Thursday, December 10, 2009

Time to Make That Change?: Durham Committee Election Tonight

Tonight’s the big night. Black residents of Durham will gather at the White Rock Baptist Church to vote on the next chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. It’s the most anticipated election since Ken Spaulding defeated Pete Allison. Spaulding promised change and a more youthful Durham Committee. Allison’s wife, Lavonia, has led the organization for the past 12 years.

Those on the outside regard the Durham Committee as a mere shadow of its former self. Melvin Whitley has promised to move the Durham Committee past its divisive ways. The group is plagued with internal battles that have become the subject of a public conversation related to impact the group has in making a difference. The internal mess is marred even more by a public perception that has many ashamed to call themselves members.

Most outsiders agree there is a need for change. The Durham Committee maintains a system of exclusion that spits in the face of the advances made due to the work of the group. The time has long passed for the Durham Committee to consider a broader agenda-one not limited to the color of one’s skin, and one that isn’t rooted in a culture of classism.

Under Allison’s leadership, the Durham Committee has remained stuck in a time long gone. Allison and her supporters continue to function under the presupposition that “The Man” is out to get us and that the best way to make change is to embark on an agenda that pits us versus them. Sadly, the Durham Committee failed to embrace the Barack Obama magic of the past election. They failed to mobilize people to support the platform of America’s first black President. How sad it is that the Durham Committee continues to function as if the nation hasn’t taken a major shift!

Allison is out of touch with the world in which most of us live. She refuses to talk to the press. Help me understand how one can be effective as a leader of a major organization while refusing to utilize the most powerful tool at your disposal. She has minimized the influence of the Durham Committee to the few who continue to attend meetings. Those on the outside who care aren’t privy to what happens at those meetings. They only need the rest of the black folks when an election comes around.

It’s offensive to be approached with a slate of candidates endorsed by a group that has failed to reach out to voters. The organization has no website, no communicated agenda, policies that are changed to fit the purposes of those in charge and a reputation that screams for change. Is Allison to blame for all of this? That may be overstating the truth. Allison represents an age of black leadership that has faded with time. She has served Durham well, and she did so within an historical context that demanded her style of leadership.

Time has changed. Most of us no longer desire an approach that limits based on race. Youth aren’t beholden to the barriers of race. As much as I love the color of my skin and the history of my people, I refuse to continue to exist within a world that forces people to stay locked in the bounds of race. Most of us are sick of having to answer that question that continues to divide-it’s not enough to be black in Durham, at issue is whether you are black enough.

Does being black mean you have to fight every white politician just because they’re white? Does being black mean you can’t write about black people because it divides the race? Does being black mean you support projects proposed by black people when there is enough evidence to prove they lack the ability to follow through? Who qualifies blackness?

Allison has stood on wobbly terrain for a long time. The slippery slope is all those assumptions made-that her way of functioning is the only way, that she has the right to determine authentic blackness, that the work of the Durham Committee is the work Durham’s black community. Sorry folks. The power of one’s voice should never be circumvented by the mandates of a few. We have fought too hard to step back into the world of fear.

Tonight is the big election. Some think its Allison versus Whitley. It’s more important than that. This is about views surrounding the state of Durham’s black community. Is it time to move forward, or will the masses decide to stay locked in the days of Bull Conner and hooded white dudes holding confederate flags.

It’s time to stop whistling Dixie.

1 comment:

  1. Carl:
    As a white person who grew up in Durham I don’t see the wonderful changes in black/white relations that you do. I see the sons and daughters of folks I grew up with engaging in the same prejudices as the Klan and the Bull Connor types of the days gone by.
    There are surface changes (President Obama) but this sort of flexibility is how a dominant group maintains dominance. In South Africa the Apartheid regime remains tightly in control of the economic power while letting the majority population deal with the mess of politics. In Durham we have local African-Americans in power (with the notable exception of Joe Bowser) who carry water for the rich white folks as they always have. The proof of this is in the continuing high rates of joblessness, addict ion, crime, poverty, disease, and school “push out” from increasingly re-segregating public schools. Further proof is the millions in subsidies given to downtown projects with little accountability or return on investment while the “neighborhoods surrounding the urban core” are neglected and subjected to intense scrutiny . Projects in poor black areas pull the land out from under current residents (Barnes Avenue) while priming the pump for gentrification with “mixed income” projects (adding insult to injury by blaming poverty on the poor).
    Dr. Allison is an astute politician and good at what she does. Complaining about how she does things is everyone’s right, I suppose, but action would speak louder and be more effective. If you don’t like what she’s doing get in there and work against her. I understand the journalist’s words are his “action” so perhaps a specific call to a specific action would help.
    As a middle aged white guy I hear and see things that your average African-American is not privy to. I hear the attitudes, I see the smirks, I hear the derision of black folks by your average white person. I also hear honest talk about deep seated prejudice that has not gone away and that plays itself out in everyday life. I am all for black folks, or anybody for that matter, addressing their own problems. I am all for “not blaming the man” for every little problem. But racism, especially at its intersection with class privilege, remains a pernicious evil in our society.

    Steven Matherly