Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black History Month?

An old saying in essence goes, "I'm laughing to keep from crying!" which reminds me of the conflicting sentiments that arise over the notion of a Black History Month. There are supporters who make jokes about the fact that the shortest month of the year is devoted to Black History while opponents get rankled over the fact that there is a month designated to a single ethnic group. Well, this may come as a surprise but I think they're both right!

Black History in the USA is the history of this nation. Without us there would be no nation. The early settlers needed the Natives to help them learn to survive and they were ill-equip to do much more than that. Their next move was to try and enslave these indigenous peoples to perform the herculean task of building an infrastructure for a fledgling nation but that proved to be a "peace pipe" dream. It's awfully hard to beat a man on his home turf playing by his rules.

So, along came option number two. Let's dehumanize and bring in a new group that will make us the home team and we can create our own rules. It was indeed a successful strategy for a couple of hundred years and it illustrates why Black History is American History. From agriculture to the industrial revolution to the advent of modern technology, we have been an irreplaceable part of the story not only as labor but just as importantly as inventors and innovators. Yes, without a Black History Month perhaps all of our contributions would quickly become obscure and forgotten but that's because we, all Americans, don't demand that all ethnicities be given their rightful place in the history books of this nation.

You may have noticed that I denote ethnicity and not race. That's because race as a fictionalized frequently redefined term is the primary underlying factor in the process of keeping people divided. Here's how the American Anthropological Association (AAA) stated it in its recommendation to the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for the 2010 Census:

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) recommended that OMB combine the "race" and "ethnicity" categories into one question to appear as "race/ethnicity" for the 2010 US Census. The Interagency Committee agrees, stating that “"race" and "ethnicity” were not sufficiently defined and “that many respondents conceptualize "race" and "ethnicity" as one in the same underscor[ing] the need to consolidate these terms into one category, using a term that is more meaningful to the American people.”[4]

The AAA also stated,

"The American Anthropological Association recommends the elimination of the term "race" from OMB Directive 15 during the planning for the 2010 Census. During the past 50 years, "race" has been scientifically proven to not be a real, natural phenomenon. More specific, social categories such as "ethnicity" or "ethnic group" are more salient for scientific purposes and have fewer of the negative, racist connotations for which the concept of race was developed."

"Yet the concept of race has become thoroughly--and perniciously--woven into the cultural and political fabric of the United States. It has become an essential element of both individual identity and government policy. Because so much harm has been based on "racial" distinctions over the years, correctives for such harm must also acknowledge the impact of "racial" consciousness among the U.S. populace, regardless of the fact that "race" has no scientific justification in human biology. Eventually, however, these classifications must be transcended and replaced by more non-racist and accurate ways of representing the diversity of the U.S. population."

The bottom line here is that race is a made-up term that is used to classify people in ways that make it possible to discriminate based on artificial attention to perceptions about physical differences. Biologists have long acknowledged that there is one race of humans with many different surface characteristics but underneath we all possess the same physiology influenced only by our ancestral location origins. These are ethnic differences. Race is a better term for animal types. There are races of birds, monkeys, fishes, etc. because they can have physiologies that are not interchangeable.

So with that backdrop, let's use Black History Month to launch a more ethnic friendly version of history for all people. Otherwise, we may be forced to call attention to the fact that all humans can trace their ancestry beyond Europe, Asia, and the Americas to Africa meaning that ultimately we're all simply displaced Africans...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Critical Thinkers the Latest Dinosaur...

On this icy day in Jersey, I'm waxing a bit nostalgic and remembering the best thing that I experienced in college: the opportunity to grow intellectually. My collegiate career had a couple of turns along the pathway. First, I attended a post-high school summer program at then Clark College in Atlanta called the Rowland Scholars before spending my freshman year at Tennessee State University in Nashville. A year in Tennessee was all I needed to convince me that I wanted to return to Atlanta as soon as possible but that's a story for another day. Suffice to say, I returned to finish my undergraduate schooling at Georgia Tech . In my mind today, I was lamenting the fate of an oft overlooked commodity - critical thinking, and I was wondering how many people are out there who feel the same? If not, you can, and probably have stopped reading by now. Otherwise...

Do you recall the time when you simply gathered together to share your thoughts and exchange ideas? There wasn't any planned agenda or list of discussion points. All that was required was a group of those willing and able to engage in a dialog of thoughtful opinions. Yes, sometimes the discussion got heated and intense, and yes, there were plenty of times when the topics were the mundane, "who's the best, funkiest, prettiest, dumbest, etc..." or the silly, "cartoon characters, Stooges routines, off-color jokes, etc..." but ultimately you left the conversation knowing that your own knowledge base had been enhanced.

And here's a little known fact about those gatherings: all of us weren't friends and we certainly didn't all share the same perspectives. Often these were spontaneous sessions that arose whenever the opportunity presented itself. Sometimes there was a particular topic that we wanted to address but that was more the exception rather than the rule. While we did discuss our own varying degrees of political activism around subjects like on-campus support for minority students or local/state/national elections, we were more likely to engage in talks about the plight of our generation and the future based on what actions we took. Certainly we didn't have any consensus except for one: that we needed to do something other than talk.

Out of those conversations, we not only planned for our futures but we continued to evolve in our thinking as to shape our societal and political insights to this very day. My only regret is that during that time period, the late 70's and early 80's, there wasn't more openness in the Churches to help us reconcile our spiritual beliefs with our secular knowledge. Unfortunately, this is still somewhat problematic but progress is being made in that when today's children ask questions relating the spiritual to the secular, due to the preponderance of information available to them, we adults are required to pay more than lip service to their questions and that often means searching for answers that we had simply taken for granted ourselves.

That, friends, is the core observation at the root of my lamentation. All around us there are people in decision-making capacities who have shunned the critical thought process in favor of simplistic rhetoric. And while there's nothing wrong with simple rhetoric which is a preferable form of communication, there's something dreadfully abhorrent about those who would try to address the complexity of today's challenges with a refusal to entertain a variety of potential solutions as warranted by the fact that new problems can't always be solved by old answers. And, yes, even back in the day, there were those around who practiced the same narrow-minded approach. It was the old, "My great granddaddy said this or that and nothing is going to change my mind!" Even when the fallacy of their argument could be demonstrated on multiple fronts, they'd say, "I don't care!" They were sad then and they're even sadder now but we used to be able to ignore them expecting that that type of thinking would only take them so far.

This world demands critical thinking now more than ever before and yet it appears that those of us who practice said art are slowly descending into the tar pits and not being replaced. The saddest part of it all is that in the absence of critical thought, evil flourishes. When no one challenges convention, those intent on practicing evil gain strength because they are the loudest and the boldest. One reason for their obfuscation actions is the fear of being found out. If required to support their positions with real facts supported by truth, their arguments and indeed their power, both founded on lies, would soon disappear. There's so much more to be said but before another "critical think-asaurus" vanishes into the ether, please take an opportunity to enjoin your children or any children that you interact with to explore the meaning of deeper thought. It's the only hope outside of GOD that this world has, and if you read the Bible, you'll see that when people give themselves over to evil, GOD Has a tendency to get Fed up Himself and Decide that people are no longer worth the trouble...