On May 31, 1921, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma erupted into the most destructive race riot the country has ever experienced. Violence broke out after angry mobs of whites called for the lynching of 19-year-old Dick Rowland after he was wrongly…
"I must learn to love the fool in me - the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool." ~Theodore Rubin
“Philosophy begins when one learns to doubt—particularly to doubt one’s cherished beliefs, one’s dogmas, and one’s axioms. Who knows how these cherished beliefs became certainties with us, and whether some secret wish did not furtively beget them, clothing desire in the dress of thought? There is no real philosophy until the mind turns round and examines itself.”— Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy
“Talking with women of varying ages and ethnicities about this issue, I am more convinced than ever that women who engage in sexual acts with male partners must not only interrogate the nature of the masculinity we desire, we must also actively construct radically new ways to think and feel as desiring subjects. By shaping our eroticism in ways that repudiate phallocentrism, we oppose rape culture.”—bell hooks (via wretchedoftheearth)
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”—Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (via ghosthustler)
“And finally, when white people—“white people”—talk about progress in relationship to black people, all they are saying—and all they could possibly mean by the word “progress”—is how quickly and how thoroughly I become white. I don’t want to become white. I want to grow up. And so should you. Thank you.”—James Baldwin, Speech given at the National Press Club (1986)
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”—James Baldwin (via minormayors)
Our word “essay”—referring to the form or genre of writing so widely loathed by students—is derived from the French “essai” meaning “attempt or trial” (from the Latin “exagium” meaning “the act of weighing”). For me though, it’s the idea that writing the essay is an attempt, a trial, that is so powerful; that when one is writing an essay, one is, as it were, trying something, venturing to describe or express something that one doesn’t necessarily come to the task knowing or understanding what it is they are going to pour forth.
Thus, one is always striving to give air to the feelings, impressions, thoughts, emotions, and arguments that one has been reflecting on, so that the essay becomes the act of agency, of trying to communicate what one has been wrestling with. But it’s a delicate enterprise that is liable to go wrong—to “miss the mark” as it were. The essay is always an approximation of the essence of what one strives to express. So that one can never quite get out onto the paper all that one would like to with the cogency and expressive energy that one aims for. But it’s still an attempt; a struggle in expression that must be suffered and borne. That’s powerfully moving to me. And helps the idea of “writer’s block” come into focus in a different, more sobering way too.
However, the essay is also tragic as well because the ineffability of some ideas, emotions, events, and phenomena militate against the expressive act such that there is a falling short there that we, perhaps, deny or cast aside when teachers ask students to “compose an essay for a grade on topic x.” That becomes a myopic imperative in light of this deeper interpretation of the essay, because we presume the mind (the student, the writer) is capable of synthesizing and expressing things that might actually defy that kind of presentation.
“The American situation is very peculiar, and it may be without precedent in the world. No curtain under heaven is heavier than that curtain of guilt and lies behind which Americans hide: it may prove to be yet more deadly to the lives of human beings than that iron curtain of which we speak so much-and know so little. The American curtain is color. We have used this word, this concept, to justify unspeakable crimes. Not only in the past, but in the present. One can measure very neatly the white American’s distance from his conscience-from himself-by observing the distance between himself and black people. One has only to ask oneself who established this distance. Who is this distance designed to protect? And from what is this distance designed to protect him?”—James Baldwin, Unnamable Objects, Unspeakable Crimes
“I have known many black men and, women and black boys and girls, who really believed that it was better to be white than black, whose lives were ruined or ended by this belief; and I myself carried the seeds of this destruction within me for a long time.”—James Baldwin, Unnameable Objects, Unspeakable Crimes
Reflecting on my race in a social system* that has historically imputed pejorative, inhuman meanings to it, has led me to reconsider my place in the world. It’s not a defeatist position at all, but I have awakened in a way I am sure I had not been before to the fact that perceptions do matter. They may not be true, but they do matter—whether I want them to or not.
History records that blackness as a social construct has been sieged and problematized for centuries. As society is an intersubjective enterprise and ideas, even knowledge itself, are sociogenic products, my race says nothing intrinsic or essential about who I am, but my existence—being born into, emerging within, an already moving, running system of history—does confer on my phenotype those same wretched and contemptible connotations.
Now this isn’t to say that blackness is only a social construct fraught with the pejorative ideas that I touched on. Blackness also reveals itself to be much more. It has come to mean for many more affirmative commitments to identity, pride in oneself and one’s history and so on. All of this however comes from social actors. Sociality conditions much of our reality.
That I am a brown-skinned human being says nothing in and of itself—that is, nothing about the kind of person I am, what my competencies are, my capacity for intellectually rigorous or physically strenuous activity. These things cannot be inferred from my phenotype unless social meaning and definitions have construed it thusly and conflated such characteristics with the amount of melanin in my skin. As Cornel West writes in “Race Matters”, one of his critically acclaimed texts, “blackness has no meaning outside of a system of race-conscious people and practices.” And neither does whiteness. Thus, that one’s skins color comes to mean and connote inferiority or superiority, humanness or inhumanness, simply points to the sociality of race itself.
However, once a social system has been inaugurated—historically contingent and driven—one must deal with the constructed social ontology, though one might be able to track the more, perhaps, innocuous meaning of the underlying physical ontology. So my blackness means what it means to others not because I was born and did anything, but because of social-historical developments and intellectual movements that have deep and continuing legacies.
Thus, it stands my task to realize the foregoing and accept that some might view my blackness as an arbiter of who I am, what I am capable of, what I can become. Others will affirm me and take pride, perhaps, in my blackness. Others might simply look past my blackness—insofar as anyone can do that (I think it’s near impossible). Whatever the case, however, while my race as barometer of my humanity is of no consequence for me, I still must realize that I am not an island unto myself and my blackness may be offensive or contemptible to some people—I don’t mind that at all.
You have your right to hate. I have mine to continue living.
*A social system, that is, made up of other social beings who made and make choices. The reified system didn’t confer meaning on my blackness—social actors did and do. And so do I as a social being.