Thursday, December 9, 2010

Social Networks: What Good Are They?

I received a rather lengthy rant from a colleague stating that they were closing all their social networking accounts (FB, Linkedin and Twitter) because the networks were a waste of time. The person went on to say, that in a time of recession, tax breaks for the wealthy, a dysfunctional federal government and two wars, folk are wasting time, talking about music, art and senseless stuff.  I hear my friend loud and clear. We are indeed in the worse economic and political climate of my life time.  And yes, there's lots of over sharing and senseless banter that goes on with social networking sites. But like most things in the world, there is good and bad, and it's up to individual user to discern what works and doesn't work.

I'd like to offer a different take. I possess a wide array of interests which social and economic matters are an integral part. However, arts, cultural, spiritual uplift are equally important to my functioning as a whole person. The opportunity to interface with people from around the world on a variety of topics, ranging from nuclear disarmament to Nicki Minaj, I find extremely fulfilling. More important, it provides a break from the daily grind of what for me is very difficult economic time.

LinkedIn provides a space for to me to interface with those who I share  similar professional interests. Twitter allows me in 140 characters to get links to news, jobs, music and yes, up to the minute analysis of the RHOA or the BET awards.
Facebook, where I admit, I probably spend more time than I should, provides me with a cornucopia of knowledge on range of topics that feed my all over the place mind. I get spiritual food and uplift from people all of the U.S and some foreign countries.  I'm linked to people and diverse ideas that would take me; a somewhat shy, reserve person, several life times to accomplish in real time.

In my opinion, social networking creates the opportunity for us to move beyond the normative cultural practice made popular at the turn of the century by author, Robert Putnam called, "Bowling Alone". Now I get to come to the playground with a diverse group of people that transcends race, class, gender and national origin in a space that though far from safe, tends to be much more none threatening. I love my FB kin as I have come to call them. I check in on them and they on me, if we're M.I.A for more than a day a two.  We nurture and encourage each other, laugh, cry and celebrate with each other. We are all clear that though this is cyberspace and not everything we read is true or real, our connections are no less valuable.

The long term implications of social networking remains to be seen. However, in the meantime, I will continue to engage. I suggest to my friend not to disconnect, but much like in the real world, be more selective about the kinds of friends he/she surrounds themselves with.

Just my two cents.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pt: 1 Reconciling the Contradictions: Adapting to a World We Didn't Make

My Standpoint:

I speak from the standpoint of a womanist/feminist, heterosexual woman that admires and respects men, especially black men. I can honestly say that I have never been mistreated by a man. Disappointed by my preconceived notions about what my man should be and how he should love me yes, but I am clear that it was of my own making.  I still maintain what some may call an unrealistic standard.  Yet, I am clear that I am not looking for the perfect man, but a man that is perfect for me.   I have managed to do most of the things I've wanted to do without  having to depend on a relationship with a man.  Would it be sweeter with someone to share it with, of course. But life is about choices, and I choose not to force a relationship that is not meant to be and one in which I don't feel like my best self at least 90% of the time.  Choices in life come with a price. In my opinion, no price is too high for me to feel valued and loved. While my heart remains open to love and companionship, in the meantime, I love my own company, I love being able to make decisions solely with me in mind.  I don't consider myself selfish, but I am oh so self-filled.

Reconciling the Contradictions:

This blog post is not about male or female bashing.  Instead, I am offering a good dose of pull up. So brothers, put on your big boy boxers or briefs and sisters put on your big girl panties. This is about the NAKED TRUTH (i.e. self-hatred as a result of internalized oppression).

DuBios often spoke of the dual consciousness that exists for most black people in America and I suspect the world. That duality of consciousness often causes us to behave in ways that on the surface appear diametrically opposed. Each day we must reconcile what it means to be a person of African descent, a person of color, or a woman of color living in world whose mores and values we didn't make.  We were not at the table when decisions about standards of beauty;  what constitutes manhood or womanhood; what defines success were all decided.  Moreover, at the time, black people were only considered three fifths human. Nevertheless, as with all species, we did what we had to do in order to survive. We adapted.

