone to (e.g., insisting that the crucially important policy issue of immigration be viewed only through the lens of Ellis Island kitsch) is off limits even to Jewish critics. For example, if you read one centrist Jewish blogger for years like I have, it's not hard to imagine that he has an unarticulated thought that goes something like this: "People like me have a whole lot of power in 21st Century America, and we seem to be prone to certain bad habits, certain patterns of shortcomings, so I should be on the lookout for individual abuses by rich and powerful Jews, because nobody else seems to have noticed these patterns." But that's just my guess. I don't recall him ever publicly enunciating such an admirable concept. Presumably it would be incredibly dangerous to his career to say such a thing, despite being Jewish himself.

B). For gentiles, you can raise your estimate of the dangers by an order of magnitude.

Print Friendly and PDF