Remember when we said now wasn’t a time for the black community to turn on itself? Yeah, well that didn’t last long. And while there is a healthy way to debate without being divisive, when it comes to the Twitter war raged on Jack and Jill today we’re not sure much more than a few clever tweets came out of it.

If you’re not familiar with Jack and Jill, it’s an organization that was founded by Marion Stubbs Thomas in 1938 with the mission of “nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.” With a purpose such as that, it’s hard to imagine anyone could take issue with the organization, but when you peel back the layers of the group — or just examine the fact that membership into the club is by invitation only — it’s clear only certain future African-American leaders are privileged enough to receive said nurturing.

It’s for that reason many in the black community view Jack and Jill as nothing more than another elitist organization, more interested in separating the haves and the have nots among African Americans rather than helping all black children access education and professional development that’s been denied to us over centuries of oppression and systemic racism. And even though Black Twitter drudged up that debate today, the argument is nothing new.

A 1998 article in the New York Times, “Feeling Isolated at the Top, Seeking Roots,” noted the mixed feelings many have about the organization:

“Jack and Jill is the venerable social club for children of the black middle class, who get together for ski trips, cotillions and volunteer work. Founded 60 years ago in an era of inflexible segregation, it once organized outings like children’s swimming parties when public pools were closed to blacks. During the 1960’s and 70’s, it was threatened with becoming a pre-integration relic, and many younger blacks viewed it as elitist and — in the era of black power — misguided.

“But now a new generation of parents who have settled in the suburbs worry that their children are cut off from African-American roots. They are making Jack and Jill fashionable again. What was once a refuge against the hostility of segregation has attained a new — and paradoxical — lease on life as a bulwark against the perceived shortcomings of integration.”

In other words, access led to a loss of identity and now Jack and Jill was providing an opportunity for kids to find and reclaim their blackness again. The author continued:

“But the selectivity has also reinforced the impression in the black community that Jack and Jill is an elitist group, a taint that is particularly offensive to some because of its echoes of the ways blacks have been excluded from society in the past. ‘Jack and Jill has always had an elitist cast to it,’ said Sam Fulwood 3d, a reporter in The Los Angeles Times’s Washington bureau, who writes about race relations and is the author of ”Waking From the Dream: My Life in the Black Middle Class’ (Anchor Books, 1996). ‘Its reputation has to do with what I call the lure and loathing of being black and middle class in a post-segregated America. We want to fit in somewhere. We aren’t always accepted in the white world, and we don’t believe the stereotypes of a black world.'”

A telling quote from a Brooklyn mother ‘explained how Jack and Jill chooses whom gets one of its prestigious invitations, which the organization says is based on practicality (because chapters met in private homes). “People whom we know professionally, socially or went to college with: It must be someone who can afford the fees and the activities — like horseback riding and skiing.”

In short, by keeping those with less than — or who were perceived as such — out, Jack and Jill earned the reputation of existing simply to deepen the cultural exposure of those already privileged to be in the mix, rather than expanding the opportunities of the majority of blacks who otherwise couldn’t access such experiences due to socioeconomic and racial norms. And from its formative years, black people have taken issue with that approach, even accusing Jack and Jill of being open only to those with “good hair” who passed a brown paper bag test (which many members have denied).

Still, it’s hard to stomach that a mere 70 years or so after African Americans had been clinging to one another to survive the terror of slavery and in the midst of the Jim Crow era such division was proudly exemplified by Jack and Jill, even in the north. Or don’t African Americans of equal social standing deserve spaces of their own to flourish and bring up the next generation of successors? Not today, said Black Twitter, unless you read the tweets of those who argue outsiders have no business criticizing something they know nothing about (because they can’t get in to begin with).


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It’s not hard to see why this topic is coming to ahead again now, particularly when you look at the series of tweets @Branfire let off a week ago, the most telling of which was the fact that it’s not well-to-do black men and women who are being killed by cops, it’s the poor and disenfranchised. However, putting the responsibility of black elitism — and its undoing — solely on the shoulders of Jack and Jill is unfair, even for all of its selective faults.

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