Archive | March 2006

Insight: Bite your tongue!?!

““Some freedoms of speech make me nervous.”- Saul Williams
It’s invoked all the time, debated regularly, and thought to be fundamental to this nation: freedom of speech. If you watch the headlines swoop by on CNN or listen to talk radio, you know that freedom of speech is a pretty dangerous topic these days. A couple of recent stories have made me wonder how free we are to say things, especially considering the Right’s well crafted attempt to limit vocal descent.

The other night I found myself watching a CSPAN broadcast of David Horowitz at Duke University. Now I knew what to expect, disparaging comments to the audience, indictment of the Left, conspiracy theories about higher education shutting out conservatives, largely the same fair he’s been serving since he introduced his Academic Rights campaign a few years ago. But while watching, it dawned on me, that this man, who had never spent any time teaching, even less time researching, and most of his time making noise was going to affect my ability to speak in the classroom.

Since I’ve been blogging I’ve made clear that I’m not a journalist. I make no faux-appeal to objectivity but since I’ve been teaching I’ve attempted to fill the criterion of semi-objective instructor. Now I say semi-objective because I’d be lying to you if I said I do not have ideological leaning and that I didn’t attempt to present multiple perspectives to both challenge students and throw them off the scent of my leanings. I’ve always taken this as part of good critical pedagogy. But with the arrival of the Campus Watch and even more evidence that freedom of speech is not protected during instruction, I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to express myself.

A small example, several times a year I give a guest lecture on Race and Ethnicity. One of the first things I do is have students point to their neighbor and say, “You’re a racist.” I then have them repeat the process so that everyone has pointed at someone and been pointed at. Then I tell them, “Now that we’ve all been called a racist and called someone a racist, we can put away our racist fingers and stop keep a tally of who is racist.” The idea behind the exercise is to begin to de-stigmatize the concept of racism. I often find most people think of racism as simply riding on horseback and burning crosses, while avoiding the subtle ways we contribute to systems of oppression. But at the end of my lecture last week, I kept getting a question that hadn’t really bothered me much in the past, but this time around it did. “Why are you calling me a racist?” which is usually coupled with “Why use the term racist?” In the past, I’ve simply gone into a discussion of racism as sickness that we all have to deal with and that labeling it properly is the first step to healing it. But as I talked, I found it necessary to insert, “it’s my belief that…” Now one could say that I naturally imply that all things are my belief, but saying it out loud was troubling. I was not concerned that students knew I had an “agenda”. Instead I was concerned that they wouldn’t understand that what I presented for 50 minutes was scientific and grounded.

I believe the education I provide about social inequality should make you uncomfortable, should make you challenge your prior thinking, and should make you realize that at the age of 18, 21, or 35 that you don’t have the world figured out. I realize we’re now in the middle of a well crafted movement to once again have our voices limited, but this time through more savvy, okay semi-savvy means. David Horowitz and his cronies are hell-bent on getting rid of ideologues and the disciplines that support them (humanities and some social sciences). I’ve heard him repeatedly make claims that instructors in these disciplines simply advance their perspective uncritically. In my own teaching this couldn’t be further from the truth, but I wonder in a couple of years will my name make it into his next book, or will I be subject to a witch-hunt for my blog, or have my job called for because I asked students to take responsibility for the systems of oppression that they participate in?

Insight

I’m excited to introduce a new feature to The SuperSpade today called “Insight.” On the third Friday of every month, Dumi from Black at Michigan will present thoughts and observations on what’s happened over the last month from the perspective of a genius.

We thank Dumi for coming onboard and welcome him to The SuperSpade. Enjoy.

When White people say Black

I like to think of myself as pretty affable but one thing that burns me is when I hear White people use the term, Black to refer to African Americans. For me, I think the use of that term by Whites should be as nearly prohibited as using the term nigga. Now I personally define myself as Black and use this term to talk about members of the Diaspora. However, when White people use this term, the hair on the back of my neck rises. And for as misleading that I think the term African-American is, I feel relieved when White people use it.

What do you think?

Stay up fam,

Brandon

A Poverty of the Mind

It has been requested that I post my thoughts on “A Poverty of the Mind,” an opinion piece in the NY Times that was put out in response to the story that was the subject of “Is the Black Man in America doomed?” piece. “A Poverty of the Mind” speaks to what the author, Orlando Patterson, sees as what Black men have done/are doing to put themselves in the position that they are in. This position, like any other, has both merits and flaws. We can talk about both here.

Responsibility for one’s self is a basic truth of life. To ignore this responsibility is to completely victimize yourself or put yourself completely at the mercy of another. During different parts of life, there are differing levels of this self-responsibility. Children at birth do not have this responsibility. As they grow and mature, the responsibility is passed onto them, for some at a faster pace than others? At some [arbitrary] point, it all rests on them (where this point is is up for discussion, as I cannot pinpoint it exactly).

