The Ivanhoe Donaldson affair, says Robern of behavior that threatens to do serious harm to the interests of blacks.
The pattern he has in mind, says the head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and leader of a controversial group of black conservatives, is not some white conspiracy to "get" black leaders or some special venality on the part of those leaders. The pattern Woodson finds so dangerous is in the response of the black community when black leaders are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
"We are willing to express outrage at the Reagan budget cuts for social programs," he said, "but there's a conspiracy of silence when elected or appointed black people take whatever money is left and divert it to their own pockets. Where is the outrage when black people use their position of authority and trust to rip off the black community?"
Donaldson, generally rated as one of the brightest political minds in the country, with solid credentials as a civil-rights activist/strategist, has admitted stealing nearly $200,000 of public money during his tenure as a top aide to Mayor Marion Barry.
The most widely heard public response among blacks has been of the he's-so- bright-isn't-it-a-shame sort. Those who know him wonder how he could have been so stupid, or what manner of insecurity could have produced in him such a need for luxury. They talk in terms of "personal tragedy" for Donaldson and his family and hope that the damage can somehow be contained.
Woodson says it's the wrong response. "Even the mayor can only say 'I don't think it injured me politically.' That's an unacceptable statement. Where is the public outcry from those organizations concerned about the poor? Who is out there saying: 'This is wrong; this is against the interests of poor people'? How can you feel sorry for Ivanhoe and condemn those two secretaries who were accused of stealing money last week? Evil begets evil."
It isn't that Woodson doesn't know the answer to the questions he raises. He simply refuses to accept the answer: that for the black community to censure its own is to give ammunition to white racists.
"There is always that fear," he acknowledges, "but to me there is a greater danger: that this conspiracy of silence, if it continues, will make us open to a domestic version of an Idi Amin. I mean, what happens if you get a real corrupt politician who begins to truly exploit people in a deliberative way and then hides behind his blackness? The other thing, of course, is that we behave as though if we don't talk about it the white racists won't find out about it. Well, that's just silly. All it does is destroy our own credibility."
But it's more than embarrassed silence that outrages Woodson, who himself outraged much of the black leadership with his criticism of their approach to black problem-solving. He said he might understand it if blacks chastized their malfeasant brothers in private. "What happens, though, is that they are not only tolerated but sometimes treated as conquering heroes when they come out of jail. How can we allow this to happen and then say to young people who steal and burglarize our homes and vandalize schools that their behavior is unacceptable?"
Woodson understands that blacks, like any troubled minority, tend to circle the wagons when their leadership is under attack. But he insists on the distinction between political attack and legitimate criminal prosecution.
"Let me say too," he adds, "that we are not talking about tax evasion or philandering or some kind of personal difficulty. We are talking about people ripping off their own people -- the family -- and saying that we mustn't condemn it because they were in the civil rights movement or something.
"Did we deliver ourselves from the evils of Jim Crow and racism and segregation only to be exploited by our own people? Is this what the civil rights movement was all about?"