One thing to know about me is that I love deep Facebook discussions. I enjoy making my views known, having them challenged by other people, and determining if they stand up to scrutiny. In that spirit, I saw a comment recently that I felt the need to respond to. On a post about a white girl pledging a historically black sorority, someone said that “ending racism starts with the black community first,” comparing historically black Greek organizations to Black History Month, and stating that these organizations and institutions are counterproductive because they are not inclusive. This is a theory that I’ve heard from several people, and I really believe that this line of thinking completely ignores the past and why these things came to be, as well as the state of our current society.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that all of these things–black Greek organizations, HBCU’s, Black History Month, BET, the NAACP, and so on–only exist because for a long time black people were outright shut out from “mainstream” white society. Of course they turned to other black people to help each other advance. For hundreds of years in the US, white people actively tried to prevent black people from gaining any foothold in the general society, trying to keep them separate at all costs.
“Well that’s fine,” some might say. “But our culture is so much more inclusive now; these organizations have become part of the problem.” And that’s essentially what was being argued on Facebook. “Healing begins by not associating yourself with a part of history that doesn’t reflect your present…I’m sorry but our generation has warped light years towards being inclusive.”
And to be fair, he’s at least partly correct. It does certainly seem like the youngest generations are much more tolerant of differences than the previous ones–whether we’re talking about racial harmony, LGBT acceptance, and so on. But that certainly doesn’t extend to every member of our generation. We still have people who are anti-black, anti-gay, anti-non Christian, etc.
But that doesn’t even get to the larger point. It doesn’t really matter if I’m not racist, you’re not racist, our whole generation isn’t racist. We can be as unprejudiced as possible (we’re not), but that doesn’t help to disassemble the parts of our society that remain weighted against black people, women, and other historically disadvantaged groups. Black people have less income and less wealth on average than white people. They are less likely to be offered certain job opportunities (a white man with a felony conviction is about as likely to be granted an interview for some jobs as a black man with a clean record). They are more likely to attend failing schools. They are more likely to be arrested for drug crimes. The deck remains stacked against black people, and if we fail to notice that we fail to uphold our responsibilities.
If we want to think of ourselves as some kind of “special” generation due to how enlightened and tolerant we are, we’d better make sure we actively work to do away with these inequalities. We can’t have it both ways–we can’t pat ourselves on the back for being different and then continue to freely benefit from a society that remains unequal. The NAACP and other “black” organizations and institutions still exist, and still need to exist, because our nation still has a problem with inequality and exclusion. It’s high time we changed that.