Philly Debrief Pt. II: Confronting Anti-Intelligence

Yes, there is a theme that has been consistent in what I write, more so in my comments on other people’s blogs.  Most times I offer anti-intelligence as the reasoning behind people and their actions.  To drive the point home, it’s really their reactions.  Those who try their best to engage in critical debate and critical thought, and push themselves to read a book (read a book, read a muh—– book) usually are the one’s who either a) are the first to take serious action or at least b) make a calculated reaction to any particular situation.

As I’ve said in my other posts, the youth group I was with visted the Eliza Shirley House on Arch Street in Philadephia and the other groups visted various Salvation Army shelters, food banks, thrift stores to sort through donations, and other homeless shelters dealing with kids and adults with mental illnesses alike.  It was my job, seeing as how I was the adult leader for this trip, to lead group discussion at night with our group.

Before I say what occurred in the group discussions, I’d like to pause here and say that euphemisms have effectively killed serious and meaningful discussions about flashpoint issues; euphemisms merely pour fire onto a fire that very well may be out of control.  Case in point: Our group was to have a night of “cultural exchange” with Greater Exodus Baptist Church on North Broad Street and I guess since I’ve been black for so long, I figured that this was a black church.  I mean, my friends and I make jokes about the names that black churches come up with, especially the storefront ones that may be associated with some off-brand Holiness denomination.

I guess calling it a “cultural exchange” was a mixture of anti-intelligence, in my opinion, and a combination of just being culturally unaware.  I say culturally unaware because it seems that by not calling it a “black church” but going into depth about how the service and modes of worship may be different than what this group is used to, somewhat diminished that which is the Black Church as an institution.

When we came back to group meeting that night, after the youth were more than impressed and pleased with the service, I just mentioned, kind of in passing, not to harp on the point, but that vocalness of the parishoners in response to a prayer, a song or the preacher was what was known as call-and-response and I proceeded to say these exact words that “it was born out of the Black Church–” and immediately my host mother (yes, the same one who said “hip hop was born out of the prison culture) and my partner in this internship proceeded to tell me that I was wrong “because I attended a church just like that back home and there were not just black and white people there….”

And, then Militant Negro knocked on the door.

I paused and started saying “Call-and-response was born out of African–” as I began to walk to the door and peep in the peep hole debating if I wanted to answer Militant Negro’s knocks.

And these two ducks interrupted me again, my host mother being a bit more vocal saying “You can’t say that this is only a black thing because….”

This time Militant Negro  did a loud holler out to Angry Negro and both of them started beating on the door because, by now I was really ready to read ’em.  I  am studying this in seminary; I  have been a member of a black church and the Black Church from birth; I know this stuff like the back of my hand–in fact these two women are lucky that I haven’t taken Church History I and II and African American Church History I and II at school yet because history is a pet subject of mine, and then I woulda started quoting dte and whatnot, an it woulda been a Michael Eric Dyson on my part–mass murder of white intelligensia.

Instead, I didn’t open the door, and stayed my good ol’ Uppity Negro self and just started for the third and final time that “Call-and-response was born out of the Africa and from the Black Church…”

I was pushing the racial envelope in the discussions because a good majority of the people that we were encountering in the shelters and homes were people of color.  And anyone familiar with East Coast cities knows that everybody from the tip of South America, north through Central America and the Caribbean find themselves immigrated to larger cities. 

These were the people we encountered.  Along with your garder variety white person who may be classified as poor white trash, and clearly grew up poor right alongside all the other darkies.

Editors Note:  Aint it interesting that poor people more or less share the same fate from a crappy government, be it on the local, state or federal level, yet and still their are distinct delineations on the basis of race that still place those from the white race on top

I’m not going to lie, but I was honestly shocked that these youth actually had opinions about them being from the suburbs versus that of growing up in the city.  And these were real statements and questions that they had.  I think the problem is that, people from this particular culture that I’ve found myself alienated in, by choice of course, I applied for the job knowing what I was getting into, is that they never push themselves to the level of uncomfortability; they rarely stretch their thinking past face value.

Another case in point: my host mother has just convinced herself that the neighborhood around Howard University is just the worse neighborhood in the world.  I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when she first told me that.  I mean, she went on and on today about a non-fatal shooting in Adams-Morgan today and I’m like–OMG, these surburban folk, white and black have a TOTALLY whacked-out view of what it means to live in the city.  (I could take a niiiiiice digression about the images that are portrayed through media, be it TV or print, but you already know where I stand on these issues.) I have convinced myself, rightly or wrongly, that these youth would not have had as frank of a conversation about “call-and-response” or even felt comfortable to ask me about where I stand as a black young man from the city on Barack Obama.

I am convinced that we are raising another generation that will coddled with euphemisms yet again, and they will fail to have the tools necessary to deal with many of our social ills, not just in this country, but in the world.  We cannot be afraid to call a spade, a spade.  I think it is imperative that we be truthfully radical because while attending a black church is in fact a “cultural exchange” it’s just not radical enough to change anything.  Not saying that every black church is like Greater Exodus, I know that for a fact not to be true, but, it still broadens a perspective. 

I urge those who read this post to first start reading.   Even though I have a proclivity for Michael Eric Dyson, he doesn’t have to be your premier choice, but I definitely recomment him.  And even with what you read, challenge it, ask the author rhetorical questions, don’t take it for face value.  Secondly, pick up a newspaper.  Well, you can go online and read it, but it still usually gives more information than what the talking heads on TV are going to say.  You’d be shocked at the number of obscure articles that Mama Uppity has found over the years in the Chicago Sun-Times that would help support numerous conspiracy theories.  Thirdly just ask questions.  Too often people get afraid at offending people; stop worrying about people’s feelings, they’ll get over it in due time.

