When I think about giving back to the community, I mean two things—Black people and Black people who don’t have the necessary tools for success due to family life, financial difficulties, educational hurdles, etc. There are, however, African Americans from a different school of thinking in which the poor and disadvantaged are not their community, therefore when they give back, they help people from a similar background, who, frankly, could probably get along just fine without their assistance.
I remember the disgust that I felt watching the Tuxedo Ball segment of Black in America Pt. 2 on CNN several months ago as Dr. Carlotta G. Miles discussed the need to keep privileged Black children connected. I recently brought this up, yet again, to a Black female coworker of mine, who, to my surprise, had no problem with Dr. Miles’ justification of the select group, as she plainly stated that helping the disadvantaged was simply not apart of their mission.
Personally, the premise behind their gala seemed awfully reminiscent of the old boy network among socially elite White males. Is the practice of keeping it all in the family, pulling strings for those you know, and helping those who are likely to succeed really a form of giving back? And for a people so distraughtly disenfranchised, can we really afford to exclude segments of the community from these opportunities?
My coworker raised two questions in response to my reaction. The first was whether community is more defined by who you are or where you live? Although she lives in a predominantly White neighborhood, she feels her Black son would be better served by contributing to the community in which she lives rather than reaching out to people with whom she has nothing in common besides skin color or ethnicity.
I understand the point. If there are things that need to be done at home, so to speak, then it makes sense to share your resources there rather than the token place of volunteerism—the inner city. But what about those neighborhoods that are doing quite well and could take the fundraising money used to buy new uniforms for the basketball team yet again and really gain some perspective on what it means to not have anyone cook dinner for you, or to wear torn clothes to school, or not experience what is now the luxury of a two-parent home, and provide opportunities that never existed before?
The second, and most troubling question she asked, was how long are Black people who “beat the odds” going to be expected to pull the rest of us up? My initial response was an adamant, however long it takes! There’s a perception that Black people have gotten so complacent with their position in society that they don’t really want to thrive, and attempting to help or fix their situation is really just enabling their behavior, rather than giving back. I can understand the frustration behind this opinion, but I don’t buy it. If some margins of the Black community have become complacent, I believe it is because they don’t think that there is a better way of living or that they can achieve it.
The socioeconomic factions within the Black community are pronounced and if Black people themselves don’t feel an obligation to pull along those who need a little more help than others, then who will? We tend to get so up in arms at the depiction of the great White hope in the Hollywood movies that are based on true stories (see: The Blind Side), but if we’re not reaching back to share the wealth, can we really be mad?
Living in a Brooklyn neighborhood now that is both predominantly Black and low income, I’m not exactly torn about who my community is to give back to, but even if I found myself back in the coziness of the Midwestern middle class neighborhoods where I grew up, I don’t believe my obligation would be any different. I may not be able to fully relate to all of the struggles of the seemingly disadvantaged, but I can certainly tell that they are the ones who are in need of help.