Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Tyler Perry told Spike to go to hell. NeNe Leakes told Star Jones she was fat and crazy. Al Sharpton told Cornel West to come down from his ivory tower, Grant Hill ripped Jalen Rose and Tavis Smiley thinks that Obama does not care about black people.
The word I hear associated most often with these public black on black ideological battles is “embarrassing.” Of the Sharpton/West battle, radio personality Tom Joyner said that they should have kept that behind closed doors. I have even heard people say that athletes should just shut-up and play or ask “why would Star Jones bring the only two other black women into the boadroom on Celebrity Apprentice, it just makes all black women look bad.”
Why are black folks so uncomfortable when high-profile black people have public disagreements?
It really is an odd phenomenon.
On one hand, I understand that a history of racism and oppression tends to make a community always want to present a united front to the world. It symbolizes strength, community and unity. It has long been taboo for black people to criticize other black people in “mixed company.” Bill Cosby is case and point. Although there was a significant backlash about Bill Cosby’s remarks a few years ago, it was less about what he said, than about him saying it in public.
But on the other hand, why would we ever want to stifle the exchange of ideas and opinions, no matter how heated? At what point do we stop obsessing about what white people think about us? Our continuing reluctance to disagree in public seems to be the manifestation of some latent inferiority complex. In some ways we are still that oppressed minority who fears exposing any cracks or dissent within our ranks, fearing our overlords will use those cracks against us.
And there is an absurdist aspect to this attitude. People claim to be embarrassed to see Al Sharpton and Cornel West argue over ways to improve our community or the performance of President Obama, yet we accept the most debasing music and images of ourselves in popular media, without a peep. THAT’S what we should really be embarrassed about.
It’s 2011 and we are more diverse as a community than ever. We should embrace the lively debate of the issues that effect us. Lets celebrate the fact that we all don’t agree about everything. I want to hear more ideas and viewpoints and theories and solutions and proposals, not less. We shouldn’t be afraid to criticize our leaders, our celebrities, our academic institutions, our churches and yes, our children. It is through the exposure to opposing viewpoints that we learn the most, and frankly the answer almost always lies somewhere in the middle.
We shouldn’t look at the Grant Hill and Jalen Rose beef and think, “this is so embarrassing, two black men going against each other in public, that’s just what white people want us to do.” We should look at the disagreement as two accomplished men with differing perspectives and different experiences debating race and class in the context of college basketball.
It is this apprehension and this compulsion about always putting on a good face for the “public” that keeps many of us from holding other black folks accountable for their behavior. Whether its an elected official, entertainer, church leader, athlete, or teacher we should enthusiastically debate the important issues, particularly when those issues are relevant to our progress.
I understand the inclination to withhold public criticism. In politics, for example, often we are just so damn happy to have an African-American in the office, that any black person who dare say something negative about them is accused of trying to bring down a good brother or sister. However, all brothers and sisters aren’t good, some ideas aren’t good, some behavior isn’t good. And the deficiencies of the most prominent members of our communities should be challenged just as vigorously as anyone else’s.
It’s about freedom. Only when are comfortable enough in our own skin to debate each other as loudly and passionately as we deem necessary, no matter who is watching, will we be truly free.
Hell, even when the debate has nothing to do with our progress or freedom or equality or any of the huge concepts we have deemed important, sometimes simple intellectual curiosity and the exchange of differing ideas is good for us. Debate helps broaden our minds, exposes us to differing points of view. We are offended when society considers us as a monolithic group, yet we cringe when we see black people publicly disagreeing with each other.
Just like we praise the achievements of successful black folks, we should also be able to tell them to go hell. What are we so afraid of? That white people will look at us and suddenly think, “OMG, they disagree amongst themselves! let’s reinstitute slavery”? In other words, I’m not sure what we are so afraid of. Maybe it’s just habit. It’s all in our heads. Long-held behaviors and cultural beliefs are not easily shaken off. Admittedly, these were behaviors born of the survival instinct.
As exemplified by the Birther movement and Donald Trump, there are some folks who will always believe in our inherent inferiority and will take every opportunity to marginalize us, not because it’s true, but because it is so essential to their own sense of self-worth. It is a sad truth that some people only feel worthy by deeming themselves better than someone else. But fuck them.
Regardless of the wacko forces around us, it is not our job to present to the world a docile community who marches in lock step and whose disagreements are all handled in hushed tones behind closed doors. It is our job to present ourselves as diverse, intellectually curious, and progressive individuals who do not confine our thoughts and beliefs based on what other members of our communities think.
We should revel in our ability to challenge each other intellectually, not recoil from it. How else will we take full advantage of the marketplace of ideas our country is so proud of?
The freedom to fight is essential to our development as world citizens. We should not be shackled to group-think simply because it makes us feel funny inside to see Al Sharpton and Cornel west going at it on MSNBC. If Grant Hill wants to rip Jalen Rose a new one in the New York Times then, by george, let him. Newsflash: black people don’t agree on everything. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We all know that but for some reason we don’t want the world to realize it.
The world should know that some of us think Meet the Browns is buffoonery, some of us think Duke players are a bunch of goodie-two-shoes-white boys, some of us don’t like President Obama, some hate Oprah, some love Maroon 5 and hate Kwanzaa, and some of us think that any call for reparations are some bullshit. It’s OK ! I even ran into a sista who believes all poor people should be put in shantytowns down by the river. What the hell, I heard her out (though,after a few minutes of thinking about it, I ultimately rejected the idea).
So the next time you see two high-profile Negroes going at it over some issue in the media, don’t hang your head in shame. Perk up, listen to both sides, evaluate the arguments, pick a position and by God, let them fight. Because if we don’t, how will we ever realize that, like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, sometimes they’re both right.