Friday, October 26, 2007

The Test of Inclusion

The statement I’m about to make may catch the ire of many of my Black Nationalist friends. It’s time to let go of some of the institutions organized specifically to promote black agendas. The road to authentic inclusion into this melting pot experiment called America may mean a regretful release of some of the institutions organized to promote and protect the rights of black people.

That’s a tough thing to say given the long history of oppression and the continuation of racism within our nation. It in no way implies that race no longer matters, or that we have become the colorblind nation that Shelby Steele so firmly embraces. Rather, it points to the changing dynamics of our nation, and a shift in the way we address the notion of race within a context in which culture, class, gender and sexual orientation mutate the age old categories of exclusion.

One of the reasons I love living in Durham, NC is the way in which we deal with the matter of inclusion. Durham is one of those rare places where race and class remains in the face of those living in the city. Years ago, I was brought on board as columnist for the hometown paper-The Durham Herald-Sun-after John Hope Franklin was appointed by President Bill Clinton to head a national committee to address race in America. I was one of four local columnists chosen to dig deeper into local matters with the hope of helping the community do the very thing Franklin, who lives in Durham, was entrusted to do nationally.

The consequence was the expansion of the voice of a local paper that became a model for how editorials can be used to engage a community around matters irreplaceable to those living there. Durham became a model in how to use the press to promote inclusion. That wasn’t an easy task given the great divides caused by difference.

An example of this was the request coming from David Smith, leader of the Friends of Durham, a local conservative political action committee. Smith made a request to become a member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, a powerful political action committee organized to address issues specific to the black community. At the time of the request, I challenged my readers to consider the significance of his appeal. It was my contention then that the agenda of the organization needed to expand to reflect the changing demographics of our community.

Specifically, what that meant was the emergence of a rapidly growing Latino population. With the influx of Latino’s within Durham’s inner city communities, came a rise in crimes involving blacks who preyed on Latino’s. The result was mounting tension between blacks and Latinos. My column was a call to black leadership to respond by opening the gates for Latinos to sit at the table to create a more powerful organization merging the agendas of these two minorities.

Inclusion is a tough pill to swallow because it implies a loss of historical bearing. The strength of the Southern black community is sited in its institutions. Most notable among these are the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. These schools have molded the minds of incalculable men and women who have gone on to provide strong leadership in a variety of disciplines. They have stirred the social consciousness of black students by creating a safe haven for them to learn void of the impediments caused by racial enmity. Parents have craved the assurance of leaving their children to be taught by professors willing and able to view their children based on their ability, rather than some preconceived notion of worth based on their race.

More and more, we are seeing the end of these institutions. A case in point is the recent acceptance of Chowan University into the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The private, predominantly white Baptist school of about 900 students in northeast North Carolina will join the nation’s oldest league for historically black colleges and universities next football season.

The decision to accept Chowan into the CIAA was necessitated by the departures of Winston-Salem State University and North Carolina Central University. These schools left to enter the more fertile ground of Division I, leaving a void in what has been a rich history among many proud HBCU alumni.
"The color of power is green," league commissioner Leon Kerry said. "I'm trying to build teams, I'm trying to add teams, and I’m trying to keep the CIAA successful. What's going to make the CIAA successful today? Imagination and the willingness to make things different, and I think it's far past the time to make things different. ... Because the school's not an HBCU, do you overlook that school? Absolutely not."
Now comes the hard part. Imagine the panic coming from members of the Chowan University band during the halftime performance. HBCU’s have a way of doing things that is completely different from what I remember as part of life at the University of Missouri. Our band didn’t giggle like that. One of the best things about the Eagle (North Carolina Central University) Aggie (North Carolina A&T University) Classic is the halftime show. The battle of the bands gets as much attention as the game. The boys and girls at Chowan may have to learn a few moves.

Culture and history are powerful variables. Each are important actions in constructing positive self-imagery and helping to make the much needed association with the world not mentioned in most history books. Black people suffer due to a lack of information regarding their truth. HBCU’s help fill in those blanks and build strength among those vulnerable to the coldness of those ingrained in racial hate. The nation may not be ready to be colorblind right now.

The institutions have been there to protect black people. Slowly, there purpose is changing and, more and more, their function is taking on new meaning. The time has come to rethink what they mean. As painful as that process may be, in the end, we shall overcome. We shall overcome, someday.


  1. I don't necessarily think we as black folk have to forfeit some of our cultural institutions to promote inclusion. I think your band analogy hits it right on the head.

    Let's show other brothers and sisters outside our race some of the beauty and history we maintain for ourselves.

  2. I didn't think Carl was advocating the abdication of black cultural institutions, only a re-thinking of the concept of what some of those institutions represent.

    Political groups that discard those who dare oppose the groupthink of victimhood (see the Stith reference in the blog)fail to be effective in current society, and may even be countereffective. I see the same failure in staunchly conservative white groups that fail to understand that society has changed and fail to admit other thoughts that don't meet their own narrow criteria.

    That's what Carl is seeming to say. Expand your cultural process to admit others that might previously be excluded due to narrow thinking. Stir up the cauldron of ideas, expose yourself to alternative opinions, and thereby improve your own thinking. By hiding only within the institutions that make us feel comfortable and safe, we might miss the experiences of others that can give our life richness and, similarly, miss opportunities to pass on our own cultural experiences to others. Like it or not, we do need each other.

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