Breathing While Black

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Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same…

As some of you may know, along with running a nonprofit organization, I teach at Harvard Law School.

I bring this up because, on occasion, I’ve heard a ‘fairy tale’ floating around that black folks like me—who attend or teach at Ivy League institutions—are somehow shielded from the racism African Americans so often face.

Well the arrest of Professor Skip Gates certainly shows us that that is not so.  Racism crawls around the Ivy League just like poison ivy…

Case in point: by now, you’ve likely heard about the recent incident that took place at a Boston area night club called the Cure Lounge where black alumni from Harvard and Yale were kicked out of their own private party because the owner feared the party was attracting “bad people.”

This, despite the fact the event was a private party for black alumni in town for the Harvard-Yale football game and there was a predetermined guest list.

The club shut the party down not long after it started, first telling folks it was due to “technical difficulties” and then later claiming that the bouncers recognized some people in line as ‘local gang-bangers.’

Okaaayy… Let’s assume that the bouncers saw a so-called gang-banger in line: what options did the club have?

(1) The bouncers could have refused to let them in.  After all, there was a guest list—it was a private party and only people on this list were being let in.  But they didn’t do that.

(2) The club could have called the police.  But they didn’t do that either.

(3) The bouncers could have told the so-called ‘gang-bangers’ they are not welcome in the private club.  But, guess what? They didn’t do that.

Instead, they saw some black folks, assumed they were gang-bangers, and shut the ENTIRE party down 45 minutes after it started. Fortunately, the Boston City Council, Attorney General’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol Control and others are investigating the incident.

But here’s my point. It doesn’t matter how much money we make, how successful we think we are, or where we happen to work or go to school, as Black people in this country, we are never exempt from the crime of Breathing While Black.

I know that some people have tried to convince themselves otherwise, but life has a way of smackin’ you right upside your head when it gets too big.

And longggg before I was at Harvard, guess what…? I was Black.

You see, racism does not discriminate in the way it discriminates. Once a person is profiled as ‘a threat,’ anything can happen. You can be stereotyped at a club or brutalized by police in your own home, whether you make minimum wage or teach in the Ivy League.

I didn’t stop being Black once I got to Harvard and there are plenty of reminders for folks here and at similar institutions of the color of our skin. So Black people who think that their positions—no matter how or entitle them to some kind of ‘racism pass’ are just as warped as those who automatically hate on the black folks who hold those positions.

Both attitudes make it harder for us to make progress as a community. And there is no need for us to complain about other communities hatin’ on us if we are busy hatin’ on ourselves.

So let’s embrace the diversity within our community and recognize that none of us—not one of us—is immune from Breathing While Black.

Stephanie Robinson is President and CEO of HYPERLINK “http://www.jamestownproject.org/”The Jamestown Project, a national think tank focused on democracy. She is an author, a Lecturer on Law at the Harvard Law School and former Chief Counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Stephanie reaches 8 to 10 million listeners each week as political commentator for the popular radio venue, The Tom Joyner Morning Show.  Visit her online at HYPERLINK “http://www.stephanierobinsonspeaks.com/”www.StephanieRobinsonSpeaks.com

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