The Trouble with the Talented Tenth: Incest


“The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men….These figures illustrate vividly the function of the college-bred Negro. He is, as he ought to be, the group leader, the man who sets the ideals of the community where he lives, directs its thoughts and heads its social movements. It need hardly be argued that the Negro people need social leadership more than most groups; that they have no traditions to fall back upon, no long established customs, no strong family ties, no well defined social classes. All these things must be slowly and painfully evolved. The preacher was, even before the war, the group leader of the Negroes, and the church their greatest social institution. Naturally this preacher was ignorant and often immoral, and the problem of replacing the older type by better educated men has been a difficult one.”
-W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth,” fromThe Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative Negroes of To-day (New York, 1903).

Anyone who has ever known me, knows I am fully obsessed with W.E.B. DuBois. I would have gladly been his mistress   his side piece   his third wife  his second wife’s sister wife  an aid to him as he lead the intellectual conversation concerning black people and their ascension as a race. My favorite DuBoisian masterpieces are ‘The Story of the Two Johns’ and ‘The Talented Tenth’. I love the the one about the Talented Tenth because I absolutely believe that exceptional leaders with a heart for their people are the ones who can provide the vision and gain the investment needed to lead change. The Talented Tenth was meant to describe the educated black people who were endowed both mentally and financially to lift while climbing up the ladder of success. However, I am not sippin’ the Yes-We-Can Moët because I have not deluded myself. I know that of the many people that might fall under the category of ‘Talented Tenth’, a good 60% of them are too self interested to invest the necessary energy and resource into the reaching-while-climbing ideology. Meaning, there is really only a Talented Four Percent, which doesn’t have all the fun of the alliteration, and is frankly, not good enough.

Now, now. I can read your mind babe… I know what your thinkiiiiin‘— sorry. had a moment.:

Come on Amma, be fair. Its not that people are entirely self- interested or even disinterested… It’s that people have very real and practical needs. They have to feed their kids and pay bills and put a payment on the IPad coming out after the next IPad. I mean, you cannot fault a person for being successful and you cannot force a person to pay some ‘national interest’ type o
f tax because they worked hard to make it to where they are. The truth of the matter is, we do not live in the 1960s. This is not Nkrumah’s time and we are not all suffering like how we used to be. Y3 ko y3 nim… and if people can’t keep up… that’s on them.

Now isn’t that a funny situation. How much money do you want to bet that the house slaves and uppity negroes of yester-years probably said the same thing themselves. Talmbout:

“Now now, ya’ll should calm down, now. I say, massa’s been good to some of us. And he don’ schooled us and we can read. Now you can’t expect us to lead ya’ll other negroes outta slavery just cuz you wasn’t light skinnded enough to work right next to the good ol’ massa. We got real needs and it ain’t even like it used to be with them killin’ us and hangin’ us all willy nilly. Black folk startin’ to own businesses and massa even let us own some land if we good and do right. So psssshttt… hell if I’m gonna put my neck out on the line for ya’ll lazy field negros cuz you can’t read and pick yourself up by the bootstraps… all  in the name of ‘freedom’. I gots my freedom, you needs ta get yours.”

OR… in a nutshell:


See when you throw it back to slavery, and compare the narrative, you realize that there is truly nothing new under the sun. That the same excuses people have given from time, are the same ones this talented tenth is giving today. But this mentality in Ghana is exacerbated to the nth degree. In a nation where the talented tenth, are also the politicians who are also the business men who are also the academics, success becomes almost incestuous. One big old boy (or old girl if you went to Wesley) network of people clamoring at the top and guarding the gate with electric barb wires and shattered glass.

You see…

the trouble with the talented tenth is (firstly) that…

their talents are most often more trouble than treasure to the very people they are meant to lead and empower.

Much like the immoral preachers of the past and present (see upcoming post on Pimpin’ from the Pulpit), the talented tenth of today have gained legitimacy in the eyes of the uneducated masses as people who know all, see all and can do all because of their degrees and papers. Though this power also wields great responsibility, many of our leaders (whether anointed or appointed) would much rather line their personal pockets than consider the long term success of their people. And I am not just talking about corruption in the sense of taking money off of the top, I am talking about hoarding contracts, keeping business within a tight circle and, circulating knowledge and information between a chosen few.  I had a great conversation with a Ghanaian man who was starting a business and found it incredibly difficult to get clientele because he wasn’t bffers with the illegitimate children of the Founding Fathers. Was he hardworking and industrious and committed and smart and Ghanaian? Yes! He was working for the SEC before he moved BACK here and graduated from Cornell’s B- School… but in the absence of any semblance of meritocratic integrity, his business is suffering. His story is not unique and is not an exception, and it is a pity when all things are considered. A developing country like Ghana cannot afford to concentrate resources into one generation and one class of people.  That sort of upside down pyramid is meant to fall and carry the masses with it (see: Financial Crisis of 2008 in USA).

There is hope however. Thank GOD for the youth of this country, and for the people who are staking their claim as a new generation of Ghanaians. I am excited to read about the BloggingGhana’s and the BarCamps and the GhanaDecides and the Heel The Worlds and the Duaba Serwaa’s of the nation. Thank God for the social entrepreneurs and innovators and academics who could be doing so many other things with their time and money, but they are committed to real, meaningful change…

I just wish the movement was also not as incestuous.

This type of incest is a different type of incest.

It is the type that happens when there are two few invested and interested people in seeing change.

It’s the type that happens when everyone else is disabled or handicapped in a way that won’t allow for healthy procreation, and therefore the same people meet and discuss and plan and push and anger and annoy and eventually burnout

That’s the second problem of the Talented Tenth Fourth… the work is plenty but the laborers are very VERY few.

I cannot wait until it becomes everyone’s responsibility and civic duty to engage themselves in the same ways that our newest crop of Talented Fourth individuals are doing.


So here is one big AYEKOOOOO for the work being done on the ground… and here’s another call for the rest of the 6% to get it together. Because we will have none of this free rider, I-will-ride-on-the-coattails of-your-success, when Ghana progresses. We will definitely have to hit you with the ‘Depart from me, I knew you not’ hand-to-the- face, because either you are down today… or you are out tomorrow. <bbm idgaf not talking face> #jussayin