Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Beyond Race

BOND: Have you ever felt that this designation, this "black before leader", for you is limiting in any way? That it restricts you in any way?

CHAMBERS: I don't think it restricts me. I think it's – and some people would think it was demeaning. But I don't – I don't really worry that much about that. If I'm doing something that will help people, and particularly black people, I don't worry about the characterization.

BOND: I guess I didn't mean in a demeaning kind of way, but just that – the expectations that some people say, "Oh, well, you know, that's what he does; he's a black leader and we expect that." And it's great, wonderful. But that it somehow limits you. I guess I do mean restricts you. That if you had an idea that was race-neutral that people wouldn't pay any attention to it, because it is not expected of you.

CHAMBERS: Well, that's perhaps one way of looking at it. I think if I had a race-neutral idea –

BOND: I'm not saying that you don't.

CHAMBERS: If I had a race-neutral idea that I could demonstrate would really be beneficial to all people – even though coming from a black person who is involved in it – that it could be accepted by folk across a racial line, an ethnic line, an idea that was in the best interest of all of us and one could move – whoever it comes from. But I think those questions sort of reflect the problem that we will be working with and confronted by in years to come; namely, how do we get beyond the race issue? And we aren't going to get beyond the race issue until we can really put it aside and can ensure that people are being accorded rights and opportunities without consideration of race.

BOND: I am not quite sure if I know how to put this, but I can imagine that if you had an idea that would advance the status, the economic status of Appalachian whites in North Carolina who are a population more poor than the rest, I wonder what kind of reception this idea would receive? Assuming it's a wonderful idea, a great idea. And whether or not you would feel comfortable in promoting this idea.

CHAMBERS: Well, certainly I would feel comfortable in promoting the idea. I think whether it would be accepted would depend how discriminatory we are, all are, black and white, in our belief and thoughts about people because they are poor. And to me the Appalachian problem is one where we reflect our disdain, and people will argue about that, for people who are poor. And we aren't worried about really providing help and assistance for them. If we were interested in really helping people, whatever their race, in Appalachia, we would be doing the same thing that we do now for the oil companies and the cigarette industry and others. But we aren't that committed yet. So, to me, if I had an idea of how we could help the people in Appalachia, we would get a reception based on the way that people view folk who are poor.