As a result of  our enslavement and/or our colonization, we have had to create a blueprint for survival that is neither purely Western, nor purely African, but instead, a complex, and often conflicting paradigm of social norms and behaviors.  Many of our ancestors came from African cultures that were matriarchal.  As result of this mismatch, our relationships cannot and will not resemble those of the dominant culture, therefore, we need to stop expecting them to.

Historically, women have done a lot of the adapting and changing. Even today, a NYT bestselling author, calls on women to "Act Like a Lady and Think Life I Man".  However, the author simultaneously says that it is not in a man's nature to do certain things (i.e.take down his woman's cornrows). I beg the question, what about a woman's nature. Historically, men have been hunters and gatherers; the providers. The contextual reality based on the evolution of culture and society has required women to work outside the home and  be providers, caretakers and the nurturers. No where is this more true than within the African American family, where historically the black man has been disenfranchised from certain economic opportunities. Black women adapted and were determined that the family survived by any means necessary. That is our historical legacy.  It is then unfair to ask women to just turn off their take charge role when it suits the needs of the men.

Sadly, some of our adaptation has lead us to doubt our on worth as men, women and as humans. We are so out of order that black men have to ask permission to be men. How many times have we heard the phrase," woman, let me be a man". WTH?  Men of our fathers generation didn't have to ask permission.  Though far from perfect, most did what they had to do to make sure that the family was provided for. They paid the cost to be called, "the man." More important, if a man has to ask permission from me to be a man, his emotional needs are greater than anything I can give him. If he has to get a permission slip from me to be what  and who he was born to be the problem runs much deeper. Often this need for permission stems from the brother's inconsistencies as a man. Brothers have to step it up not just when it works for them, but everyday you live. We need men who are not afraid to walk as a man among men; self-determined and comfortable in their own skin. It takes self-help and healing  by both men and women to bring this about.

You didn't see Sojourner asking the suffragist if she could be a woman. She reminded white women, white men and even black men that she was a woman too.  When Truth made her famous statement, "Ain't I a Woman, she was not asking permission but reminding America, that despite her status she was indeed a woman. She stated "that she had borne 13 children and saw them all sold in to slavery".  She reconcile the contradictions and adapted. Though she may not be put on a pedestal like white women, she was no less of a woman.

Mind you, there are a lot of good brothers in our community, yet they are not the ones who get the spotlight. We must shine the light on these models of manhood. Men who are holding it down must reach out to those who may have never seen or interacted with a positive example of black manhood.  Men in general and black men in particular must be willing to reconcile the contradictions and adapt to the current male/female dynamic. Your wife may make more money than you, you may not have a nine to five, but can you cook, wash dishes and take care of the children, while your wife brings home the bacon, with the understanding that the one who brings home the bacon and often time fries it up does get an equal vote.  This my brothers is what reconciling the contradictions in a world we didn't make looks like.

Sisters you must stop measuring your man's value and worth by American standards. We must stop shaming our men because they do not make the salary, drive the car, or can't shower you constantly with gifts.  Now I am not calling for anyone to settle, (Not advocating for you go to the prison to find your man unless that's the man you want). However, I am saying that we must be realistic in our expectations and be willing to see that the true measure of man has little to do with his bank account. The questions we should be asking are: is he a person of integrity, can I trust him, is he an independent thinker, is he willing to sacrifice his needs for the good of the family. Most of all, does he place the Creator first in every aspect of his daily living.

Now when I speak about a God fearing man, I am not talking about the one who hides behind religion and maintains archaic notions about the role of men and women. I know I'm going to make a few enemies here, but I'm ready to take the hit. A lot of the disharmony that we experience in our relationships is perpetuated by the church.  Literal interpretations of biblical references has confused the situation in many ways, rather than brought clarity. The whole notion that God put man in charge and that women should submit to the will of man often serves as a hindrance to meaningful relationships.  Sojourner Truth addresses this notion. She states:  "Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman!  Man had nothing to do with Him".  This outdated notion about who God left in charge, doesn't work. Ultimately, if we put the Creator in charge of both of us, then we can truly move forward.

