Time for compassion, not disdain


One of life’s ironies is that we are often blind to the part each of us plays in precipitating the problems that confront us, yet it is quite obvious to observers, some of whom make it their business to offer opinions and unsolicited advice.

So, to hear from all manner of individuals about what is wrong with Black people, flip on radio and TV phone-in programs or check online comments below news stories about individuals of colour, or matters concerning the Black population. There is a whole segment of society that has never lived a day being Black, yet has ready answers about what is wrong with “those people”, and what “they need to do”.

We’ve heard the litany: absent fathers, bad parenting, gang violence, blaming others, not taking responsibility, not giving enough value to education. This is ably assisted by highly focused media repetition of wrongdoings by Black individuals, and the omission of other more balanced aspects of Black life. Apparently, for the past 500 years or so, we have been spontaneously manifesting anti-social behaviour and have been a troubling burden to the rest of the populace.

One might be forgiven for thinking that all those concerned folks want is for Black people to solve these perceived community ills in order to be universally loved and accepted.

So, there we have it; a group on the outside looking in and telling us what is wrong with us as they see it. Mind you, not with compassion, but certainly with passion and definitely with disdain.

When the debate began raging about the establishment of publicly funded schools with an Afrocentric curriculum, the disdain was presented as social concern; reasoned explanations for why it would be ‘bad’ for Black children to be provided the option of such a school.

The problem, we have heard, is not the negativity that so many Black children endure in the school system; no, the real problem was within the homes of dysfunctional Black families, obviously, a more particular type of dysfunction than in other homes.

A related perspective led to the forced separation of Aboriginal children from their families. Native children were forcibly carted off to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their mother tongue or to reproduce their traditional cultures. And look how that turned out. There is a notion of fellowship with all humanity, but with the proviso that, ‘We can be brothers as long as you are like me’.

Outlining what is wrong with Black people is an escape from examining those same ills on a broader scale. ‘I can feel better about myself, overlooking the stuff that makes my side of the street messy while pointing out what’s wrong with you.’

Incredibly, people who make a habit of dumping on Black people rarely make the connection between their contempt and the types of difficulties Black people of all strata and cultures encounter. As if it’s not a big deal and we should just roll with it. Then, when concerned adults try to create a space to give vulnerable Black children a foundation to withstand the inevitable offensives, the effort is labeled self-imposed segregation.

Yet, the Triangle Alternative School for gay and lesbian students, created for the protection of its students and to allow them to focus on their learning, self-esteem and social interactions, has been described as segregation “in the most positive sense”.

“The rationale behind the program is that queer youth are pushed out of our schools because their voices are not heard or represented, and therefore the Toronto District School Board decided back in 1995 that it would be appropriate to establish a program where queer youth could feel safe and have their voices represented in our curriculum,” explained teacher Jeffrey White about the creation of the school.

If you replace the words ‘gay and lesbian’ with ‘Black’, is there any difference?

What is really missing from this back-and-forth is compassion, and not just selective compassion either. There are people who would weep bitterly and shake in anger at the mistreatment of animals, but reflexively would abuse (or ignore the abuse of) another human being, especially if that human being belongs to a misrepresented minority.

A note on the consequences of clothing…

It’s beyond disturbing that the term ‘fashion police’ is taken quite literally in parts of the world, China being one example, and in Sudan, where a female journalist was jailed for wearing loose fitting pants. Others have been flogged. These kinds of repression make one relieved to be living in the West. However, if you hear yourself saying the words ‘gold lamé animal print’ in describing an outfit you are about to wear out, then they had best be followed by such other words as ‘Halloween’ or ‘costume party’. If not, a word to the wise…

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