The question becomes, how do you measure how well you are doing in your own self-responsibility? I say it depends on your situation and your needs. Part of the answer to this question is in found in the “cultural explanations” that Patterson suggests. He says that “a cultural explanation of black male self-destructiveness addresses not simply the immediate connection between their attitudes and behavior and the undesired outcomes, but explores the origins and changing nature of these attitudes, perhaps over generations, in their brutalized past. It is impossible to understand the predatory sexuality and irresponsible fathering behavior of young black men without going back deep into their collective past.”

This is the truth. This exploration of cultural history will answer a lot of questions about origins of attitudes. However, I don’t think that it will reveal that Black men have a disposition that makes them more vulnerable to lies and images from the media as a result of their culture. I do think, though, that he will find that media assualt on the psyche combined with availability of the mind due to lack of activity (school, work) combined with an affinity towards a certain type of music may result in certain things seeming more attractive, accessible, and attainable: more “cool.” It is the combination that creates this. What I caution people not to do is look at cultural history in a vacuum. Environments and circumstances help to shape culture. Likewise, culture alters environments and circumstances. To examine one without the other is not meaningful, and Patterson says that we have only be looking at the environment and not the culture. Fair enough, but I do not want to see us move to the opposite extreme. Using the two together, we can identify ways to change both culture and environment in ways beneficial to our people. He makes the assertion that it may be easier to change culture. If that is true, then we can make cultural changes while at the same time changing our social, political, and economic environments (more on this below).

There are things that are in my mind unquestionably irresponsible: promiscuity and predatory sex, laziness in regard to challenging yourself and your mind, willful ignorance. I don’t see listening to 50 Cent or aspiring for a career in professional athletics as ignorant or irresponsible in and of itself. The ignorance comes in at the point where the mindset is “This is all I know. This is my only option, my only way out, my only way to survive or succeed.” That ignorance can be combatted by making other options visible. How do we do that? Mentorship. Mentorship, mentorship, mentorship. Personal relationships change everything. Culture, environment, mindset, everything. How can one mentor change an entire neighborhood? Long and short, easy and difficult journeys, all start with one step.

A flaw in Patterson’s approach, however, is demonstrated by the [in or out of context] words of Detroit Mackenzie High School Principal Bernard Bonam who said that the students “didn’t give a doggone thing about their education…”. The danger with this is that it is based on his assumptions on the motivations of certain student behaviors. To Bonam, the student’s culture in anti-education. Well, I’m no anthropologist, but I do know that part of culture has to do with the environment in which that culture exists. As Brandon said, why is he blaming students for the sorry state of Mackenzie? Did their culture force the school to not buy books? NO!!! My challenge to him, conservatives, and to anyone who takes solely this position is this: how many people have you talked to in the group that you are judging about their feelings on their situation? How diverse of a set of people did you reach? This is important because assumptions are dangerous. This is the problem with the whole “I’ve talked to students (or Black people or any ‘group’) and they said this…” line that people try to throw out. They often times have not talked to the people they needed to talk to to gain understanding.

I do agree with the author that many times socioeconomic factors only tell part of the story. However, I do not so readily discount these factors because of this. I see them fitting into a holistic approach to addressing these issues our people face: psychological, economic, and political. I do not agree with the “we have to solve this first before we can talk about that” approach to addressing our predicament. I believe that Black people, the most dynamic people on the planet, can do more than one thing at a time. We can address psychological, economic, social, political, and any other thing we need to solve by working together. Since everyone may or may not be skilled in or passionate about addressing political issues, should the political activists sit on the bench until they are tagged in by those expert in the psychological? NO!!! Solve problems in parallel, not in series. Nothings stops us from addressing broad issues while at the same time addressing personal ones. I can mentor a young man and help him find a job while dealing with my own personal insecurities. I can encourage a young girl to pursue her passion in art while at the same time organizing local town hall meetings on political issues of relevance to people of color. I can be a mentee of a more experienced entrepreneur while mentoring one who is less experienced than I.

Me and Orlando Patterson agree that people need to be responsible for themselves. Beyond that, I believe in collective responsibility for each other. I work towards a world where societal pressures, laws, or policies do not hurt us because of our strength of attitude and confidence. I work towards a world where giving into temptation does not result in plight because the system is able to sustain us and keep us from falling. In that world everyone helps themselves, and everyone helps everyone else. That is what community is to me. Perhaps Mr. Patterson and I can agree on that.

Stand up!!!