It is imperative that we a adopt a new paradigm for relationships between men and women. One based on mutual respect and shared leadership.  Complementary roles, based on strengths, rather rigidly defined preconceived notions.  This shift will require the elimination or at least the deconstruction of gender roles built on patriarchy and sustained in large measure by religious institutions.  Only then will men and women be able to engage in meaningful relationship based on mutual respect and shared power, rather than domination and submission.  Change and adaptation must come from both sides. This is how we begin the process of Reconciling the Contradictions and Adapting to a World We Didn't Make.

(Thanks for stopping by. Please feel free to leave your constructive comments. Meaningful dialogue is welcomed. Part II. of this series will address the differences in how men and women select a mate).

Wishing you pure, joy, peace and pure love!


Monday, July 26, 2010

Don't Throw the NAACP's Historical Legacy Out with Its Dirty Bath Water

I am as pissed as most regarding the blatant missteps of the NAACP leadership regarding Mrs. Shirley Sherrod. However, I am not willing to totally malign an organization that no matter whether we agree or disagree with its actions, it has been on the front line fighting for the rights of coloreds, negroes, afro-americans, african-americans and all of the other configurations in between.

I don't know if the NAACP is still relevant and viable to address the myriad of challenges facing our communities today. However, I think we will be hard pressed to find any organization that has not undergone a radical paradigm shift that is truly relevant for our times. Even with that, no single organization will or should try to address all the needs of the black community.

Yes, the NAACP leadership as it stands today, deserves a vote of no confidence. Yet, we can not deny the integral role and human sacrifice that those who came before have made. Yes, I know that the NAACP was started largely by white people.  It was started in response to racial riots and lynching in Springfield Illinois in 1908. It was an organization whose time had come based on the Jim Crowism that was rampant in the America South, but also permeated North, East and West.

We can not deny the role the NAACP played in opening doors to social, political, educational and economic justice for not only black people but other minorities. We cannot deny the historic role of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund with Thurdgood Marshall at the helm litigating and winning Brown vs Board of Education. We can deny or forget that NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers gave his life fighting for the rights of black people.

As a child of the segregated South, my history and early activist training are rooted in organizations like the NAACP. I grew up as a small child attending meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Christian Movement for Human Rights and the NAACP. I remember sitting in churches in the dead of summer sweltering with heat due to no air conditioning. Yet, my mother and others in attendance paid no mind to the heat inside, because the sweltering heat of oppression waiting for them outside was far greater.

I remember my grandfather's brand new brick home being bombed on what infamously became known as "Dynamite Hill" in Birmingham's Smithfield community. A community made up of working class black folk seeking a better life and having the Kland decide that they'd bomb and burn these homes. I guess these individuals felt that only the shotgun houses across the tracks were fitting for black folk.

As I grew older I became more radical in my political thinking and embraced the Black Power philosophies of Angela Davis and other icons of the Black Power Movement. Yet, I never lost my sense of history and memory of my earlier experiences with the more moderate civil rights organizations like the NAACP.  I can still remember my mother's words, "never burn the bridges that brought you across". There was a time in the not so distant past when the NAACP was one of those  bridges.

I write this to remind myself first,  and hopefully to remind others that we must cherish our historical black institutions that were there when we were denied access to most mainstream institutions; be they public accommodations or institutions of higher learning. Because we now have full access to most public and many private spaces, far too many of us no longer patronize black businesses, we no longer live in historically black communities, even our HBCU's are little more than an after thought in our selection of schools. As a result, many historically black communities are blighted because of black flight. In addition, there is debate as to whether we even need HBCUs in a post-racial era.

Yes, we must demand more of the NAACP and other organizations that purport to represent the interests of people of color. In addition to demanding more, we must become actively involved ourselves. If not with the NAACP, with some organized social or political cause that meets our needs and where we can lend our talent and expertise.

Even though the NAACP threw Mrs. Sherrod under the bus, let's take the high road and not throw its historical legacy out with its dirty bath water.