I spoke about
the troubling state of class, gender and generational
disconnectedness in the black community with
Professor Charles Ogletree, one of the
nationís leading experts on race and justice issues.
Ogletree serves as the director of Harvard Law Schoolís
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.
This article is the second segment of three.
Perryman: We have been
discussing gaps within the black community, socio- economic
gaps. I want to get your thoughts on the gender and other
gaps within the community.
Ogletree: I think thatís
what Iíve talked about, weíve got to figure out a way to
make sure that we donít lose what weíve already gained and
thatís whatís happening right now because folks are getting
further separated. As I said, for the black community,
thatís very, very shocking and very sad and very
unfortunate. Weíve got to do something to address it. And I
hope it happens sooner rather than later.
Perryman: Well, I
remember in my youth we had welfare recipients and black
doctors or lawyers sitting in the same pew and serving on
the same deacon board. Today, our churches seem to be
segregated along class lines. So you see institutions made
up of all middle class or all upper middle class or the
inner city underclass. The under-privileged, also are often
kicked to the curb by many contemporary churches.
Ogletree: Well, I had a
very interesting conversation with ministers from Detroit to
St. Louis who were pleading with people to come and help
their cities. And I asked them where do most of your
parishioners live? And this is Reverend Charles Blake in
Detroit and another minister, in St. Louis. And they said,
ďWell, you know they donít live in the city,Ē meaning the
St. Louis city or the city of Detroit.
They live in the suburbs
but they still come and worship because their family has had
links to this church for 50 years. And thatís good and
thatís also bad. Itís good because they can continue to do
it but thereís nothing in the city for them. And the
question is what you can give to folks in the city that will
make them want to come back. And I think itís very hard,
itís very difficult.
Perryman: Talk a little
bit about what you have termed, ďthe lynching of black
women,Ē speaking of the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas black
sexual stereotypes and sexual harassment drama that was
played out in prime time television and on the national
stage a while back.
Ogletree: A very classic
example. I donít know what your experience was, itís just
that a lot of people came from the position that they
couldnít understand why there were no black men in front and
thinking ďletís just figure out what really happened.Ē
Perryman: I do know that
sexism and patriarchy are a major challenge for the black
church, despite its religiosity. Traditionally, it has felt
that a womanís place was in the home and not in leadership.
And thatís a shame.
But I also know that none
of our national organizations - NAACP, National Urban
League, SCLC or CORE, with perhaps a very brief exception,
has been led by a black woman. Liberation and leadership for
the community has almost always been identified with black
Ogletree: Right. So black
men refused to speak out against black womenís oppression or
harassment in these Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
They said, ďWell, you know these things happen. We canít
discuss all that. This is our brother.Ē I said, ďWell, it
matters in a big way.Ē And itís changed. But in 1991, I was
really surprised to see so many folks with this different
view about issues of race and gender. And I think that
weíve changed because you can see Anita Hill and the change,
all in terms of what she believes in and what she does.
And Clarence Thomas has
turned out to be the conservative ideologue that some people
thought he would be and some people thought that he wouldnít
be. But it turned out that he was exactly who he said he was
going to be. But it wasnít that we were getting a Thurgood
Marshall, somebody who was looking out for us and making
sure that our interests were served. It was very different.
Perryman: So what do you
think is the significance of the Hill/Thomas event for 21st
Century gender relations in the black community,
particularly with rising numbers of single black females and
the prisons populated with vast numbers of African-American
Ogletree: I think a lot
has changed. I think we see now the fact that women have
been successful and have advanced in many areas since Hill.
We look at people like Oprah Winfrey in terms of the
entertainment industry and what she has been able to do.
People see the way that Michelle Obama has been a role model
for children about nutrition, health, diet and working
together as a very positive example of what you can
accomplish. Susan Taylor, who has worked at Essence Magazine
for a long time, has her own effort reaching out to women
and children and talking about the importance of the family.
And I think thatís part of the next step in things that will
be going forward so Iím very optimistic about the future.
Perryman: Not to mention
how private and public organizations have had to review,
revise and implement policies that take the issue of sexual
harassment much more seriously as a result.
Ogletree: I think that has
come out very powerfully. And I think thatís a good sign of
what we can do and what we should do.
Rev. Dr. Donald Perryman at