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Rethinking Nationalism: Seeking Answers for Future Black Voices

Rethinking Nationalism: Seeking Answers for Future Black Voices

All of the organizations I am aware of that conduct statistical analyses of demographic information indicate that the United States is rapidly becoming a more diverse place (e.g., U.S. Census, 2000). Many of the major newspapers such as the Washington Post on March 7, 2003, seemed eager to print stories about Hispanics “overtaking” Blacks as the nation’s largest “minority.” As I read statistical analyses and newspaper articles about the new demographics, and as I travel to conferences such as the Color Lines Conference at Harvard University this past fall, I see a trend unfolding on the academic front. I call the trend Black “de-nationalization.” The trend involves the simultaneous action of increasing nationalism among non-Black groups (such as Latinos) amid the decreasing sense of nationalism in the Black community. 
Cultural nationalism includes a group having the sense that they represent a “nation” or a unified “nation that is within a nation.” Nationalists believe that their particular group should behave in ways that indicate the following: (1) group solidarity and group betterment, and (2) an unspoken acknowledgement among group members that they are in competition with other groups.  As the nation diversifies, incoming groups are quickly realizing that they can benefit from group nationalism. For example Japanese people, Chinese people, and other groups of people from the Far East come to the United States and are classified as “Asians.”  Guatemalans, Hondurans and Puerto Ricans come to the United States and are classified as “Hispanics” or “Latinos.” Once people are “grouped up,” they then become, for all practical purposes, “teams.” The teams fight for resources and power by lobbying Congress, building institutions in their communities, and by teaching their children how to compete with other groups for resources and power. 
An example of group nationalism among Blacks was seen in the 1960s movement. Though not all Blacks were involved in the movement, there was enough involvement to maintain a sentiment of Black nationalism. Today, however, many Black leaders and scholars are encouraging Blacks away from nationalism, and toward a more racially inclusive strategy that has advanced practices such as including Blacks into a group called “people of color” and/or “minorities.” The aforementioned “groups” are not well defined, but seem to include everyone except Whites. While Blacks are encouraged to “de-nationalize,” other groups are creating organizations and institutions within their communities with purposes and missions that I and others who study nationalism consider to be nationalistic (see La Raza, Casa del Pueblo, League of United Latin American Citizens, M.E.Ch.A., Asian Diversity).
While Black leaders and scholars encourage Blacks to move toward multicultural and/or people of color “approaches” to empowerment, it follows that the results of the work that Blacks have done to empower themselves and their “team” (e.g. acquiring resources such as college scholarships, employment, acquiring cultural capital such as hip hop, and reparations) will be shared with other groups who are competing with Blacks.
  Meanwhile, groups that behave nationalistically reap the group-specific benefits of behaving in the insular way that nationalism encourages. The equation is simple: Blacks de-nationalize and share the fruits of their struggle with “people of color” a.k.a. “minorities” while other “minority” groups garner their resources for themselves by operating under the precepts of nationalistic sentiment. Our children will live with the results of our decision to de-nationalize. They will want to know why we opted to move away from Black nationalism.
Are there any good answers for those future Black voices? 

— Dr. Kmt G. Shockley is assistant professor of education at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

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