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The Problem with Minorities in Architecture



B.T. Washington

W.E.B. DuBoise


Minorities do not have an architectural client base

No one told us this cold hard truth and therefore we labored under the assumption that we had a place in the architectural community. And indeed we did, to the extent we were able to influence policy within HUD and redevelopment agencies nationwide.

But for those who dreamed of accomplishing something more, the fact that minorities do not invest in architecture in order to shelter their assets never occurred to us.

The Middle Class Solution

But there was something far more insidious at work concerning our presence in the architectural community. Similar to events played out in Africa's decolonization in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, minority presence at the College of Environmental Design (CED) was an act of decolonization of its own. After centuries of colonization in America and then decades of denied access to technical professions, CED's efforts to open its doors to minorities was a strategy; a process of inclusion meant to deliver status, but not economic power into the hands of an elite educated few, loyal to European architectural ideals and its industrial and financial machinery.

The stratagem was not new. It had been employed effectively in Africa since the 1940's, and even earlier in America. The conflict between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington on how to proceed with African American liberation after emancipation centered on this issue. Whereas Washington favored autonomous development within Black owned and operated technical schools, DuBois fought for civil liberty.

Eventually DuBois won the debate but his vision as it turned out had fatal flaws. He immensely under estimated the thirst his elite or any minority elite has for white privilege long denied. Furthermore, he did not anticipate the impact integration would have on African American economic initiative. The destruction of an autonomous African American economy, when it was finally assimilated by the American economy at large, created a situation where self-interest and private gain allowed the best opportunities for undertaking a genuine African American liberation to be lost.


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