On September 26, Black Emory’s Association for Caribbean Students and Educators (ACES), the African Student Association (ASA), the Black Student Association (BSA), the Emory chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and members of the wider Emory community united for The Linkup, to discuss the question: do students find the Black community alienating despite efforts to achieve inclusivity?
Discussion took place as a Barkley Forum moderated debate. Arguing “pro,” River Bunkley, Mame Kane, and Deen Whitaker, presented evidence on why students do find Emory’s Black community to be inclusive. Arguing “con,” Michael Andrews, Christell Victoria Roach, and Kwame Wireko argued why Emory’s Black spaces can still be isolating, despite efforts to achieve inclusivity.
River Bunkley began by arguing that Black organizations have been making significant strides in promoting inclusivity for Emory’s Black student population. He recalled his own freshman year, in which leadership of Black organizations was not as diverse or intersectional. According to Bunkley, the fact that more Black women and Black queer students hold major leadership positions within Black organizations is a significant indicator of inclusivity, as well as the community’s emphasis that “blackness is not a monolith.”
Mame Kane highlighted the diverse audience in attendance, in addition to the fact that an event was expressly organized for debate on this topic, as additional evidence of Black Emory’s inclusivity.
Christell Victoria Roach countered by arguing that accessibility remains an issue in spaces where students may still feel evaluated on “how hot or how lukewarm [their] blackness is.” She explained that students must battle notions of authenticity in order to feel welcome in some Black spaces by stating, “it’s not a matter of who’s invited to the dinner, it’s what’s being talked about at the dinner table.”
According to Kwame Wireko, although many organizations proudly boast the idea that blackness is all-encompassing, it is extremely difficult to encompass a community as large and multifaceted as Black Emory. He argued that all Black students have varying ideologies and backgrounds, thus precluding equal representation of their voices in a single conversation.
Michael Andrews added that Emory seems to break into “sects of blackness.” Andrews stated that, “on campus there seems to be a lot of emphasis on defining blackness through the American lens.” According to Andrews, this creates inequity in the sense of belonging among African, Black American, and Caribbean students.
An additional question was posed by one moderator of the debate: “How do you deal with accepting a Black student who holds ideas that are separate from the norm?” Deen Whitaker
responded by stating that “being Black is not this one set of ideas,” and that a member of the Black community would not be alienated simply because they have a different experience than the majority. All speakers agreed that if, for example, a Black student were a vocal Trump supporter, they would still be welcomed into spaces such as the EBSU to engage in conversation.
The “pro” side concluded by stating that “inclusivity is in the pursuit,” as Emory has seen an increase in engagement with Black student organizations in recent years, and that the university has enacted practices to promote inclusivity within the Black community. Despite this, the “con” side concluded by questioning the extent to which these measures are actually effective in achieving their aims.
Following the debate, students participated in an Ideological Spectrum activity. Statements relating to various aspects of Black experience were read aloud, and students stood on the sides of “agree,” “disagree,” or somewhere in the middle. Topics ranged from supporting Black-owned business, interracial dating, separatism, defining blackness, and more. This activity emphasized the ideological diversity within Black Emory, in addition to providing space within The Linkup for further critical discussion.
As a sophomore involved in the Black community, I have experienced, first-hand, both sides of the argument. I have definitely felt welcomed in many of the spaces and events of Black Emory, such as this one. However, I hold the privilege of being a Black American student within an American context. I have not had to wrestle with the issues of reconciling my home culture, nationality, ethnicity, etc. to the same extent as some of my peers from differing backgrounds. In the interest of all of Black Emory, we must challenge the prevailing notion that Black Americans hold the ultimate authority on blackness, especially in multi-ethnic communities such as ours. I appreciated having my perspective challenged during the Ideological Spectrum event, as some African students shared their struggles of identifying with and relating to discussions of blackness in an American context.
Though the debate was very well-argued, I feel it only scratched the surface of some deep-rooted divisions among members of the African diaspora at Emory. Throughout my time here thus far, it has pained me to witness everything from social media wars reminiscent of “Oppression Olympics” between members of the Black community to the more subtle, unspoken tension among Black students navigating spaces on campus. I think that, in order to truly remedy these issues, they must be addressed in a less oblique manner. For the sake of unity in Emory’s Black community, we need to get straight to the heart of these issues through discussions that are candid and honest, but welcoming nonetheless.
The discussion fostered by the Ideological Spectrum activity was definitely a place to start. However, I often found myself occupying the middle ground between “agree” and “disagree” for many of the statements proposed to the group because they seemed to make sweeping generalizations about the Black community as a whole, despite our frequent emphasis that blackness is not a monolith. As River Bunkley stated during the debate, “our experiences while being Black are very different.” For centuries, we as a people have had a history of having our blackness defined for us by western society, often having notions of how Black people ought to exist force-fed to us. Therefore, I found it challenging to take a stance on blanket statements that begun with “Blacks must…” or “Black people should…” because the lived experiences of blackness are too diverse, multifaceted, and complex to fit into one set of expectations for all Black people.
Overall, I feel that this event brought light to many crucial conversations that need to be had at Emory. I look forward to seeing many more events like The Linkup which unite various groups within Black Emory and seek to bridge the gap between the many Black organizations on campus. While this preliminary event set important discussions in motion, I hope to see it serve as a springboard for Black Emory to dive deeper into the issues of inclusivity and community.
By: Kira Tucker, Staff Writer