A Lasting Lesson From Tuskegee
While I attended Tuskegee University, I joined a group called Ka Het-Heu Ka Ra. one had a 9 week initiation in order to become a member of the organization. I can't go into what was entailed but there was one lesson that I can share that I have found to be of great value and I believe should be shared by others. We were required to read portions of, if not the entire book, The Art of Leadership by Oba TShaka. As a part of our leadership training we were taught a means of evaluating arguments, programs, and the like. The concept was called : Compliment, Critique and Correct.
Compliment: when presented with an argument, one was required to note what was good, correct, or otherwise positive in that argument, even if you disagreed with it. The reason for this, I soon learned, was to avoid the human tendancy to ignore all parts of a discussion except for the ones we disagreed with and forced us to listen to the person who was speaking instead of sitting (or standing) there are formulating a response in our heads.
Critique: After finding whatever compliment we can make, which sometimes is merely that the person spoke well, we can then lay out our critque of that argument. I prefer, especially in written forums, to be very quotidian as to not be accused of twisting or changing the words of the person I'm critiquing.
Corrective: This step is also very counterintuitive for many people. We tend to want to chop off the head of our opponent and walk away and say "see!!" This is a very common problem among people who discuss black issues. We disagree and often have no other suggestion. We just know that we disagree. When dealing with racism (white supremacy) what we do is talk about what white people have done, or are doing (we often do not discuss future plans). Then our entire conversation steers towards how to convince white people ( and thier black cohorts) to stop doing whatever it was we found them doing. In so doing, we have left ourselves open to charges of "playing the victim" by our opponents. Our opponents will often say: "Look how far we've come." "Look at what we can do." The usual problem with this group is that they tend to act as if there is no racism or that it is minimal. They fail to see that there is often a high cost associated with thier success. Let me use an example here. Oprah Winfrey, arguably the most successful black woman in modern America, has had to (or decided to) make some serious compromised due to white supremacy to achieve her success. Back in the early 1990's she endeavoured to use one of her daily shows to talk about racism. Not only did her ratings drop but some of those same white folks who professed so much love for her turned on her. There hasn't been anything close to that on Oprhas show since. One time after that she made some off the cuff remark about latent white racism and was rebuked again. Oprah does not often get caught making such statements anymore. Will Smith, in an interview with Barbara Walters, talked a little bit about racism and his belief that AIDS was man made. He was ridiculed( as much as a comedian can be) and since then I have not heard him repeat such statements or make any kind of commentary regarding racism. There are numerous other examples I could give, but the general idea is that even the most successful black person is usually sucessfull by shedding the more "uncomfortable" aspects of being black in order to "do business."
But what is not often discussed about these succesful blacks, including those we don't even hear about who are not celebrities, is the fact that many of them started off poor, with nothing. The very same conditions that mire a significant number of black youths. The singular thing that they all have in common were the choices they made. Dr. Ben Carson decided to stop trying to follow the crowd and became a top neuro-surgeon. Oprah followed her dreams. In each case they no doubt had their detractors, kids who teased them, times when money was short. Times when "The body was calling." Times when whites put obstacles in their path. In Oprahs case, she no doubt had a triple set of problems: Black, woman, and "overweight". Let's not make little of the fact that all of the sucessful people got that way not only because they worked hard, but also because people extended help to them. Ultimately, in the end, they made choices as to how they would deal with their environments. choices that opened up other choices for them. It is often this concept, the power to choose to change how one deals with the circumstances handed to you, is what many of these successfull people tend to speak about. And this is a good thing: Ultimately we cannot control what other people do or say to us, but we can determine how we react to such behaviors. It is often at this point where the disagreements begin. because the sucessful person is talking about what you can do to change your situation and not about what external party caused your situation, they are said to be soft on racism. Thus someone like Bill Cosby; gets slandered by numerous blacks for being quoted (out of context) talking about "those people not holding up their end" and is ignored when he shows up at a Gang-summit to discuss how the gang members can change thier lives. Such is the reason for the "compliment, critique, and correct" program. It allows critical thinkers and problem solvers to sift through information in a manner that does not lock them into inflexible ways of thinking. It allows the critical thinker to take Cosby to task for errant statements such as those refering to African and African_American names, while seeing the overal value of his criticism.
I fear that if we do not as conscious black people begine to be more careful in our discussions of race and racism, we will find that we are going to alienate the very people we should be able to call upon for help. Calling us "fools" and "misinformed' or "mis-educated" is not going to fly. Only by admitting both the rights and wrongs of all discussion will lead us forward.