Should Black-Specific Support Organizations Exist?

OXFORD—As you'll see from this week's top story in the JFP, James Meredith has an interesting stance on the need of black-specific support institutions such as The University of Mississippi Black Alumni Association. But he's not the only one. At a race and racial reconciliation panel at the University of Mississippi, panelists were asked if when considering the progress on race issues made in Mississippi and the rest of the country, should black-specific support organizations exist today? Here is what the panelists had to say:

"I think to forget that while we have remarkable progress, we would be irresponsible to forget that it hasn't been that long. Hopefully one day, and that maybe next week and it may be next century we won't have the necessity for specific targeted organizations of that nature. I think Today is that day…the purpose of an organization may change, but that is not to say that there is no purpose to that organization. "

Otis Sanford, Ole Miss alum and editorial editor of the Memphis Commercial appeal:
"It is not my role as a journalist to justify those organizations, but I do understand why they exist…to get together with an association to talk about [community-specific] issues, I don't justify it, but I understand. [Organizations like] the Black Alumni Association was not for exclusiveness; it was for inclusiveness to get more people like us on this panel to show in interest in the University. I think it has served a tremendous purpose. I understand why those organizations exist. I agree that at some point it won't be necessary, but right now it's necessary.

Susan Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation:
"It would undermine the progress that the election of Sen. Barack Obama would represent to now saw that everything is fine and that we can move on to a post-racial world because we have achieved the goal. That is simply not the case. It is so easy to look at any number of indicators to know that discrimination still disproportionally affects people of color and especially African Americans in this society. And so there are unique challenges that African-American students and students of color face on any college campus. I hope we move to that time, but I agree with my colleagues in that I don't think that time is now."

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Good post, Bryan. It's funny, even as I understand the need–perceived at least, including by me–for African American studies programs and organizations, I do see Mr. Meredith's point that they may, in fact, be keeping us divided. We certainly have dual knowledge bases and different versions of history. I also see the concern that, should the "black" track be done away with, then the "white" one would just take over for everyone. And that sure is hell is not the answer. The goal must be to have a truly integrated media and curricula, etc., and we're a long way from that as a society. Here at the JFP, we're trying very hard, and diversity on all levels is key. In the paper, we don't cover Black History Month, for instance, as a policy (although some columnists write about it), because we believe strongly that "black history" must be incorporated in every issue. But you can't just do away with it without being deliberate about inclusion year-round. So, I think it's a conundrum. Maybe the dual tracks keep us divided, but I'm not sure how we stop doing it without letting "whiteness" take over everything. Of course, the changing demographics in the country may solve it for us. It's so sad, though. I've enjoyed my studies of "black" history as much as any other of my history. Perhaps more because it has been very honest and is such a story of heroes rising up under incomprehensible odds. That's there in "white" history, too, but our heroes tended to start from some level of privilege, just due to their skin color. Anyway, I 'm just thinking out loud. I tend to think this is a good conversation to have regardless. But I will come out on the side of diversity–true diversity that cuts both ways–every time.


Black-specific, women-specific, Hispanic-specific, Jewish-specific, vegan-specific, little-people-specific...SPECIFIC groups exist because they have SPECIFIC needs. Therefore, we should continue to have them.



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