That’s exactly what happened today at MacKenzie High School, (a Detroit Public School) when reportedly 200 students “marched up and down Wyoming, many chanting “No books, no school.” The students complained they have to share books in the classroom and can’t take them home. They also were upset about a new uniform policy implemented last fall and said bathrooms have toilets overflowing with feces and some students urinate in hallways.”

I’m not sure if you can sense it but there is a rumbling going on that is slowly making its presence felt. Young people are protesting in France, the Palestinians voted Hamas into power, Latinos are mobilizing like wild fire over the current immigration reform bills before Congress, and now students in my beloved hometown are stepping up demanding better resources. What makes me so proud is that these students were not “led” by old school civil rights leaders and as a result, they couldn’t be used as a backdrop.

Going beyond the picture
You are probably surprised that we posted a picture to accompany this post because you have never seen us do so in the past, but there is a point to be made that words alone can’t express. We are not permanently changing the format but if you read this story without the picture you might miss the significance. The young lady speaking, Christina LedBetter, is holding a bottle of Sprite and what I presume to be her talking notes. Now compare that image to what you normally see of so-called Black leaders; memorized talking points and catch phrases along with a bottle of water.(that they never use by the way.) My point is that she was being herself and she wasn’t being coached or managed. I’m not saying the students looked like bums but how many of you would get on camera fighting for justice if you were not looking right? And please don’t say yes too soon.

And do you see the tall brother standing behind her? His arms are crossed and his face, like the others is serious and I think it is symbolic of the fact that Black men have less of a problem being supportive of Black woman than what most would think. Beyond that, their faces convey a sense of urgency that I don’t see very often. And if the students have been reading all the negative statistics about Black youth and their bleak chances of achieving their educational/career goals, then they knew that they need a quality education right here, right now. And just like our forefathers before us, these students are taking control of their destiny and demanding a quality education. So before you continue, take a minute to let this image sink into your conscious so you are aware of what’s at stake.

The preparation
What I think people forget about most the civil rights movement is the preparation and sacrifice that people never saw or heard about. As such, I am proud of the preparation it took these students to get over 200 students to walk out of class. 200 people are not a clique. This event took thoughtfulness, determination, and effective communication because you know some people were on the fence, but was won over by the peer pressure to stand up for justice. Just imagine what will happen when they improve their organizing skills and present a whole new paradigm for correcting the system.

The sorry principal
Principal Bernard Bonam, I don’t know you very well but even if the newspaper took you of context, but you never should have said, “They don’t give a doggone thing about their education… and many of the problems are caused by students themselves, such as those who toss their textbooks out windows onto the schools greenhouse or others who stuff toilet paper into the toilet.” And people wonder why so many Black people are not pleased with the state of public education. For starters, you have to take people at their word and if the group was chanting, “No books, no school,” then that shows me pretty clearly they care about their education. But how many times do people have to say that schools don’t have enough textbooks, classes are overcrowded, the maintenance is shotty, and there is too much administration and not enough education. The students had enough and they demonstrated. But here is the real problem, why should kids ever have to protest to get enough books?!?! I mean fa real fa real. Could you imagine your wealthy suburban high school having kids march talk about “No books, no school?” That sounds silly right? Well if it sounds silly for suburban students then why in the hell doesn’t it seem silly for inner-city students?

Which brings me back to Principal Bonam, why are you blaming the students for the school’s issues? I’m not denying that there are some troublemakers but here’s a new rule that might help you. Get out of your office and get in the hallways and the classrooms. If you know kids are throwing their books out the window, how in the world can you say that you have an adequate number of books? Lock the windows!!!!! And then you tell me it is not in the budget. What about your budget? Open up your wallet, sell some candy, I don’t care, but don’t just wallow in what’s wrong, offer some solutions and ask yourself, “What can I do to make the situation better?”

This question also applies to the person reading this post because even though you may not work in the education field, we all have learned some things along the way that make us extremely valuable in being a resource and inspiration to our youth. Markell Donaldson, a Mackenzie sophomore, said “If we don’t walk out, we won’t get recognized.” Let’s wrap our hearts around all the Markells in this country so they know that the community is there to serve them in school so they don’t have to walk out.

Big Superspade shoutout to all the students that organized today, I applaud your integrity and willingness to stand up for what’s right. We stand with you in the constant fight for justice.

Stay up fam,

Brandon

The Weekly Dream: Let Us Make Man…

“Let us make man in our own image…”
-Genesis 1:26

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a good one or a bad one? What kind of man am I becoming? These are questions I have grappled with and continue to grapple with. And at this age, it is something that looms in the mind of many young men (See Brandon White’s commentary). The rub is that we are aspiring to an ideal that has yet to be effectively defined and articulated.

