According to a CBS News article, a controversy has arisen regarding the decision by the “Great Tornado” marching band of Talladega College, a historically black college and university (HBCU) located in Talladega, Alabama, to participate in the inauguration parade of President-elect Donald J. Trump on January 20.
At first glance, it would be easy to assume the consternation being expressed is merely the fruit of an ideological rejection of Donald Trump by certain individuals close to this venerable institution.
And though I do not doubt that to be the case, I would argue that more lies beneath the surface. Namely, the long-held stereotypical view that black Americans, whether individually or institutionally (as in the case of Talladega College), should myopically support the ideals and activities of the Democrat Party and its candidates.
This mindset is not exclusive to white Democrats, as evidenced by remarks made by First Lady Michelle Obama – an African-American woman – to African-American voters just days before the presidential election in November 2016:
“That’s my message to [African-American] voters. This isn’t about Barack. It’s not about the person on the ballot — it’s about you [African-Americans]. And for most of the people that we’re talking to [African-American voters], a Democratic ticket is the clear ticket that we [African-Americans] should be voting on, regardless of who said what or did this. That shouldn’t even come into the equation.”
We need not be naive about what is actually going on here.
The reality is that had Hillary Clinton been elected and not Donald Trump, I wouldn’t be writing this blog article because there would be no controversy to write about.
The reason is clear enough: Hillary Clinton is a Democrat and African Americans – simply because they are African American – are obliged to do whatever the Democrat Party requires of them.
It is a stereotype whose genesis traces back more than half a century.
With all due respect to the alumni, faculty, and student body of Talladega College, the fact is the institution would not exist were it not for the aid of Republicans like Union Army General Wager Swyane, who was a member the Freedman’s Bureau.
In fact, the vast majority of HBCUs can attribute their origins to the fact that during the Reconstruction Era the Republican Party advocated for the education of former slaves and their children, whereas the Democrat Party did everything it could to deny them access to such opportunities.
Ultimately, this “controversy”, such as it is, is not about Donald Trump. Nor Hillary Clinton. Nor is it about to whom kudos are due for establishing the many HBCUs that exist across our country today.
To whatever extent the alumni and supporters of Talladega College are opposed to the worldview of Donald Trump – as is their solemn right – what brings about change in people’s minds and hearts is dialogue not distance.
Which begs the question: What do those who are protesting this decision by Talladega College really gain by its marching band refusing to participate in the Trump inaugural parade (as many other performers have done)?
At best it will have “made a statement” (as statements go).
At worst it will have robbed an historic institution of the opportunity to build on its legacy by participating in one of the truly unique events in American history, while accomplishing nothing toward ameliorating the concerns that gave rise to this particular disputation to begin with.
When all is said and done, the discussion over the participation of the Talladega College marching band in Trump’s inauguration parade is less about politics and more about the legacy of an institution that was founded on the principle of opening minds not closing them.
And yet this is not always an easy goal to pursue.
It wasn’t easy on November 20, 1865, when Talladega College was founded by two former slaves, nor will it be easy on January 20, 2017 when Donald J. Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
Nevertheless, I say, let the Great Tornado march.
And let the great discourse begin.
Humbly in Christ,
This post first appeared here on Darrell B. Harrison's website and was reprinted with permission.