CBC Week, Explained

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus listen during an event at the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol September 10, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

The Root’s Senior Writer Michael Harriot will be documenting his first time attending the Congressional Black Caucus’ Foundation Annual Legislative Conference in Washington DC, colloquially known at CBC Week.

What is CBC Week?

According to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s website, the CBCF Annual Legislative Conference is “the leading policy conference on issues impacting African Americans and the global black community. Thought leaders, legislators, and concerned citizens engage on economic development, civil and social justice, public health and education issues. More than 10,000 people attend 100 public policy forums and much more.”

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If a black family reunion met the March on Washington during Howard University’s Homecoming and started a long-distance relationship through a series of brunches, after a long period of courting, the couple would have a child who became the elementary school class president, eventually, finish grad school and went into public service. Of course, that baby wouldn’t be CBC Week because that is a really stupid name. But when that kid turned 26, perhaps following an after-work networking event, that child would go to Jos A. Banks and buy a suit so it could make the annual pilgrimage to Washington, DC to CBC Week.

Basically it’s like CPAC without white people. If you’re white at CBC, they make you wear kente cloth.

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This might be the reason that there are very few white people at CBC. I also suspect it’s because they are worried that they might slip up and use that racial slur.

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The n-word?

No, “uppity.”

This is basically a conference filled with the people who white people think should “get off the Democratic plantation,” and “talk about black-on-black crime.” I can almost guarantee that there’s a Senator from Tennessee or a Montana congressman staring out of the window of his office right now wondering why Washington is being overrun with uppity negroes.

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Oh, I see. So it’s a conference for black legislators.

Well, not really.

CBC is like a family reunion filled with the smart cousin who went to college and now only drinks deep reds—Merlots or Black Cherry Kool-Aid. That cousin also pledged Alpha. I don’t know why, but CBC Week feels disproportionately Alpha-heavy and lapel pin-centric. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of politicians. But for every politico, there are three Alphas, four “aides” and six bright-eyed kids straight out of college who work on Capitol Hill because they still believe they can change the world.

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One of the biggest fuelers of my imposter syndrome is the fact that I have never “worked on The Hill.” One out of three successful black people who eat sushi and bought a townhouse before they turned 30 has worked on The Hill. For the elite black east coast professionals, it’s a rite of passage. And for those who have already had their ambitious negro bar mitzvah by working on The Hill, then CBC is like Essencefest with suits.

What do suits have to do with any of this?

Well, CBC is mostly about suits.

I’m not 100 percent sure about this, but without CBC Week, the American suit industry would fail and Steve Harvey would be living below the poverty line. Every year, CBC attendees stock up on blazers, dinner jackets, slacks, chinos, khakis, pencil skirts, trousers, suit separates and, in very rare cases, three-piece deaconwear. Studies show that 73 percent of all gabardine sales happen just before CBC week. I don’t even know what gabardine is, but then again, this is my first time attending, and I can feel the gabardine in the air.

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So what happens at CBC Week?

Paneling.

What does wood paneling have to do with politics?

No, silly. I’m talking about panel discussions where four or five experts take turns giving out a little bit of information on a lot of things.

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Black people love panels because panels are basically important nigga speech orgies, and who doesn’t like that? And, like most major black conferences, CBC Week is replete with panels about empowering your community to use their voice so that we can tell our truths and share our stories. Every day is filled with panels hosted by black pundits and attended by suit-wearing people who have already taken off their ties and put on some comfortable shoes.

Or maybe they never wore ties and had on those ballet slippers the whole time.

Angela Rye hosts a panel with “The Squad.”
Photo: Michael Harriot (The Root/G-O)
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The only CBC Week activity that happens more than panels is networking. This is like networking Freaknik but instead of booty shorts and twerking, there is a lot of exchanging business cards. I’m terrible at networking because I always forget to bring business cards and I am too awkward to approach people spontaneously (which is different from being shy. I am not shy).To be successful at CBC, you must be skilled at small talk but my acute attention deficit disorder means my mind wanders very easily. So, to spare people from this awkwardness, I just don’t network.

Trust me...You don’t want to see me network.

But at CBC, many of the panels are followed by networking events and “receptions.”

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What’s the difference between a reception and a networking event?

Receptions have free drinks.

Good to know. So it’s just networking and panels?

Well, remember all that stuff I said before? Forget about it. CBC Week is really about the parties.

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Anytime black people get together, there are going to be parties. Party promotion and DJing are the second and third-most-common professions in the Washington, D.C. area (Consulting is still number one). Following each panel and networking event, there are a million parties. Conferencegoers have been known to unbutton two and sometimes three buttons on their blazers during CBC Week events. After all, we sang through slavery, jazzed through Jim Crow and sock-hopped through the civil rights struggle. So—even when addressing the complex issues that affect communities around the country—you never know when an Electric Slide might break out.

But it’s not just the late-night parties. Everyone knows that niggas in suits love day parties and CBC Week has revolutionized the day party industry by having day party afterparties. I know it sounds like you have to know astronomy and linear algebra to calculate the existence of a day party after party, but it’s basically just a party. You just have to pay twice.

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So CBC is just panels, parties and networking?

Nah.

See, all these Alphas in lapel pins and the women in sensible shoes live in the real America and they’re actually doing the real work. For these people, getting a selfie with Maxine Waters is like that time I played pool with Tupac (seriously, that happened). These people are the ones out there registering voters, organizing campaigns and fighting on their local political scene.

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Trust me, that shit is hard work. If you think Mitch McConnell is an asshole, imagine how fucked up the 10-term state senator in Bumfuck Idaho must be. Congress is fucked up. But it’s not more fucked up than the thousands of city councils and state legislatures around the country actively trying to limit the opportunities of black people. I live in the third-blackest city in America and when they passed a law to raise the minimum wage, the white, Republican state legislators who always talk about localized, small government, said “no.”

And we know why they did it.

The people out here fighting that fight need to address these concerns on a national level. But they also need to dance, too. If anyone deserves free drinks, it’s them. What good is opportunity if you can’t Wobble with it? So I’ll be here all week covering the political stories and the pre-brunch day party after work socials.

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Mostly I’ll be looking for free drinks.

So will you be wearing a suit?

Nah, but my shoes are sensible as fuck.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.