Is it coz I is not black?

James Governor pointed me to "Blacks Only!" and I thought my reaction was worth a Copia entry.

When I was in college in Milwaukee I sort of joined National Society of Black Engineers, NSBE, as in, I played for their intramural basketball team, attended a few meetings, and (independent matter) made friends with a number of the members. I don't think I even joined formally, but anyway my then roommate and current business partner Mike Olson challenged me on it. He put up the usual counterexample of the horrified response if he'd started up a white engineer's club. As I recall, I started with a half hearted defense, before admitting that I was uncomfortable with the idea. I'd started out being friends with NSBE members, and never made an explicit, personal, moral stand about the club.

I do think the general idea of exclusion on the basis of race is dangerous, regardless of what past injustices you think you're trying to redress. It's also confusing. I'm raising three mixed race children and where do they fit in with such boundaries. Lori and I generally respond indignantly whenever we're supposed to classify the kids as one race or another. Luckily the census has a mixed race category these days. When they grow up, they can choose to associate as they please, but right now, we have no intention of disrespect to any branch of their rich heritage.

But I'm not a fundamentalist on integration. I understand the occasional motivation for exclusionary clubs. Women's networking groups spring up because even now it's hard for women to find equitable general fora for business. No doubt some other disadvantaged groups such as Black Americans have the same problem, so whereas I think the idea behind NSBE can be dangerous, you won't catch me entirely condemning it. I think some of the most disturbing aspects of the case in the linked article are specific to that case.

For one thing, I read that this blacks-only golf club sees itself as a charity. This beggars common sense considering that they would happily accept "a young, black, successful third-generation, Oxford educated Brit". When you insult the intelligence of those whom you exclude rather than engaging with them to honestly discuss the practical need for exclusion, you're asking for trouble, and you can't expect sympathy.

In South Africa, I think this sort of exclusion is especially problematic because it tarnishes the extraordinary success of the fall of Apartheid. I know and respect a lot of white South Africans, and based on these associations and my following of current events in South Africa, I believe that a gratifying number of the white population in that country is horrified at their racist legacy. Sure, they might not have come to such reform if not for the forceful realities of the freedom movements (much more important than even the infamously leaky sanctions), but all that matters is that they did the right thing in the end, for whatever reasons, and are now largely committed to justice. In turn Mandela, Tutu, etc. showed the most unbelievable courage in fostering an atmosphere of reconciliation. I think the likes of the black golf club causes very dangerous and unnecessary rifts in this peace. Even if it doesn't cause bloody conflict, it will continue the flight of white South Africans out of the country, and I think this a tremendous loss.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia
5 responses
With the mixed race thing, I think I heard in South Africa (where race mattered in a very concrete way more than most places) they had a clear distinction between "black", "white" and "colored" -- which meant mixed.  A whole separate tier of segregation.  Racist logic leads to strange places.  But then it turns more horrifying than bizarre when you consider pre-abolition mixed race children in the US, where a master would have his own children born into slavery.  It takes a pretty extreme partitioning of ethics to be capable of that.

But thankfully those times really are past.  The problems of today are today's problems...
This is a tough one, but I thought I would contribute to the discussion.  In particular, I must say I was a member of NSBE and didn't think it's premise was disturbing or dangerous.  I agree that excusion for the sake of being exclusive (without any political discourse) is dangerous (very dangerous), but I'm more inclined to feel that the NSBE (and other organizations that give a comfortable forum for people in the vanguard of a profession or situation where a feeling of being a fish out of water can do more damage than good) is a very healthy thing.  For the same reason there are support groups for people with issues in mainstream society (regardless of whether those issues lies with them or with mainstream society): consider Alcoholics Anonymous for instance.  Or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.  Unlike what most may think (and I wouldn't blame those who haven't been in a situation of feeling like a fish out of water in a larger community - it's an experience you have to go through to truley empathize with), cultural insecurity and the feeling of not belonging (justified or not) is an incredible disadvantage in societies where a sense identify is more important than it may have ever been at any point.
The point that there has to be room for people to organize themselves in order to boost their sense of self in society is a good one.  I should have been more clear that there might be more reasons than just previous disadvantage for needing such groups.  I can imagine an example of a group of American white males who had some such pressing need that just so happened to only occur to white males.  I think such association would be legitimate, even though it excludes blacks and women.

I think the key is that such associations operate under the sympathy of society, or at least under a reasonably argued cause of justice within society (e.g. society might not be sympathetic enough to exclusive associations of Arab immigrants right now, but there is certainly just cause for such association).

So maybe the point I'd hinted at in the original posting is key: such groups should always be chartered for extensive communication with the rest of society.  They should be open and reasonable about explaining the reasons for exclusivity.  I think the black golf club is a great negative example, because the cause for association is frivolous, and it seems the members may be showing some degree of contempt to the rest of society when challenged.  NSBE is certainly nothing close to such a problem case.  I only brought it up as my most personal brush with the general issue.
Very interesting thoughts from someone with a perspective that allows them to see both sides. Respect.

I think the basic criteria is relatively simple, the question I would ask would be "looking towards creating a better future in SA, would I be offended if another race (lets say whites)had a group that was white only?" I for one would be.

The issue for me is not that it's "blacks only" but that it's "-placeholder- only".

I agree that there are some groups where this makes sense, woman only health clubs spring to mind, but there should be a very compelling reason for it that goes beyond financial gain through racial-self-exploitation, as this club seems to be...!
Please read the responses from white South Africn on the above matter on