In other cultures, there exist “rites of passage” ceremonies or initiations where the male is entrusted with the code for the culture and charged with protecting that code. However, in America, there is no identifiable process. Normally, it has to do with arbitrary characteristics or status (i.e. facial hair, losing virginity, etc.) This is further exacerbated by the lack of males in American households. As a result, males, especially minorities, have inherited a warped and piecemeal perception of what it means to be masculine ( e.g. the glorified role of the “thug” in hip-hop). There is a crisis of manhood in America.

I understand that gender roles and traits are influenced in large part by the society at large and its needs. I also concede that this is one of those concepts that cannot be locked in. However, I do believe that form fits function. There are some traits that we naturally exhibit, that you see in children that make us who we are. So this week, I invite everyone to comment on what is a man and how that notion formed. Next week, we will address the ladies.

My Patchwork Quilt

Growing up, I gleaned my ideal of manhood from my family. Looking at my examples, men were providers and protectors first and foremost. They sacrificed. They were strong, consistent and decisive. They were leaders and they were not careless. They never showed vulnerability or weakness. Whatever happened, you just “sucked it up.” They controlled their emotions and never cried in public. I remember my father telling me to “never let them see you sweat.” You had to always seem like you were in control and radiate that toughness. And your word was your bond.

As I entered college, still in my teens, my friends and I began to forge our own code, in relation to other men and in interacting with women. The “guy” code centered around commanding respect, knowing where your loyalties were and sticking to your principles. You did not speak about things you did not know about and you minded your own business. Your words and actions were always deliberate—thinking ahead about the consequences. This took a lot of self-discipline.

With women, things became complicated and they still are because it added yet another layer of expectations to be imposed. You couldn’t constantly assert yourself, and in relationships, you learned to pick your battles. However, a lot of men never learn how to be a man in interacting and dealing with women; that is another article.

It’s a Man’s World?

At this point, I have learned that aspiring to be your own man, counter to what is “en vogue” in society, can be a thankless job. By eschewing societal standards and the expectations of others, there is no benchmark by which to measure you by.

There comes a point where you just become comfortable in your own skin. I know my limitations and I am fine with those. I believe that is the essence of manhood: To know who you are and to be comfortable with that. Yet, we must strive to always be the best that we can be. By doing so, we can bring out the best in others. I disagree with those who might say that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” man. I believe in good and evil. I also believe that men and women both reflect qualities and characteristics of the Creator. So a bad man is one who does not exhibit those traits. However, if you are a bad man, you are probably a bad human being also.

End note

This is just the beginning of our exploration of our concept of gender and how it carries over into our behaviors and relationships.

As a man, all that is required is to do the best with the tools and information at hand.

Stick to the script, and eventually, someone will take notice.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M. DeVougas

Question of the Week: What does it mean to be a man? What shaped this ideal for you?

A good Black man?

Can someone tell me the difference between a Black man and a “good” Black man? After seeing two articles this past week talk about the plight of Black men in the New York Times and how marriage is for White people in the Washington Post, that phrase is rearing its ugly head again.

Let me begin by saying that for this post, the phrase “good Black man” will be limited to love interests of Black women. Which makes me wonder, why don’t we hear the phrase, I want “a good Black woman?” That doesn’t sound right does it? I digress, but if you are Black man/woman, I would venture to say that your answer to my original question would allude to some socioeconomic factor in some way or form.

And this is what I hate the most. You got people who are 25, who are 2 or 3 years removed from undergrad that are appalled at the idea of seriously dating/marrying a person who also does not have at least an undergraduate degree. What happened in two years that you are so all that that you couldn’t see yourself dating someone who doesn’t have a B.A.? The same goes for salaries and the list goes on. Now I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have any standards but it seems that being with a person who makes you happy is an afterthought after we sift through religion, family, age, education, income, FUTURE POTENTIAL, friends, geography, etc. You get my point.

I believe there is someone out there for everybody but the problem I see in the Black community is that too many of us are either trying to marry a clone of ourselves or we get so caught up in the idea of a “good” Black woman/man that we don’t act like ourselves when we come across one, however defined.

We have to stop buying into the notion of a good Black man because it makes the brothers who are think they are successful more arrogant and it makes the sisters feel like, “What’s the fuss?” And then you have sisters crossing over to date other races or feeling a sense of hopelessness such that they will never find a “good” Black man. Ladies, let me tell you this, the brother out there who is looking for you right now may not be a “good” Black man, but if he is good for you, THEN WHO CARES!!! Fellas, we have a host of other issues but I will get to you later. But seriously fam, the constant filtering of love via status and self is killing our future families.

In closing I will repeat my question; what is the difference between a Black man and a good Black man?

Stay up fam,
Brandon

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