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Jan132016

PERSONAL COMMUNICATING AND RACIAL EQUITY: 2 THE "ANGRY BLACK MALE" AS A CREATION OF U.S. CULTURE

 


Film Artist Spike Lee


Devonte recently graduated from a Division III college where he played football.  He works in his major field of Sociology and is an officer in the local NAACP.  He doesn’t have much patience with White guys like me.

From across the room, I’ve watched Devonte share stories, trade insults, and laugh with African American colleagues and friends, but when he and I talk, he’s always serious and sometimes prickly.  He’s a big guy, and his unsmiling face is unsettling.  He’s not happy about how he and the group he represents are treated by the group I represent. “You people don’t take us seriously,” he growls.

A friend with a history in the Black Panthers gave me some insight into the “angry Black male” stereotype when he told me that, if he’s waiting for an elevator and the doors open to reveal a single, white female inside, he waits for the next car.  My friend is in his early 60s and not football-size, but he knows she’s likely to be frightened because he’s Black.

I’d Be Angry Too!

My previous post, “Personal Communicating and Racial Equity: 1,” began with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s insightful connection between fear of others, which is rooted in not knowing them, which comes from not “communicating properly” with them.  I find that I can open the door to communicating as personally as possible with Black men and women who appear—and often are—angry by remembering that, if they come from a family who grew up in the United States, they have a lot to be angry about.

Look back at the bulleted list of often-ignored facts in my last post.  Slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, denial of voting rights, red-lining, discrimination in lending, housing, employment, & law enforcement are all historical—and current—realities that help define the world U.S. Blacks inhabit today.  If I lived in such a world, I’d be angry, too.  Much of the White power structure needs to be reminded that Black Lives Matter.

 Religious leaders and reconciliation commissions urge forgiveness, and this is definitely one part of making things better.  Another part is to acknowledge the legitimacy of what makes many Blacks angry.

Cultural Humility
Ta Nehisi Coates

A necessary step, ultimately for everyone, is practicing cultural humility.  Cultural humility means holding your cultural commitments lightly, rather than with white knuckles.  It’s the opposite of being ethnocentric—believing that your own “ethnos” or culture is the center of the universe.  It means recognizing concretely that your cultural ways of seeing and doing things are not the only ways, and are often not the best ones. 

 My White cultural commitments include expectations about punctuality, emotional displays, voice volume, pronunciation, eye contact, email use, family values, and hundreds of other matters that are not inscribed in stone anywhere and are important parts of my culture.  I don’t have to give any of them up, and I do need to accept different ones when I encounter them.  Holding my cultural commitments lightly means not condemning someone for being “late,” “loud,” or “lazy” by my standards.

Humility also means not defending my way of seeing or doing things when they’re different from someone else’s, but either accepting the differences or being curious about them.  Cultural Humility is a key element of multicultural competence, being able to communicate effectively with people who are different from me.

Your Cultural Inventory

Try making an inventory of the cultural identifiers that flow from your age, gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, and socioeconomic status.    For example, my gender often gives me status and credibility, and leads some women to expect to be interrupted by me.  My race gives me privilege in banks, stores, schools, and many mixed-race groups.  And so on.

The point of making an inventory of your own cultural identifiers is to become aware of what you need to be humble about, what you need to hold lightly.

What to Do?

 It’s smart to be wary of—even to fear—some people in some situations.  It’s racist to fear every angry black man or woman you encounter.  Especially if you’re White, you’re not going to be able to respond to all the historical reasons for his or her anger.  AND, if you listen carefully, you might be able to respond non-defensively enough to work effectively with him or her and to make progress toward the kind of understanding that reduces fear on all sides.

 

 

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