Gatherings of Black people really not about whites: Paradkar

Paradkar on the recent controversies over Black only events:

Harvard’s event was one of two recent events that highlighted Western discomfort with majority-Black spaces.

The other was an event planned in France, where the mayor of Paris sought to ban the city’s first Afro-feminist festival in July because it was “forbidden to white people.” In saying that, Anne Hildalgo, the socialist mayor, co-opted the words of the far-right that had initiated the outrage.

The organizers there had said 80 per cent of the event space was open only to Black women. At Harvard, all were welcome, although not a lot of non-Black people showed up (and by the way, Stanford has had a Black graduation for 40 years).

Both these events predictably triggered accusations of reverse racism and segregation.This tweet by @lucky_american echoed views on various forums: “Are they also going to have a white commencement? If not, isn’t that kind of racist?”

Hidalgo even threatened to sue the festival’s leaders for discrimination.

“We continue to revel in the myth that our fundamental racial problems have been solved,” says Rinaldo Walcott, director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. So these gatherings are viewed “as an affront to something they deeply believe doesn’t exist.”

If these events must be seen as separatist and divisive, then let’s at least acknowledge that one was separation as celebration, the other was separation as solidarity.

At Harvard, “the energy was electric and celebratory,” Morgan says. “It was about celebrating and recognizing that five per cent of the student population identifies as Black. It was about recognizing historically and globally this was that small fraction of people who have made it to the top university.”

The Harvard event was an ode to Black achievement in the face of historical and continued oppression. It celebrated achievements that would be lost, or not valued, in the university-wide celebration.

If Morgan’s achievements had not been acknowledged at the Black commencement, they might not have been acknowledged at all.

“In the U.S., the notion is, if you have reached the pinnacle of establishment, you are somehow outside of how poor black people are treated,” Walcott says.

That is simply not true. Studies have shown Black Ivy League graduates have about as much chance of getting a job as do white graduates from less prestigious state colleges.

For those who use the success of a Barack Obama or an Oprah Winfrey to suggest that anti-Black racism is over, the commencement was a reminder that Black success comes despite the system.

“They will try to craft our stories as examples of the benefits of personal responsibility,” Duwain Pinder, one of four speakers that day, was quoted saying in the Harvard magazine. “As proof that the American dream exists for all, rather than just a select few . . . . We are only a fraction of the Black brilliance that lies under the surface.”

In France, which prides itself on its egalité, why did a gathering of predominantly Black women threaten those who celebrate feminist gatherings of predominantly white women?

Months after its shameful ban on burkinis on beaches, the country showed once again that feminism of colour cannot escape the colonial gaze of white feminists who view other women as victims in need of rescuing from their cultures. Should those affected not be able to define their own struggle?

Mwasi-Collectif, the festival organizers, told France 24 the restricted entry was important so that Black women could have open, honest conversations without judgment from others.

Decrying that event is akin to telling feminists to allow men to set the agenda for their discussion.

Isn’t solidarity about supporting a space that allows excluded groups to think collectively and come to a resolution on how to move ahead?

Both these Black gatherings really weren’t about white people.

There was no reason to make them so.

Source: Gatherings of Black people really not about whites: Paradkar | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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