Last Wednesday, the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, the Legion of Black Collegians and the National Pan-Hellenic Council put on an event titled “Am I Still Black If?” The forum, as the flier described, “focused on challenging the notion of what it means to be Black in 2014” and addressing “topics related to colorism, Greek Life, ‘good hair,’ and suburban, urban and rural impacts.”
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the event, but I followed the discussion through the GOBCC’s Twitter account. Those in attendance discussed questions such as, “Do you feel that black students who attend (predominantly white institutions) differ from those who attend (historically black colleges and universities), ” “Is it selling out to be a part of an IFC/PHA Greek organization compared to NPHC,” and “Is it socially acceptable in 2014 to date outside your race? Does it make you less black?”
Along with the other questions and comments that came up during the event, these discussions are very important to have on a predominantly white campus in a predominantly white city in the 21st century. But as the title implies, the central component of this discussion — and many discussions outside of MU — is centered on what it means to be black in a post-civil rights movement, Barack Obama era.
In his 2011 book, “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness,” author Touré explored the concept of “blackness” after the election of President Obama in 2008. Touré makes sure to distinguish “post-blackness” from “post-racial,” which is the asinine belief that racism was defeated sometime in the late 1960s.
To experience blackness — what the author describes as “an extraordinary gift bestowing access to an unbelievably rich legacy of joy” — is to branch out from what you and others think is just for black people.
For example, some would say it’s not black to swim or listen to country music or speak the King’s English. Wrong. There are more than 40 million black people in the U.S., which means there are more than 40 million different types of black people. For every person succumbing to black stereotypes there is a Cullen Jones, Darius Rucker and Michael Eric Dyson.
On campus, you’re no blacker if you join Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. or Sigma Phi Epsilon. You’re no blacker if you choose the National Association of Black Journalists or the Society of Professional Journalists. You’re not less black if you choose not to sit in the “Black Hole” in the Student Center.
There are just fewer than 2,500 black students on campus, and each of those students shares a few things in common with another. Most of us can be identified by the color of our skin. Most of us probably hail from St. Louis or Chicago. Some of us probably enjoy rap music.
But the comparisons stop there.
Although black students are all grouped into a demographic statistic on MU’s diversity website, that doesn’t mean we all have to be the same type of black student.
It’s OK to not attend a National Pan-Hellenic Council probate or step show. It’s OK to not be “team natural” or to give into the “creamy crack.” There is nothing wrong with not wearing shoes marketed by Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Where you come from — the suburbs or the inner-city — won’t stop me from giving you the “brotha head nod” when I see you walking down the street.
The “Am I Still Black If?” question is both a good one and an easy one. It reminds us that we are still shackled by this Three Musketeers mindset of “all for one and one for all,” but also that we recognize our many shades of blackness.
As black students on a predominately white campus, our job is to be ourselves and not whom we’re expected to be.
That, then, will move us deeper into the era of post-blackness.