Category Archives: Critical Thinking
People will try to kill the critical thinking instinct within you by labeling you “controversial.”
A chorus of critical voices is what you get when you ask some of the brightest critical minds in the social media arena to collaborate with you. I asked some of my favorite critical thinkers to weigh in on a video (below), and to give me their reflections on the dynamics in the video. There is no single authoritative voice, but rather a chorus of voices adding their unique critical perspective to the conversation. Here are there reflections.
“What do I see?
I see the dynamics of power and control at play. In the scene with the married couple there is an underlying portrayal of control as she notices her husbands gaze at the brother across the theater. Its as if the image of her hand and wedding ring symbolize a force to pull him back in. It represents for me the false belief that a relationship, especially marriage, can change someone’s innate feelings. We even see this dynamic in religion when it relates to sexuality. The notion that a “relationship with god” can change and control ones desires through a form of power.
As for the rape scene, power and control is more overt since rape is indeed about power. Both scenes display for me an equally deleterious dynamic of power and control. While the rape is horrendous and incomparable to the other scene, where I see the two parallel is in power and control over the body. In both cases there is sense of forced control of one person by another. Though not equal in experiences, the rape victim will have physical and psychological trauma as will the one who feels “forced” by society to render his sexuality and body under the control of what is deemed “normal.” – @ZakiyaTheGenius
“This scene has a lot of things operating in terms of visual representations connected to larger discourse. First, the opera lyrical is a take from Shange’s “Lady In Purple” who was talking about connectivity amongst Black women (to my understanding). It seems odd that Perry chose to connect Black women in relationships with men on the low and rape. For me, this connected to a larger conversation on homophobia and prison culture. In my opinion, it is controversial to paint DL men as similar to rapists. There was also the clock element in the rape vignette that connected to patriarchal masculinity, as if the morality of the rapist needed to be challenged by his inability to prolong ejaculation as opposed to challenging how women’s bodies are constructed and controlled in society.” – @JohnnyGoLightly
“Time slowly winds as the innocence and purity of her body is stripped away. Tears of betrayal and deceit stream line down her face as the eyes of the down low brother wander into the distance. Running eye shadow creates a blurry vision; the smell of burning food conjures up an internal feeling of wounded flesh. The soulful, melodramatic sounds of the opera singer’s voices flow in an even tune. The women have become the backdrop to man’s desire-desire to control, desire to humiliate, and desire to fulfill his waning need to be a man; all without feeling an ounce of regret. The man has played the role society has given him… and the women have become the backdrop of man’s desire.” - @BlkAth3st
“This beautiful and painful scene from the film reveals a narrative about abuse. At once, there are four conflicts happening: two Black women are undergoing a crisis, one via the physical & emotional as she is raped by a man she believed to be kind. The kindness she has shown him has been betrayed and “thrown back on her face”. The second Black woman is allowing herself to be emotionally humiliated by her husband’s passes at other men, perhaps because she knows no other way to deal with the paining shock of learning her husband loves other men. two Black men, burdened by their desires and delusions, have gone down a path of self-destruction. One has decided to rape a person he’s befriended in the sanctity of her own home. The roots of rape are deep and self-destructive, and harm the victim as well as the assailant. Another Black man, dishonest about his need for the company of other men, is allowing his secret to be sacrificed to the knowledge of his wife without knowing it.” - J Douglas Turner
“This whole movie left me emotional and full of questions about black women and our places in narratives about our body and our experiences—specifically in the American cinematic narrative. I find this rape/opera scene is the one that sticks so close to the viewer and it is for lack of the better term the climax. Yet, I find it a bit sensational, if not exploitative. On one hand we find rape explored for mass media consumption and mass moralizing, on the other hand there is nothing in the movie that warns women that have been raped—who attended this movie, that they could possibly be triggered. We cannot care about real life black women and their experiences with sexual violence enough to warn them that a movie violently portrays a rape scene that could possibly trigger them.
Triggered. Before I moved to NYC, I read tons and tons of stuff on rape, but nothing I read spoke of the psychology of victims in a way that gave me the understanding that they could be triggered to re-live their trauma through our rape narratives. My friend Amanda—ever aware of how stories can re-traumatize women –has taught me to always be aware of what I say or put out by example. If it is a possible trigger she always warns the reader of her Facebook page or even someone listening to a story.
