Certainly, this piece may upset some readers and cause some to roll their eyes, but as difficult as it may be to believe this, its intention isn’t to arouse these sentiments in the audience. It is to educate and merely contribute to the current conversations that are helping us to identify solutions to some of the problems that trouble the worldwide black community.
An invisible obstacle in plain sight
There’s something that disturbs black communities universally. It appears insignificant, almost ridicule, something that could be found in the trivial section of a newspaper. Don’t be fooled, it’s vicious precisely because the victims are unaware of it. I call it Unity-in-Fun.
A few years back, during my undergraduate studies, I transferred from a community college to a large public university in the state of Maryland. I was thrilled at the idea of being surrounded by a big population of black folks, some my junior others my senior, in an academic environment. During the first two weeks, I spent quite some time touring the campus.
As I wondered around I began to recognize that proportionally, black students represented a very small percentage of the student body, and this distressed me. I understood that this disparity on campus reflects the real world, where stakes are much higher.
Still, I was smitten by the diversity of the black community on campus. Why? Because I’ve lived in an African country for over a decade, but never had I encountered people from more than a handful of other African countries. During my time at the university however, I’ve met and built friendships with Kenyans, Nigerians, Sudanese, and really the whole spectrum of Africans. It was truly, the African Union on campus.
I even became close with blacks from the Caribbean. I mean, to me, it was an exhilarating environment where I was around black intellectuals who were going to lay the building blocks of their lives together.
Symptoms of unity-in-fun
Soon enough though, disappointment settled in. I observed a behavioral pattern within this black community and I found this to be unfortunate. On campus, this community founded a plethora of clubs that each had its own agenda. Essentially though, each group wanted to achieve the common goal of fostering the growth of black students through academics, social events, and even religion.
Curious as I was, I attended a few of the club meetings and they were quite electrifying. We discussed planning for events such as pageantry to promote “black culture”. When the clubs wanted to organize such events, students’ ingenuity was galvanized. Everyone had the best idea to offer for the party to become a resounding success. Often, we invited black students from other universities to join in and display a show of force. It was great.
Here was the issue: when we wanted to organize something academic, this same enthusiasm vanished. Suddenly, people became too busy to attend meetings and oddly, those who did displayed an acute sense of criticism that wasn’t present when the groups wanted to organize parties, pageants, or whatever it was. I will discuss an anecdote to make my point.
A private equity club that simply vanished
During my penultimate year at the university, someone who I had met at the library some time ago, informed me that he wanted to form a business club on campus. He briefly explained to me that him and some friends wanted to create a private equity club. It would also act as a bona fide investment vehicle through which members could invest in projects across Africa.
Immediately I liked the idea, at least I wanted to learn more. I activated my network and so did the other founding members, some of whom were also active in other black clubs on campus. I began to imagine that we were on to something great. We were going to create a club that decades later, would still be operational and become potentially impactful.
Despite our herculean efforts to invite people and to promote the club, we’ve never managed to sit in more than ten people during any meeting. Perhaps we were naïve, and we simply failed to attract students. Even if this was the case, I noticed that other clubs that organized parties and outings, didn’t have to struggle to attract at least an initial interest. In fact, during some of their meetings, due to a lack of sitting capacity, students stood up or sat on the floor. Our case wasn’t particular- it was an instance in a pattern of behavior that I’ve observed, and which is a handicap in the black community.
My example occurred in a school environment, but after I graduated and entered the job market the environment changed, but predictably the content remained the same. During family reunions, birthday parties, wedding receptions, holiday festivities, etc., black people simply know how to unite and have fun. But, when comes time to build something constructive and lasting, the great unity that we evangelize about seems elusive. It’s like a magician’s trick.
This isn’t a generalization- it’s a call for improvement
At this point, it’s important that you understand I’m not undermining the collective effort that black people, in the past and now, undertake to promote the development of their communities. Also, being united in having fun is not the issue here. The problem is that our unity in fun supersedes our unity in work. Still, remember that an imperative part of personal growth or community progress is to always improve, even at those things that we already do well.
Also, notice that I haven’t made any comparison between the black community and other communities. The gauge for our success isn’t what other communities have achieved, because this is misguided. The gauge is what we can potentially accomplish but we haven’t been able to do so.
What can we do about this?
Never one to criticize or to identify a problem without proposing a solution, regardless of how inadequate, I have a three reminders that would help us to cease being victims of unity-in-fun:
- We need to contribute an equal or greater amount of solidarity in enduring activities and economic endeavors, as we do in leisure pursuits. If we’re united in having fun, we must be even more united in succeeding
- We must begin to appreciate shared success. In solidarity pursuits, sometimes we must embrace community recognition in lieu of individual gratitude. That’s fine because in the long term, the community is stronger and its members have more leverage to achieve greater individual success
- Finally, let’s make a concerted effort to inculcate these principles in our children very early on because behaviors and convictions aren’t easily altered in old age.
In constantly remembering those points, we should be able to concoct an antidote to what I call the unity-in-fun syndrome, so that we can develop a sense of unity-in-working, unity-in-helping, unity-in-forgiving, etc., you get the idea. I look forward to a comment section that’s constructive and helpful in identifying other ways through which we can combat this vexatious issue.