Somebody Has To Say It…

August 12, 2007

Influence vs. Power

I was on another board,, and someone asked if Condaleeza Rice deserves a “pass” from Black people.  You know, we are amazingly quick to demand that other Black people look out for our interests and our interests only, no matter the position. Strangely, people like Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas are singled out as “sell outs” and “Uncle Toms” if their agenda doesn’t overtly jibe with whatever Black Americans are currently screaming for.

We are quick to compare them with Oprah, Bill, and Cornel, but that’s comparing apples and oranges, or in this case, influence and power. Oprah has influence, and a whole lot of it. If Oprah likes your book or your music, instantly millions of devotees run out to buy your book or music. Oprah runs a vast multimedia empire, and has enough money to do just about what she wants to. However, Oprah’s power is limited. A handshake from Oprah doesn’t signal an armistice; Oprah’s signature doesn’t indicate the United State’s agreement to lift trade sanctions; Oprah’s mere presence doesn’t indicate the U.S’s tacit approval of a regime.  No, that’s power.

Bill Cosby also has lots of money, and as “America’s Dad” he wields tremendous influence both in and out of Hollywood. Bill is traveling around the country, visiting and speaking to Black people and advocating that we take responsibility for ourselves. Russell Simmons has a similar message. But Bill and Russell don’t make decisions that can radically define or alter the Constitutional framework of this country. Their opinions are just that–their opinions, not legal dissertations that may fundamentally change the very rights of millions of people.

Many people, especially in the Black community, automatically associate money with power (throw in respect and you’ve got yourself a song), but the reality is that money can lead to influence (if you have it, we want to know how you got it, and maybe we’ll listen to anything you say just so we can figure out how to get it too), but power is entrusted to a very few, and getting in that club is a lot more difficult than we are willing to admit. The two often overlap, but let’s be clear, they are separate and distinct measures.

Colin Powell had (emphasis, HAD) power, realized that it had been usurped for the Bush Aministration’s agenda, and he traded it in for influence. His presence no longer means what it did as Chairman of the JCS or Secretary of State, but it does mean something.  Barack Obama has limited power (he’s only 1 of 100 Senators), but rapidly increasing influence; however, his clear and unmistakable goal is to trade up for power. And yet, both of these men, accomplished as they might be, have their “Blackness” challenged on a daily basis.

To suggest that Condi needs a “pass” is a slap in the face to every Black person who has chosen education and hard work over pointless rhetoric and  free handouts, . Whether or not I agree with their political stances, I can, without reservation, point my children in their direction and say “Yes, it is possible.”  Funny, we don’t challenge Bob Johnson’s “Blackness,” even though he may have done more to destroy Black America than any other Black person alive. We don’t question Jesse Jackson’s “Blackness,” even though his agenda is, at best, questionable. We certainly don’t question the neighborhood drug dealer’s “Blackness,” and wow, I wonder what he’s doing to uplift our people?

The reality is that influence tends to be much longer lasting in our eyes than power, since it is less subject to political ramifications. But it is power, so rarely attained by Black people that most of us don’t truly understand its ramifications or requirements, that changes the world.



  1. Superb essay. Absolutely spot on.

    Actually, it was Condi Rice who said it best: “Power matters.”

    Comment by section9 — August 12, 2007 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  2. enjambement says : I absolutely agree with this !

    Comment by enjambement — May 28, 2008 @ 7:04 am | Reply

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Symbiotic

    Comment by Symbiotic — June 18, 2008 @ 12:02 pm | Reply

  4. “Before you tell the “truth” to the patient, be sure you know the “truth”, and that the patient wants to hear it. (Richard Clarke Cabot, 1963)

    Condi nor Powell had power. They both lied on many platforms on behalf of the administrative shot callers for the ends of the elite.

    They excelled well in life but for what recognition? We don’t see power in the same light…Oprah can and have achieved more than any of them, because of the fact that she has more freedom and influence…and more freedom in itself -especially influence … means more power.


    Comment by brotherman — August 2, 2008 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  5. Do not agree completely. Influential people do have ‘power’, a kind of power that actually secures the consent of several others to work with you and follow you. May be they do not have legitimate power that transcends via a job title or a formal position.

    Comment by avadhanam — December 6, 2011 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

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