So with this new awareness I revisited the first time I saw this scene. I imagined myself back at the theatre and there I am a woman who has never been assaulted so violently going through an emotional journey with this character. But, I get to leave unscathed and some other woman could have been sitting in her seat frozen in real fear, reliving the worst experience of her life. No one warned ME about the trigger, so it’s safe to say that no one was warned.
And then there is Janet Jackson and her husband. Our culture dictates that a woman should be partnered to her equal, if her equal is a gay man, does that mean he will give her AIDS? Does that mean their relationship/love is less valid? I understand that he betrayed her by having unprotected sex with his same sex partners but the movie did not focus on women protecting themselves from black men (not gay men/not white men) because even when they do things like kill our children, rape us, are emotionally unavailable to us we have to forgive them and rebuild our lives. That’s victim blaming.
How much healing do we need if every day we encounter this violent shit?—street harassment and following is common enough for me as a black woman.
This scene reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mines about whether its racism or sexism that keeps us back and though we are oppressed under both, I find sexist oppression to be the most offensive. Black culture dictates that we call each other brothers and sisters in the struggle—but you would dare lie and rape and destroy your sister. White people are strangers to our experience—as they are too busy fashioning the racism that accompanies it, but to think of all black women have sacrificed so much for black men, that is what makes this scene so heart crushing. To watch the trust be once again destroyed between people that have more in common in their experience in white supremacy that they should be able to understand each other’s oppression.
SN: THOSE OPERA SINGERS GAVE ME LIFE. WHY DO I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICAN’S IN THE “UPPER” ARTS? HISTORY IS SO FUCKED UP. HISTORY HIDES TALENTED BLACK PEOPLE SO THAT ONLYTHE PRIVILEGED WHITE/MONIED CLASS CAN ENJOY THEIR ETHEREAL TALENTS. UGH. TYLER PERRY DID THAT PART RIGHT.” – @Tristlande
I like the challenge of using the most humane language possible. As Toni Morrison says, “word-work is sublime.”
“Institutional Oppression is the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group. Institutional Oppression creates a system of invisible barriers limiting people based on their membership in unfavored social identity groups. The barriers are only invisible to those “seemingly” unaffected by it.” – Tools For Diversity
“Myth: an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify asocial institution.” – Collins English Dictionary
Let’s test our knowledge of social myths, and the systems of oppression that underlie them. Match the social myth to the correct system of oppression.
Systems of Oppression:
1. White Supremacy
3. Heterosexism (homophobia)
7. Religious Fundamentalism
a. “I was so devastated when I found out my boyfriend cheated on me with a tranny. I mean, that’s not even a real woman. Ugh. A chick with a dick? That is so disgusting.”
b. “I only date people who make more than $100,00 a year. Anyone who makes less than that isn’t cultured, and probably hasn’t been many places. They probably shop at Citi Trends or something. Could you imagine dating someone who drives a Chevy Malibu? Pathetic.”
c. “I wouldn’t let a gay man watch my son.”
d. “Black people don’t never stick together. That’s why I don’t trust other Black people.”
e. “Introducing Mr. and Mrs. John Lewis Williams III.”
f. “Look at that midget!”
g. “Atheists don’t have morals. How can you have morals if you don’t believe in god?”
Answers: 1. d 2. e 3. c 4. a 5. f 6. b 7. g
I strongly believe in the act of asking questions. Questions are one of the primary ways by which new knowledge is yielded. But, I also know that the way we frame questions, and the implications of that framing, are also important aspects of the act of asking questions. Recently, I was involved in two situations that centered around the act of asking questions, and the implications that come from these questions. In this essay, I will explore the act of questioning, the way questions are framed, and the implications, if any, of asking questions.
Thinkers, intellects, scholars, and academics all ask questions. I would be hard pressed to find a person who did not expect anyone to not ask questions. However, I will continue to assert that the questions we ask, and the way that they are framed, are just as important as the answers we seek. There absolutely exists a need to ask questions, but there is also a need, or rather, a responsibility to be aware of the way in which we frame questions, and the implications, many times negative, that come along from poorly framed questions.
