When I was in graduate school, I enrolled in a course called Peoples of Africa. I cannot remember the name of the professor; I did not stay around long enough to get to know him well. A staunch pan-Africanist, I dropped out of the course in a huff when he got to the part where he separated Ethiopians and Sudanese from sub-Saharan Africans, using the features of the Ethiopians, with emphasis on their “aquiline” nose, to declare them “Caucasoid.” When the professor did so, I looked at him, looked hard at the pictures in my textbook of the Black people my professor was aligning with his own race, looked at him again, then decided the course, as it was being taught then, was not essential to my future career. It didn’t matter that I had no idea at the time what my career was going to be. Within months I was living in Africa, an eyewitness to the myriad variations in skin shade, nose shape, eye color, hair texture and thickness of lip of that continent’s native race, an eyewitness to the continent’s kaleidoscope of cultures and politics.
It was a veritable rhapsody in Black.
Today, more than 30 years after I walked away from my professor’s take on the peoples of Africa, I feel the same indignation as I follow the increasingly shrill debate on the “blackness” of U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama. How strange are a people who can claim with ease that Bill Clinton is the “first Black president,” yet find it difficult to accept Obama for the Black man he clearly is!
As they say in Barbados when strange things happen, “Lord, come for your world!”
Like PBS’ Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and senior correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, I have often wondered aloud where this debate about Obama’s Blackness originated, whether it really started in the Black community. Regardless of its origin, however, the truth is that this debate—with its ugly, divisive intent—is very much par for the course in the country’s presidential runnings.
That said, this issue of TNJ acknowledges the distance traveled by yet another class of its annual 25 Influential Black Women in Business. Typically, our group of honorees reflects the diversity of our professional community. It includes women who have attained the upper ranks of major corporations, key nonprofit institutions and government agencies, as well as women who have built highly successful businesses of their own. It also includes African-American women and women of immigrant origin. They are bound by their Blackness and by the road they have had to travel to attain their level of success because, in part, of that Blackness.
They, too, are a rhapsody in Black.
Also in this issue, we turn the spotlight on the upper ranks of the advertising, marketing and public relations industries. Here, we find little color. As Glenn Townes writes, “In an industry known for perfect pitches, jolly jingles and funny phrases, the advertising business is far less colorful in its managerial and executive ranks.”
|By Rosalind McLymont|