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 change– my 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.