Hell, just stop being dumb–as Bishop Owens said this morning at Greater Mount Calvary: “Elevate your mind!”

So do you think that this is seriously a problem in this country?  The absolute failure to cricicize intelligently the social and economic ills of this country or have I totally missed the boat on this one and making a mountain out of a molehill?

Also, I’d like to hear the longest and most ridiculous church names that you see driving down the street.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL


7 thoughts on “Philly Debrief Pt. II: Confronting Anti-Intelligence

  1. Glad to have you back Uppity! Learning is good work…

    The experiences that you’ve shared in your recent posts have generated the heat needed to warm up the cooled off areas of the collective brain. We are not yet brain dead, but we are definitely brain-cooled to the point that many of us are intellectually sluggish–think hardening of arteries and apply that to clogged-up neural pathways. If the analogy is bad, please accept the apology for my attempt to make it plain.

    Were you ever able to effectively address the youth group under your leadership regarding the ‘call and response’ culture of the black African American church? Without betraying the trust of the group, were there any individually voiced epiphanies expressed following the Philly ‘cultural exposure’? Opportunities for cultural exchange is good, cultural sensitivity is a bonus.

    Reading is fundamentally radical!

  2. Would it be disrespectful to say that your host mother sounds nuttier than the day is long?! Sheesh…where does she come up with this stuff?! Has she even spent any prolong period of time around Howard University…Georgia Ave? I was there for my masters, going to class at night, and I had no problems (well unless you count the lack of parking). NOT ONE!!! I feel no more scared of some cities than I do the freakin’ suburbs. If one uses a little common sense, no matter the environment, they should be okay. I need her (host mother) to get out a little more!! Post haste!!

  3. “I am convinced that we are raising another generation that will coddled with euphemisms yet again, and they will fail to have the tools necessary to deal with many of our social ills, not just in this country, but in the world. We cannot be afraid to call a spade, a spade. ”

    I think you’ve hit it right on the money. I teach at a large, prestigious state university in the South. My students are wonderful young people: bright, sweet, articulate, enthusiastic, mostly well-cared for, middle-class young adults from all over the state. They have been pushed so much in so many directions in their education…the levels of knowledge they come in with in math and science, and the kidns of projects they do in high school these days astound me…yet most of these people are almost completely incapable of having a productive discussion about much of anything of substance that actually affects their lives and the lives of those around them.

    It’s really quite heartbreaking to see. My pedagogical stance is not particularly radical, but I teach rhetoric and American literature, and it can be really difficult to discuss texts dealing about race, class, sex, gender, or any other “sensitive” issues with my undergraduates. The sad thing is that it’s not so much that they don’t want to talk about these issues. Many of my colleagues are shocked to find that their students’ favorite readings in American literature courses are slave narratives, or The Souls of Black Folk, or Christina Garcia’s novels. But they haven’t ever been encouraged to deal with “sensitive” topics for fear of offending others. Those things are to be glossed over in favor of the “universal.” So by the time they get to college they are aching to learn more, to ask questions…but they really just don’t know how.

    They (including many of my students of color) have been euphemismed and PC’d and overprotected out of the ability to speak truthfully and honestly about the things they see going on around them every day. I think your host mother’s response to your contextualization of black church traditions is a classic example. They’ve been told by people like her that racial inequality no longer exists…but deep down, they know it does, and there is some reason why people differentiate between NW DC and SE DC. They’ve been told poor people are poor because they just need to be encouraged to work harder, or some such…but they know that isn’t the end of it. Everyone is the same nowadays, you can’t generalize ever (unless you are generalizing about “society”) They seem to sense that everything is not roses, but it takes a Herculean effort to get them to open up and question that notion. When you try to push them past glib statements about “the past”–discussion stops. Everyone’s at attention, but no one wants to venture anything. It worries me. What is going to happen when these kids leave here and go out into the world? It makes me think of my non-black colleagues who stan for Obama because “just his presence in the White House will bring so much revolutionary CHANGE in this country” but cannot for the life of them articulate what that change is or how it will come about.

    That being said, I have been amazed at the power of reading books, as cliched as it is, for helping young people think more critically about their world and articulate what they really think. No one wants to talk openly about black “double consciousness” in class…but EVERYBODY is fascinated by it and wants to write their final paper on it. I guess that’s something…but I do often feel it’s too little, too late, and even that feels too superficial to be worthwhile sometimes.

  4. Howard is in a somewhat bad neighborhood, particularly compared to the other white schools in DC. And this is coming from a Howard grad.

    However, the real question is “Why the fuck does that matter?”

    Howard grads are kicking ass and taking names across this country. More importantly, I think it is a positive that the school stayed in an economically depressed area and invested in the surrounding community. Most white folks would have just ran.

    Your host mother sounds like what Obama called a “typical white person.”

  5. @Big Man

    Somewhat of a bad neighborhood?!?!?

    I’m sorry, compared to other places I’ve been in DC, Chicago, and Atlanta–and gawwwwd yes NOLA, that’s a pretty decent neighborhood to me. There are single-family homes all through the neighborhood, because of the campus, you have campus police monitoring the area. You got the U Street corridor in walking distance which is CLEARLY a place to go out for an evening.

    But, um, yeah…why does it matter?

    “Typical White woman!”

    **slaps knee and laughs uncontrollably**

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