As Black Socialite said, "more lives have been positively transformed than negatively impacted because of our existence."
During this season of celebrations for the establishment of these orgs and for the centennials and 100+ birthdays of many of the NPHC groups, many people--non-affiliated and affiliated--use the Talented Tenth to explain who and what we are.
People, please: Cut that ish out.
W. E. B. DuBois described the talented tenth as the following:
when society develops the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races. Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers.Ideally, members of the talented tenth "sets the ideals of the community where he lives, directs its thoughts and heads its social movements."
The ideal fell short when put into practice. DuBois disavowed and decried the use of the talented tenth later in life.
Yet we continue to use this term to describe who we are. But we aren't. Once upon a time, we may have been the creme de la creme, the true talented tenth, the social and intellectual leaders. But even E. Franklin Frazier disrupted that notion. Deborah Whelan talked about this in her book, Disciplining Women (which focused on AKA):
Members of these BGLOs may appear at times to succumb to the dominant conceptualization of aesthetics and the capitalist-driven ethos of what E. Franklin Frazier called their "conspicuous consumption." Frazier noted that the first eight of the NPHC BGLOs spent a total of $2,225,000 in 1952 on cotillions and other social parties. In response, the organizations argue that their lavish parties fund their core civic and community development programs.
Few members and chapters hold enough independent wealth to fund their local and national community work without fund-raisers, thus the reality of their social aspect and their avowed selfless benevolence no doubt lies somewhere in the middle of both positions.
Partying and kicking it? Spending over 2 million on flowers, decoration, entertainment and probably liquor? Include other items such as liquor, wax statues, appearances from 1990s New Jack Swing artists, lingerie, and St. John suits, and you can replace 1952 with 2010 or 2011 easily.
And it was expected that community leadership will emerge from our ranks. Fail. Now, that's a fallacious assumption to assume that the best and the brightest in the race will come from the talented tenth and BGLOs. See these examples of community leaders and national leaders with no BGLO letters:
A. The Obamas (Peep the NY Times article to see the commotion caused after the announcement of her acceptance of the AKA invitation to membership. Until I see pictures from her proclaimed AKA initiation, I refuse to claim Michelle Obama in the Greekdom sisterhood.), creator of Grey's Anatomy
B. Damn never every Black folk in the White House
C. Kamala Harris
D. Corey Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ
E. Majora Carter, founder Sustainable South Bronx
F. Ursula Burns, CEO Xerox
G. Richard Parsons, CEO of Time Warner
H. Oprah Winfrey (who wanted to be down at Tennessee State but was rejected/not accepted)
I. Shonda Rimes
This list can go on. But I'm tired of counting who isn't in our ranks.
The takeaway from this rant:
We are not the Talented Tenth.
Not. Even. Close.
Once upon a time, we got the opportunity to be that group DuBois wanted us to be. But we have failed (and we are still failing).