Getting To The Underneath…

I ran this quote from an email from damali ayo recently:

I hope to see some of you at my upcoming talks. Unless noted, all are free and open to the public.

I am looking for specific contacts in schools and organizations that can benefit from my work. I offer a dynamic presentation with stories and visuals that opens a dialogue about our current way of handling race relations. Then I take the audience through easy-to-do solutions to these problems. I also work very closely with the community of the school or organization so that my presentation is tailored to their needs. Following my talk, I offer ongoing coaching for selected members of the school or organization, so that they might continue this conversation and produce tangible results within their community. The process is exciting and creates real changemy approach works! We all know that a personal touch is needed to create change on a real level, I’m here to be that person.”

Some folks didn’t like what I said.

Well….Paolo Friere talks about the ‘banking method of education’ whereby the teacher instructs the student, depositing information into the student’s empty teller machine. The students (audience) are the object to be acted on, the teacher, the actor who provides the object info that animates them. The teacher is thus, the ‘expert’ repository of the commodity called ‘knowledge.’

I’m not down with any process whereby people project themselves as ‘teachers’ or ‘experts’ who offer methods that ‘really work.’ We are all teachers and students, simultaneously. We are taught the opposite in order to mentally cripple us.  If we have some sort of specialized, unique experience – like Angela Davis being a Panther, educator for 30 odd years, putting her life on the line, speaking in an uncompromising fashion – I’m with that person.

But when people use the struggle for freedom to project themselves as some kind of facilitator of change, offering ‘originality’ or ‘humor’ or ‘cuteness,’ as opposed to a program, piercing, hard truth or deep analysis – I got problems with it. I don’t care what color they are.

And why are we duplicating this kind of high-low, teacher-student paradigm?

White people have a problem with our ‘current way of handling race relations.’ They’d rather not talk about it at all. People of color have a problem with racism/white supremacy. We want Plymouth Rock off our ass. There’s a difference. If white people touching our hair was the worst of our problems, I’d say more power to you. But the troubles, the issues people of color confront are profound.

And I don’t think damali’s ‘talks’ are intended for our audience or our issues, nor do I think they are intended to help end R/WS. There was a wonderful little play here recently called “Mutt”, about a woman of color who was grappling with her identity. It was quite pleasant and cute on the surface, thought though mildly problematic for me.

A beautiful sister I know here, Sharon, saw it on my recommedation and when we spoke about it, she was livid. She pointed out things that I’d seen but hadn’t noticed. The way the character stereotyped black folks as gangsters or thugs, the fact that there were no other characters of color, the way that ‘Madonna’ was the lead’s idol, the ‘Great Appropriator’ of black culture; the play mammied the white audience, played to their concerns, tickled their fancy and comforted them. And they loved it.

I realized that I was aware of those issues, but only superficially. When my friend brought the knowledge and the heat, I was like ‘sho’ you right!’ She was dead on it and it was I who had to get deeper.

But not all of us go there or want to. Some of us are happy with crumbs, happy with the fact that somebody out there is ‘trying.’ The problem is that everyone out there doing work (or appearing to) for so-called racial justice ain’t necessarily looking out for our interests. They might be talking about us, but only to position themselves next to massa’s wallet, in the marketplace, instead of the ring fighting for justice and trying to end this vicious system.

One Response to “Getting To The Underneath…”

  1. “I offer a dynamic presentation with stories and visuals that opens a dialogue about our current way of handling race relations.”

    Which current way? Whose?

    “Then I take the audience through easy-to-do solutions to these problems.”

    Reparations, for one thing, are needed, and these have not been easy to do … it isn’t even easy to defend affirmative action. And one of her ‘easy’ solutions is that you make friends with a member of another race, to the level of sleeping on each others’ couches for a month or something … that level of frienship isn’t quick and easy to create with anyone, and yet more importantly, having a friend is *not* tantamount to dismantling the system !!!

    “I also work very closely with the community of the school or organization so that my presentation is tailored to their needs.”

    So they only have to get rid of as much racism as they want? (Sorry, I know I’m being sarcastic, but it’s just so tempting…)

    “Following my talk, I offer ongoing coaching for selected members of the school or organization, so that they might continue this conversation and produce tangible results within their community.”

    In other words, people who have had grievances filed against them for discrimination can be sentenced to retraining, so that the organization doesn’t get sued for not trying, or can settle its lawsuit for less? (Again, I know I’m being sarcastic, but I think it’s warranted.)

    This comment may offend the Ayo supporters. All I’ve seen is what MJ linked to, so I may be being unfair. It may be that people learn from her, and start on a new and good path.

    It may also be, though, that they get smug because they now think they know everything. And the whole program may work to cover much deeper problems with a smiley face. As I say, our country attacks whole other countries in a racist way, is wracked with environmental racism, etc., etc., builds fences on the border to keep those scary dark people out, and yet we can solve it all by having more interracial friendships … ??? That idea just functions to pull wool over peoples’ eyes, and in that way the program sounds pernicious!

    *****

    “I’m not down with any process whereby people project themselves as ‘teachers’ or ‘experts’ who offer methods that ‘really work.’”

    I teach, and I teach at a university where professors also teach lower level courses, so I have to put up with presentations from textbook companies. I recognize this cant about how “our program really works” from these presentations. NOW they will solve your problems, just order this book and it will have a method that “really works,” etc. etc. etc. … it is pure marketing and the main point is to sell a product.

    There are good books and good programs, sure, that will pass on information in an organized way (e.g. how to fix your leaky roof, how to run your computer, how to write a business letter in French), but you don’t learn anything really deep by just swallowing a pill (so to speak).

    Anyway, I am rambling and ranting, so I will be quiet now. It is not that I think any of Ayo’s suggestions are bad, they’re actually good, and it may well be that she does good. I’m only saying that the whole thing needs to be addressed a whole other level, and the implication that Ayo’s program is *all* that’s needed is problematic.

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