ServantBlog: Identity and Vocation; The Destruction of the Black Monolith

This post is dedicated to the didactic archetype, this beautiful young grandmother of mine.

Just like my grandmother, I pride myself on my ability to teach. It’s been something that has driven me to help for many years. Even when I was young, my mother told me about myself: ‘You’ll help anyone as much as you can, even when they don’t want it.’ It a gift and a curse, but one I own wholeheartedly.

I’ve been practicing this art by acting as a tutor for Sherwood Test Prep, for the GRE and SAT students in the Bay The diversity of my students astounds me, even while I have only taught over the summer. I have parents and minors, immigrants and California natives in my class, all brought together by their collective fear of standardized testing and their trust in my abilities.

I love to help people understand things; this love is birthed from my deep appreciation for scholarship, combined with my need to help people. It’s not the only way I give back, but one I’ve taken a special appreciation for. I’ve tutored officially for much of my academic career; from basic mathematics, to aerospace engineering, to international development. It’s my calling, and my own personal force for change. But why do I bring this up now? Because many people argue that vocation shouldn’t be diverse. I argue that the black community’s work can be as varied as the black community’s identity.

Over the past few weeks, American citizens commemorated the 50 year anniversary on the March on Washington, the event where Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. Although our community appreciates how far we have come in fifty years, much of the focus is about how far communities still have to go in achieving true equality. Many notable community activists spoke their views on the day, including Newark mayor Cory Booker, Martin Luther King III, and Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend Sharpton’s speech gave me pause. He spoke on many topics with characteristic finesse and fury, including the Supreme Court Ruling on the Voting Rights Act, the Zimmerman Trial, and the potential future of the black community. Though Sharpton speaks about the recent progressive change of the American community, he still represents freedom fighters with a foot firmly in the age of the civil rights era. Such a community is worth respecting, but isn’t representative of the people who will enact change, and who must gain support, in the coming years. Sharpton’s very presence and historical work makes much of the Black community ask quaestions about the work of our generation:

  • What has the young black community done lately?
  • Why won’t we protest, march, boycott, lobby for our issues and rights?
  • Who will take up the mantle for the next Black leader of our community?
  • This questions about how Black Youths contribute to Black Progress reminds me of a certain non-sequitur Don Lemon listed five things the black community should do in the wake of the George Zimmerman ruling. Infamously spread as the ‘Pull Up Your Pants’ argument, Lemon argues: if we are to progress as the Black Community, we must do these things.

    This conversation isn’t new, but it gives more fodder to communities who believe gangster culture is the main culprit for the current destruction of the black race. Such deviant cultures definitely color the image of the black community, but such a red herring argument dangerously mistakes image for substance.

    Russell Simmons’s subsequent interview speaks, albeit abrasively, about these same fallacies.

    However, there’s something deeper to these issues. It’s not just about the cause of the destruction of the Black race. Many people won’t admit its complexity or historical context. It’s about the willed silence of deviant communities; communities which don’t fit into one of the dichotomous categories. There is a definite way Black communities have been perceived, and a pressure on the whole community to ‘act right,’ to show our distance from the savagely treated, and acting, ancestors. This means, normative behavior is forcibly willed on blacks their whole lives, in unexplained social mandates:

  • Learn to speak well.
  • Dress a certain way.
  • Don’t exude certain emotions around certain people.
  • Be stronger, more intelligent, work harder than your peers.
  • Go to church.
  • Don’t rock the boat.
  • This assimilatory culture, aims to place the black community with a certain brand, aims to treat us as a monolith of history, ideas, interests, and visions or the world.The thing is, most of the black community isn’t. The black community is not a monolith; it’s filled with competition, disagreement, and more diversity than anyone can fathom. Individuals shouldn’t adopt superficialities which deny the complex identities of communities of color.

    The black community is international and American; bourgeois and from the hood, cis and transgendered, Republican and Democratic. We rocked in punk bands before there was the genre, we search for style in an international lens, and we become well respected activists, authors, and educators on sex and BDSM. We make shows Black and Sexy, and I have come to know many new leaders in the African-American academic community. Talking only about superficial issues like community cleanup and issues with clothes is horribly misguided.

    The issues we face are generational, systematically entrenched, and will take generations to dissemble. However, part of the destruction of such a development is the destruction of stereotypes, and of the appreciation of varied identities. Now, this is important: This variety is not just in identity, but also in vocation as well. Many civil rights activists plead that we use the techniques of civil rights to answer for the issues of today. Such techniques – sit-ins, marches, and speeches – are too vocal, and too ‘directed’ for such a subtle and integrated problem.

    We need leaders in every field to deconstruct the paradigm. We need orators, scientists, musicians, businessmen, politicians, and even teachers. People who deconstructing the systems, as well as people who represent possibilities in diversity for the next generation, is imperative.

    And, I aim to do so at least now, by teaching my students the SATs, and being a different type of role model. What do you aim to do?


    3 thoughts on “ServantBlog: Identity and Vocation; The Destruction of the Black Monolith

    1. Love it. I aim to continue to have a positive impact on the community. I recently (last 8 years or so) have been focused on the LEP, LGBT and HIV+ communities. I always look for the underserved individuals that may benefit from my legal knowledge and experience. Cornelia Bright Gordon

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