Organization of Black Students explains purpose

By Reginald Greene and Blaine Lee

“The purpose of the Organization of Black Students (OBS) at the University of Chicago shall be to provide an organizational framework to address issues of concern to the Black community…The Organization of Black Students shall endeavor to build a better understanding of the Black experience that, through its members, programs, resources and functions, will permeate the University atmosphere. In this respect, OBS shall contribute to the pursuit of multicultural expression, understanding, and awareness.” – Mission Statement: Organization of Black Students at the University of Chicago

Established in 1968, OBS has been a progressive group of black students trying to create a better community for black students. Since then, black students have increased in number to four percent of the University’s population. Civil rights were enforced and instances of unashamed racial injustice started to dwindle in number. Black leaders came and went; black representatives entered Congress in numbers for the first time since Reconstruction. Indeed, the University and the world beyond this elite campus have changed for the apparent better in the 35 years since the creation of OBS. But now we, as a group and race, are confronted with a different reality. An institutional racism stares us in the eyes instead of the potential fire hoses our 35-year senior counterparts faced.

The board of OBS felt it was time to speak to some of the issues that were presented in this newspaper on November 7 by one of your writers, Barney Keller. Assimilation in any form has never been and never will be OBS’s mission. In regard to the way in which the term was used, it seems as though many scholars could dispute the definition as shown in Keller’s article: “Is it not to try to assimilate blacks and other minorities into the university community as just students, and not as black students? Too often, the racism of a few lives on and expands because young black students refuse to pursue that assimilation, to be treated the same.”

A few black students, namely members of cultural organizations, are not willing to seek the goal of assimilation. Neither OBS nor any other cultural organization that we know of in a college setting has had the goal of assimilation. Even so, the use of assimilation is ill-put if it is supposed to encourage a positive image.

In the world of race politics, assimilation is a tricky term that comments on the idea of “losing the race,” of denying one’s ethnic or racial identity for the identity of the majority culture. We assume that we’d all like to live in a world where color would not be a dominant denotation of character and experience, but currently it is for all people. That said, the assimilation to which Keller refers is not assimilation at all, but rejection of race. To truly assimilate would be something that no one wants for our humanity; no one wants to lose the individuality that lies in each of us. People go to different schools, pursue different majors, and enter different job fields because we are all, in fact, different and we all take pride in our differences.

The fact that Keller can so easily mix up his terms in the pages of our student-run paper at this institution frightens us, as an organization. It tells us that there is a definite need for OBS and organizations like us if finger pointing and these kinds of “reject-the-race” views are still present in the current discourse.

The second part of the aforementioned quote is even more scandalous and disheartening. Keller gets cause and effect mixed up in his analysis of “young black students” and racism. The overreaction and the so-called perpetuation of “victimhood” by young black students is not a reasonable cause of racism.

Institutional triggers are a reasonable cause of racism. Actual acts of disenfranchisement and inequality (that education system’s distribution of funds, the educational gaps amongst the races, incarceration rates of African Americans, retention rate of African American students, etc.) are the current perpetuating causes of racism. Acts such as police harassment on our campus towards black males, absolute classroom insensitivity to black issues, a lack of interest in black studies in our curriculum, and many other things of that nature invade black students’ daily lives. The effect is a generation of black students that reacts vehemently to those rare blatant discriminations because the covert discriminations are already frequent Keller represents the majority when he brushes away institutional racism as instances of oversensitivity by the black community and cultural organizations. Very rarely on a predominately white campus will you find an environment that welcomes discussion of the needs and issues of the black community because often they are not seen as urgent, relevant, or existent, but this is where our organization’s purpose lies.

The sheer lack of numbers (on this campus of black students) creates a need to show the rest of the community that we are like everyone else, but that we have a different culture and background.

It seems unfair that we are seen as racist by merely taking pride in our culture. There is no point in being delusional and believing that we live in a utopia in which our color doesn’t matter, when it does. Forms of racism are present in our lives constantly and it is the job of us all to understand one another. OBS is an inclusive organization seeking to discuss the issues that affect the black community on campus and abroad. We encourage people to come to our events and our meetings so they can experience for themselves what we do to enhance the dialogue from which Keller believes we run. Hopefully readers can see that Keller was far from the truth when examining the mentality of black students, at least on this campus. We are looking to fix this unequal society, but we cannot do it by losing ourselves, losing our culture, or compromising our varied opinions. We are different people with different ideologies and that should be appreciated for its importance to a dialogue. We need more people to be a part of the solution and not the problem; you’re a part of the problem when you point fingers. We as an organization are not here to point fingers, but to address and try to fix the problem of racism on our campus and in society.