"How do you and I unify, if we're separated?"

Or: "People may be listening differently whenever they hear something"

I had a really rewarding email exchange with a local FM radio show this morning.  In Charlotte, 96.1 is the best hip-hop station, and their morning show has hooked me from the start, almost entirely because it's ridiculous and funny.  The cast, Brotha Fred (middle), David L. (right), Jacinda (smokin'), and Cubby (not pictured) are a youngish and diverse crowd.

After hearing a large chunk of a rather serious discussion about "race" this morning stemming from Obama's victory, I emailed David L. and asked him to post this segment as a podcast for download, primarily so that I can save it and use it in the future in my classroom.  Click here to listen to segment one; click here to listen to segment two. [PLEASE make sure to listen to at least the entire first segment before droppin' a comment.]

I can't think of a more important moment to have this conversation--to have it over and over and over again--than right now.  The challenge, and it is a monumental challenge, is to find a way to achieve the Unity we all claim to want by sympathizing with both David L.'s and Brotha Fred's arguments.  Best I can tell, the difficulty stems from the fact we are using historically loaded terms: my guess is that almost anyone who listens to these two clips will "choose sides," will side with either David L. or Brotha Fred.

I absolutely know (and try to accept) people who almost certainly would be drawn to Brotha Fred's argument, perhaps so strongly that they will not be able to seriously consider David L.'s perspective.  On the other hand, I know (and try to accept) people who are going to sympathize with David L. so strongly as to make it impossible to listen to Brotha Fred.  The most amazing part of all of this may be the fact that Brotha Fred believes he is agreeing with David L., while David L. remains unconvinced that there is a fundamental agreement. 

Here's an excerpt from the email I returned to David L. after he asked me about my views, especially in my role as an educator:
My views are complicated -- I'm new to the region (from Michigan originally), which complicates things further.  In the classroom, I'm convinced that the most important thing is learning to listen to each other's views even when they sting a bit.  But personally, I sometimes feel a little pessimistic: it's as if our definitions (black, white, race, etc.) block us from ever actually experiencing authentic communication... we sort strike the pose of listening, and mutter things like "mmhmm, yeah, mmhmm," but it sometimes seems to me as if we only hear the things we want to hear.  I guess I cling to the hope that there might be other categories ("American," or maybe "Christian," or whatever) that might eventually bring us to see ourselves as "One" instead of diverse -- but I understand that that's probably much easier to say as a white person than it would be for a black person.  Welcome to America, I guess, right?


fenhopper said...

Here's the biggest problem I have with discussions like that: The Fred character hasn't picked one argument to defend. And when called on one of his statements he backs off and says 'No that's not what I'm saying -- I'm just saying that what's really important...'

Honestly I don't think he's speaking honestly. He's very good at keeping the controversy going while making accurate statements about his opinions that sound like agreement then reshaping his complaint.

I might listen to it again to get specific about why the tires are spinning but really...I often don't feel like these radio exchanges are worth my time. They're performances -- not true conversations.

Casey said...

Fen, thanks for commenting and taking the time to listen.

Here's the biggest problem I have:

I hear what you're saying. I, too, think Fred has a tendency to fancy-foot around the question. When David L. tries to pin him down, Fred tends to say something like, "Right rightright, yeah, but..."

But. My claim here is that David L. does precisely the same thing -- when cornered, he says, "Mmmhmm, yep, mmhmm," and then adds, "But what I'm tryin' to say is..."

And so: you're right: he's not speaking honestly. But I don't think David L. is either -- and I'm not sure either of them can.

I said to one Gilmer C- the other day on the phone that the image I have, lately, of black and white people in America, is that of a pair of awkward 13-year olds trying to "get together" at their first boy/girl dance.

Or: a pair of 22-year olds falling in love, and feeling the approach of the moment where one of them has to take the great leap and say "I love you" before the other one, never completely sure that the sentiment will be reciprocated.

I posted this anticipating more sympathy for David L. than for Brotha Fred -- and the reason is, there's a suspicion that Fred harbors some (possibly even subconscious) racial prejudices that he won't admit.

But what if he really is the white person we've been waiting for who doesn't have those ugly sentiments? We must think it's possible -- we must, or we forfeit our narrative of progress.

The question is (and it applies to the white person who first achieves that holy state of being as well as to the black person who achieves [not incidentally] the exact same state), how will we recognize the messiahs when they come? How will we be able to see when Walt Whitman reappears and really does consider himself (or herself) "One" with all races? The point I would maybe like to make is that there can be no unity until -- precisely until -- we listen to this conversation and say "Yes" to both sides, without reserve.

I understand the objections -- I hope you've heard me listen and talk enough to know that I understand what kinds of things are keeping us from achieving the dream.

And maybe that's all I want to say: I understand the objections.

No "but" about it.

fenhopper said...

They're both performing yes. And so they're both saying "yeah...but...!" just to keep the volume up.

Fred's character started the complaint. And I think they does put him somewhere that David's character isn't.

But before I go further with that I'll have to listen again. Because each claim is where I think the mismatch occurs. There are some places where they should probably say "no...I disagree" but they're afraid to.

Both of them. All three of them. All of us.

(How's that for a closing fanfare?)

Casey said...

Yeah -- that's exactly where I was aiming, I think. I mean, when it comes to "this conversation," aren't we all performing?

I know I can't say what I honestly think. I get the impression that people with skin that looks different than mine can't either.

And even if this whole clip can be dismissed as "a performance," it's hard to say the same of the phone calls...

One woman saying, "Fred, you speak for millions of white people." Another woman saying, "Fred, you don't get it -- you can't get it."

I think those voices are both very real, and both very troubling.

Anyway, again, thanks for listening -- I know most people don't expect to have to listen to twenty minutes of audio when they click themselves to a blog.