As I mentioned earlier, I have recently been involved with two situations regarding questions, framing, and implications. The first situation revolved around a question asked by Dr. Steve Perry. Perry, most known for his Capital Preparatory Magnet School, asked a question that left some feeling uneasy. Perry asked, “Given the recent FAMU tragedy, do Black groups, colleges & high schools foster brutality?” On the surface, Perry’s question looked to many to be an opportunity to start dialogue on hazing in American schools, but looking deeper we can see that the question is also problematic. The way in which the question is framed, its placing of an HBCU next to a question invoking Black brutality, has certain racist implications, in my opinion. Perry has the right to ask his question, but there also exists a right to consider the framing and implications. Would a similar question ever be leveled at White America? Would the sexual assault that took place at Penn State constitute an examination of the brutality of White America? I think not. There tends to be a need to associate individual Black acts with collective Black pathology. Perry’s question could have been framed in any number of ways, and it still would have sparked the conversation that Perry had in mind.
The second incident revolved around a question asked by “Dr. Goddess,” a well known Twitter personality. After reading an article about Kobe Bryant’s alleged sexual activities, Dr. Goddess posed a question the following question to Twitter, “If you’re a heterosexual man and you just LOVE anal sex, like, it’s your preference… are you really gay? #curious #sorry.” In my mind, this question immediately ran as homophobic, but others had different opinions, particularly Dr. Goddess. In her mind, the question wasn’t problematic because, in her own words, “I really DON’T know “gay life,” “I HONESTLY do not know. Is that okay? I mean… I am so confused right now…” Like unintended bigots before her, Dr. Goddess hid behind her heterosexual privilege, as opposed to accounting for the way she framed her question, and the implications of that question. Many people came to the aid of Dr. Goddess, and they were well within their right to do so. In their mind, questions are incapable of harboring bigotry, after all, questions are the way that new knowledge is yielded. I would disagree, however. I think it was possible for Dr. Goddess to examine heterosexuality without using homosexual as “sexual other” on which heterosexuality is examined. The question need not to have invoked homosexuality at all. For example, “If you are a straight man, and you really enjoy anal, why don’t you prefer vaginal?” Or, “What are our thoughts on anal sex as practiced among heterosexuals?” These all could have sparked a conversation on anal sex, and they would have done so without using homosexuality as a sexuality stepping stone. “I think questions, particularly those poorly framed, have a long history of racist, sexist, and homophobic implications, and this was just a continuation of that history.
There exists a very real stereotype, underlying homophobia, that insists that anal sex is a thing that gay people do. This homophobic stereotype assumes that heterosexuals do not consistently engage in anal sex, and that it is one of the hallmarks of homosexuality. Both stereotypes are untrue. I don’t know all the statistics on anal sex, but anyone who has watched a heterosexual porn knows that anal sex place, and often. Also, as someone who is gay, I know that there are a variety of sexual activities engaged in by members of the gay community. The assumption that anal sex is “gay,” also, rests upon the phallocentric assumption that lesbians do not count as gay.
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, we get a clear picture of the very real implications that arise from our poorly framed questions. In the novel, the protagonist Sethe recounts her experience with a White racist man named Schoolteacher, who used questions to support and explore his racist thinking. Schoolteacher, “measures the body of the enslaved and asks incessant, probing questions in order to control them through his knowledge of them.” I highlight this, to bring light to the fact that questions are quite capable of carrying bigoted associations and implications. Bigotry– in Dr. Goddess’ case homophobia–is often enshrined in the act of questioning.
I do not believe that Dr. Steve Perry or Dr. Goddess are horrible people, but I do think they are, both, individuals who had lapses in judgment. They asked poorly framed questions, and were unwilling to accept that their questions had negative implications. No one, not even respected thinkers, is above criticism. We all have a responsibility to exercise care and consideration when we ask questions.
Update: Here is a collection of the tweets that transpired that night. I don’t feel that it’s very cohesive, but it’s better than nothing. Judge for yourselves. chirpstory.com/li/3601
I’m not gone allow any myth to assert itself over humanity. Now, we can respect them all day, but when they go past that? Oh no! White racists running around claiming their myths about Blackness are “the truth” and “real.” I’m not here for that. Patriarchs running around claiming their myths about gender are “the truth” and “real.” I’m not here for that. “Believers” running around claiming their myths about god are “the truth” and “real.” I’m not here for that. I’ll put up with a lot, but I’m not allowing any myth to run my life. I’ll respect them, acknowledge their creativity, but that’s it.
