Gatekeeping is based around creating a model of what is and what is not appropriate. In our white capitalist, Judeo-Christian, patriarchal imperialist society being rich (specifically the ability to buy without care), whiteness, some kind of Christian, and an adherence to hegemonic interpretations of gender are the models that are deemed as acceptable.
Our black societies due to the context of our development in America being stripped of our traditional cultures and our subsequent failures at mass re-signification have used the white frameworks in how we view ourselves. Obviously this is hugely problematic but even through these challenges a class Black elites has developed.
In preparation for writing this I picked up Our Kind of People: Inside the American Black Upper Class authored by Lawrence Otis Graham. As I look at the organizations like The Links, Jack and Jill, The Early Black Fraternities and Sororities AKA, DST, APA, OPP, and KAP; Prestigious Black Colleges like Howard, Spellman, and Morehouse, Fisk; and activities like Cotillions what these groups aim to do, and their organizational structure there is not a whole lot of substantive difference between organizations that would be classified as elite and organizations that would be classified as street.
I think someone would be hard pressed to find an organized group of black people anywhere that doesn’t have prosperity on the agenda. Personally, I admit with some reservations that I can’t get mad at folk doing well through hard work, planning, and foresight. In fact I applaud it. Starting business, pushing education and passing down wealth from one generation to the next makes sense.
So we have to ask Graham’s question: What are we mad at the black elite for?
For some it boils down to the most basic of political questions. What is the best way to live? But I think I can consider black anti capitalists to be in the vast minority. So the bulk of the problem with the black elite isn’t found there.
It is the hypocrisy of promoting a certain example of a particular politic of respectability and not diligently working towards a world where such things are achievable without arbitrary barriers. The lack of help and civic engagement towards that end diminishes exclusivity that functions to maintain the power and position of being the example of what black folk ought to aspire.
It ceases to be about an interpretation what black folk ought to do and turns into a caste system where the few are more worthy than the many. It stops being about advocating certain principles instead it becomes about establishing a framework where one can subordinate others.
Graham speaks candidly in his book about the exclusionary politics of the black elite social groups while claiming to promote black empowerment. He discusses arbitrary membership limits to create exclusivity, having the right financial ability to gain and maintain membership and the status consumerism expected of members. You have to ask yourself if these groups are about really serious about a model of black excellence why are all the resources going to the folks who have the least need for it?
Now obviously gatekeeping is not the sole province of folks within the Black elite, the premise is applied on a variety of levels however the attention is placed where it is because this is the dominant mainstream model we are bombarded with on a daily basis. We are pressured to consume for status purposes. We are pressured to want to achieve that elite status. Before we can confront the gatekeeping and the arbitrary barriers of the caste system it maintains we first have to ask, “Is this the best way to live?” and answer “No.”