By LaKeshia Myers
This past week, I had the opportunity to watch the television show Black-ish on ABC. The episode dealt with Anthony Anderson’s character, Andre Johnson, being invited to join a premiere social organization and his mixed feelings about being viewed as bourgeois (or “bougie” as it is commonly referred). Initially Anderson dismisses the idea of joining the club, but is convinced that membership would be a positive asset for his family as they would be able to interact with other African American children (because they attend a predominately white school) and increase his own networking opportunities because of the connections.
The episode loosely examined a constant duality that many African American professionals face—being the antithesis of what predominate society believes is the monolithic black experience: extreme poverty, mediocrity, excessive violence, and single parent households, etc. The overall premise of the show explores Andre Johnson navigating the treacherous waters of being successful and black in America. The storyline allowed the audience to weigh in on an age-old debate of whether organizations like black sororities and fraternities seek to exclude the vast majority of black Americans or if their work is necessary to fuel the upward mobility of our people. I believe it is the latter.
As a member of predominately black social and fraternal organizations, I, too, have experienced this delicate dance. My childhood experience more closely mirrored the Huxtable family on the Cosby Show versus that of the Evans family on Good Times. Through the advantages of education, my parents, were diligent in making key decisions that helped foster a comfortable life for my sister and I. On Black-ish Johnson’s (Anderson) background tells us that he grew up in a working-class family, but was able to work his way up to becoming a senior vice-president at an advertising agency. With his comeuppance, his children are living a comfortable suburban lifestyle, which is different from his youth. This is often the premise of storylines on the show where he often points out to his children how “easy they have it.”
Realistically, in some circles, professional African Americans are deemed out of touch with grassroots issues. And in mainstream white society, professional blacks are often overlooked or tokenized and made to be executives in name only; lacking the power necessary to steer change at the executive levels. There is a need and a place for both roles in our collective struggle. We all have a role to play in our collective advancement; some are better at leading marches and being the voice of the movement, while others refer to work in the background and make the moves necessary to fund the movement.
This reminds me of the debates of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois during the late 19th century; DuBois believed academic intelligence was the great equalizer. He also believed in direct action and demanding a seat at the table; he was forceful in his messaging and his direct approach was met with opposition by many whites of that time. While Washington’s version of academic training was kills-based and promoted industrial arts. His approach was to achieve parity in the long-term;