Several times during his September 20, 2012 lecture on “The Crisis of Black Leadership” at the University of Kansas, Eddie Glaude, author of In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America (2007), used the phrases “custodial politics” and “democratic perfectionism.” “Democratic perfection” is so critical a concept in political theory that it is virtually invisible in the everyday practices of American politics. The high visibility of “custodial politics,” on the other hand, is an agonizing pain in the butt.
The phrase suggests that childlike or childish citizens are in need of custody. Given Charles W. Mills’ elegant argument in The Racial Contract (1997) and the context shaped by Glaude’s strong reading in his lecture of Ella Baker’s work of mentoring the founders of SNCC, it is easy to guess that the children are African American. It is fortunate that words or signifiers have arbitrary and limited referentiality in actual life, that words are weak descriptions of what is real. Otherwise, we would be condemned to inhabit a post-racial cesspool.
If “custodial politics” has any validity in analysis of contemporary African American cultures, the phrase can only be a residual stain of miseducation and historical disinformation. We are reminded that the only legitimate agents or black leaders are those elected by a constituency. Nevertheless, it would be foolhardy to ignore how American mass media seeks to erase awareness of this simple fact. Mass media is assiduous, even relentless, in projecting unelected, self-proclaimed black leaders of every ilk in the American mindscape. Such constitutionally warranted media rape of intelligence deserves severe disdain and proactive resistance. One’s vision can be enormously improved from reading Ishmael Reed’s Mixing It Up: Taking on the Media Bullies and Other Reflections (2008). Custodial clowns are custodial clowns are custodial clowns.
Thanks to Glaude’s mastery of eloquence, his idea that the “ideology of racial uplift reinforces neo-liberal assumptions” must be translated into language a high school dropout can understand. Translation: African American citizens do not need rainbow-colored political custodians to tell them how to live their lives. Those most in need of racial uplifting are not African Americans but the tribes of other Americans. Glaude plainly described our obligations in his lecture. I hope he will publish it in the near future. We must tell the gliberal worshipers of American mass media just how full of crap they are.