I critique Christianity more than other religions because Christianity is the religion that impacts on my life most often. Does this mean that other religions aren’t oppressive? No, but I have a need to address the institutions that specifically impact my life. If I lived in the Middle East, I would likely critique Islam more than Christianity. No one questions why Blacks have critiqued Whites more than Asians or Native Americans. All *can* oppress, but one does specifically. I critique all religions, but I must also specifically address that which impacts me the most.
I am of the belief that 99% of humanity wouldn’t know how to describe Black women without the adjective “strong.” All the adjectives and descriptors at our disposal, and all we insist on is her strength?
For me, being a Black atheist means thinking critically about the role of religion in the lives of Black people. For far too long, few have written about the negative aspects of religion in Black life, preferring only to write about the positives aspects. Yes, religion was something that our ancestors called upon to help them navigate a White racist world that insisted on their inferiority. But, religion has also been the site of much brutality in the lives of Black people.
If we were to grade the role religion has played in Black life, particularly Judeo-Christianity, I would say that it has earned a “F.” There are simply too many instances of religion being both tool of liberation and tool of oppression in the lives of Blacks. For example, the bible was constantly utilized to justify the enslavement of Black people. I’m sorry, but an “F” average is simply not good enough for a religion that makes divine and/or supernatural claims. Surely, there should be a better track record for something that is ruled by an all-powerful god?
We have been told by the gatekeepers of Black History that religion, and religion alone, has gotten us over. We fail to take into account the secular ways that Black people have utilized in their dealings with a White racist society. For every Bishop Henry McNeal, there has been a Frederick Douglass. For every Sojourner Truth, there has been a Butterfly McQueen. While it is true that Blacks have utilized religion, it has not been the only thing that we have utilized, and our failure to recognize this stunts our collective growth, and undermines what we think we are capable of when addressing the problems that plague our communities.
I would suggest that there is a very real danger in Black people thinking we are nothing without religion. We, Black people, were a people before we were indoctrinated, and we will be someone afterwards. This is not to suggest that religion cannot be a useful tool for examining the issues facing Black people but, more often than not, it is usually a tool of conservatism holding Black people back.
Reverend Irene Monroe is a religious Black person that uses her role in organized religion to critically examine issues facing the Black community. She is not of the conservative ilk populated by Black exploiters like Eddie Long, Bernice King, and Harry Jackson. These pastors participate in the degradation of Black life by insisting that we are simple, lacking in complexity, and diversity. That we are a people only, and always, marked by conservatism. They fail to take into account the diversity of Black life, instead insisting on its monotony.
As enthralled as I am with Reverend Irene Monroe, as a Black atheist, I insist on making it known that religion, nor belief in god, are necessary in Black life. I am not of the belief that Blacks should embrace a form of cultural nihilism, because one can be atheist and very hopeful about the potential for positive transformation of Black life. I simply do not believe that Black people need religion. We absolutely need structures for coming together, and so often this has been the primary role of religion in Black life, but this can be achieved without religion and belief in god.
Black people need to find their legs, and I don’t think we are able to do that sufficiently by returning to the same old Judeo-Christian fables that we have so often turned to. It is time for us to get in touch with our own African cultural myths, and see what we can glean, for the better, from our diverse history. Do we need to hold these myths as truth in order to appreciate them, and learn from them? No, but I think we do need to at least be aware of them.
Many myths have plagued Black people in America. There have been racial myths that have insisted on our inferiority. There have been gender myths that have insisted on our inferiority. There has also been a religious myth, and in relation a god myth, that has insisted that we are nothing without it. I am calling for Black people to examine these myths, challenge these myths, and abandon these myths. Black thinkers like Sikivi Hutchinson and Norm Allen are leading the way, in our need to examine the many myths that plague Black life. The narratives of Blackness must be pushed forward in order to include something that isn’t always foregrounded on religion. We are, I truly believe, so much more than the religion that was, for the most part, forced upon us on our departure to this land.
We must examine the role of religion in Black life. This is not a necessary thing, but an urgent thing.