Black People, Let’s Be More Cognizant of How We Engage Each Other

Black folks… We are resilient. We are resourceful. We ain’t never afraid. We exude self-confidence and love. And, as the children say, we are lit. In a word, we are everything and then some. And above everything else, we can be passionate with our beliefs and strong in our convictions. But sometimes, when it comes to how we consume information and how we debate with one another, that passion is often used to cudgel others into boxes they don’t want to be in, because of the way Black folks have been socialized. Whether we’re weighing in about rape culture, gender issues, the way to raise families, how masculinity should be performed, or something as mundane as how to make sweet potato pie, the way some of us provoke and critique arguments and each other can cause harm and does nothing to propel us towards social awareness, consciousness, or logical thinking.

Critical thinking isn’t a panacea to all the systematic and social ills or intra-racial concerns, but the way we unpack social issues, pop-culture, or any other human endeavor, says a lot about where we are cognitively and whether we’re good listeners who have the capacity to engage in civil disagreement and come away from the conversation accepting and respecting that not everyone lives the same way and share the same beliefs, or if we are just waiting for the opportunity to shout over someone in an attempt be right. When we engage opposing viewpoints, we must understand that it’s okay that the ways we’ve been socialized to think by our parents, grandparents and, even, the Black church are challenged. While Black folks—no matter where we’re from, how we’re raised, or our respective cultural traditions—share collective experiences, we aren’t a monolith and we don’t all share the same social mores and thought processes, and that’s also okay.

Where some of us often trip up is how we use our personal opinions and beliefs while engaging in spirited conversations with one another. While opinions vary and we are all entitled to ours, there is nothing more frustrating (and triggering for some) than people using their perspectives to harm or belittle others. The way we offer critiques and approach certain conversations must involve more than merely shouting, “Well that’s my opinion!” Particularly if your opinion robs someone of their humanity. You can’t couch your opinion in inflammatory, unfounded, and oppressive rhetoric to further marginalize others and be dishonest, and not be expected to be challenged.

We live in an ever-evolving social media and information age with the capability to reach the masses at an accelerated rate. And it has taught us a myriad of ways about how people self-identify and live their lives. With information being a Google-search away for so many of us with internet access, there is never an excuse to be willfully obtuse and tone deaf because the way someone else lives their life makes you uncomfortable. It can’t be stressed enough; your opinion and discomfort is never more important than someone else’s lived experience. Not when there are people in our community who are triply marginalized and susceptible to violence because of their gender-identity, sexuality, lifestyle, and chosen career.

Merely shouting about something being your opinion and lacking the insight to look at issues with compassion and nuance for the sake of being right and doubling-down in self-righteousness is at the root of why we can’t be truly cohesive as a community or communicate effectively, despite our best efforts. The way some of us get on a moral high horse isn’t based on any healing, understanding, or discernment, but on the inability to look at certain situations objectively, insecurity, and the need to be morally superior. It’s disingenuous and counter-productive.

In the grand scheme of things, again, yes, we are all entitled to our opinions, but thinking outside the realm of what we are accustomed to believing is what helps sustain us as a community. Being insightful enough to self-critique and engage each with honesty and understanding is also what will sustain us as a community and as individuals. Additionally, spreading misinformation and ranting with no direction or regard for context, for the sake of being a know-it-all and an argument, does not a revolutionary or radical thinker make.