In The Room And Nothing To Show For It
My mother used to say, “How can white folk lose when whites are for whites and blacks are for whites. They can’t lose.”
If ever there was an example, it’s disgraced former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. She willingly allowed herself to be a tool of the white power structure. Everyone knows the Cleveland native was hired as CEO to be the Black face to close 49 of the city’s neighborhood public schools in predominantly African American communities, the same as her predecessor—Jean Claude Brizard. Both of them were hired because they’re Black and had no local ties to the South and West Sides of the city.
This method of using Black people to fool, control or harm other Black people is nothing new. For centuries, the relationship between our nation’s white power structure and Black people continues to be, “I can buy me a Black person.” Instead of buying us from atop an auction block, today, they buy us to do their bidding with jobs, contracts or a title.
I call it the “In The Room Syndrome.” Some of us are so happy to be in the room rubbing shoulders with the rich and/or powerful, after being denied access for so long, that we will do whatever it takes to maintain our spot. Now, I realize that everyone has to put food on his or her table, but it should not be at the expense of those who need an advocate the most.
When the Walter H. Dyett High School protestors ended their hunger strike, earlier this month, some observers and detractors admonished them for not doing a “happy dance” when the administration announced the shuttered building would reopen as a neighborhood school. Never mind that no one from CPS ever talked to the protestors about the school’s future.
For five years, some of the protestors diligently worked in tandem with the University of Illinois and community residents to create a 500-page plan for Dyett to remain an open enrollment, public high school specializing in Global Leadership and Green Technology. Instead, in what is being promoted as a compromise, the last neighborhood high school in Bronzeville will re-open with an arts curriculum.
Hunger striker and Bronzeville resident Cathy Dale said, “We want to create a world-class institution that’s sustainable.”
In other words, prepare the new Dyett students in the areas of the economy where experts predict growth for sustainable employment. Something former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke agrees is needed to help working families share in the nation’s prosperity.
“We need better training and skills to get people prepared so they can compete in the global economy,” said Bernanke on “ABC This Week.”
In yet another compromise, the University of Chicago and Sinai Health System announced construction of a Level 1 Trauma Center at Holy Cross Hospital on the city’s Southwest Side. This agreement is the result of years of protests by a myriad of groups–doctors, students, activists and residents.
It’s another example of Chicagoans pushing back against the white power structure that purports to know what’s best for Black and brown residents who live in a trauma desert even though they are the disproportionate victims of traumatic incidents. Again, no one from the city sat down with the protestors to say, “How do we work together to ensure this collaboration best addresses the needs of our city?”
The admission of guilt by Barbara Byrd Bennett managed to knock off another city appointee from the headlines. Since Superintendent Garry McCarthy assumed leadership of the Chicago Police Department hundreds of people have been killed and thousands shot.
In what has become a rare sight, the City Council Black Caucus held a news conference calling for McCarthy’s dismissal. Both he and the Mayor rebuffed the Black aldermen’s demand.
“My focus…and I want everyone’s focus…is on gangs and guns, not on Garry,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
For each of these examples, there were Black people defending the status quo. Some even reprimanded protestors for daring to challenge the city’s white power structure.
Just six months ago, Mayor Emanuel told Black Chicagoans he would listen, if only we would re-elect him. So far, he has said NO to an elected school board, NO to the Dyett protestors, NO to the City Council Black Caucus and ignored the trauma center activists.
In an 1857 speech former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” He was foretelling the role of Blacks in the Civil War. The most famous line from the speech is, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
With freedom comes responsibility. The responsibility to know your worth and to make the white power structure work to improve your quality of life, not maintain the status quo—no matter what color the face is looking at you.
Barbara Byrd Bennett didn’t betray us by herself. She had help. She was not alone in the room.