In recent weeks, President Reagan and some newspaper columnists have ridiculed black American leaders. They have chosen to conduct an orchestrated campaign of attack on individuals rather than confront serious problems.
Since 1980, Reagan has held no substantive discussions with black leaders regarding a broad range of concerns, such as a continued high unemployment rate, a deplorable civil rights record and the lack of increased business opportunities that would benefit the black community.
This complaint has been voiced not only by major civil rights organizations, but also by such key black Republicans as LeGree Daniels, chairman of the National Black Republican Council and head of Blacks for Reagan.
The president's recent meeting with a group of black conservatives does nothing to dispel this complaint. Reagan prefers to meet with hand- picked spokesmen who support his ideas rather than with leaders who have been elected or who represent legitimate organizations.
Black leaders believe that the government that used black hands and racist laws to help build this country into one of today's superpowers is the same government that must work with the free enterprise system to help those at the bottom compete.
The facts are compelling regarding the adverse impact of Reagan's policies on black America. Since he took office, the black community has experienced:
* the highest poverty rate since such record-keeping began, almost 36 percent;
* the economic disenfanchisement of black men, causing more than one-half of all blacks who live in households headed by women to exist in poverty;
* long-term and uninsured unemployment increases; and
* a disproportionate share of the federal tax burden because a greater percentage of black income was paid in taxes in 1984 than in 1980.
Progress made by blacks in the 1960s and 1970s is eroding.
In a disturbing article, columnist Nick Thimmesch recently wrote (Topic A, Jan. 27) that the black leadership has failed to look at the progers to "wallow in the bad news." Indeed, the black leaders know well how far they have come from the days of segregation and separate but equal.
However, Thimmesch claims he is "one who has paid his dues in the civil rights movement when it really counted -- a generation and more ago." So where has he been lately? Writing conservative columns in the guise of a warmed-over 1960s liberal?
In another recent column, Jody Powell, who was press secretary to President Carter, made some misguided statements on black leadership. Admitting to some hyperbole, Powell described his impression of the Congressional Black Caucus' reaction to Carter's "outstretched hand and open door" at the White House: "It was, more often than not, to spit in the hand as they tracked mud through the door." Powell charged that the caucus' "assaults were usually provoked by word that appropriations for some program, dear to the hearts of the caucus, would not grow quite as fast as the members hoped."
It is sad to say that Powell remains just as ignorant of and indifferent to the caucus' goals and actions as he was when he worked at the White House. What the caucus objected to was Carter's cuts in domestic programs, while increases were being made in the wasteful military budget.
The Congressional Black Caucus maintained its vigilance and independence then, just as it does today. If Powell and some of his colleagues on the White House staff had understood that better, Jimmy Carter would have run a better race in 1980.
U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chairman Clarence M. Pendleton Jr. has joined the attack on black leadership, saying "black leaders are a part of a race industry and . . . a problem for black progress." These leaders certainly have a more credible record of contributions to black progress than Pendleton -- a presidential puppet.
Those who pioneered in calling for civil rights, equal opportunity, job training, income assistance and other social programs are speaking out not just for blacks but for all Americans who live in poverty or need assistance -- and serious attention should be paid to their analysis of what is happening in this country.
If President Reagan is to live up to his reputation as the Great Communicator, then he must both speak to those who enthusiastically support his policies and exchange ideas with those adversely affected by his decisions. It is dangerous to develop public policy in isolation from the people those policies will affect. We cannot ignore our problems by ignoring our differences. The road to reconciliation requires respect, and that perhaps is the president's greatest flaw in dealing with black Americans.