19 June 2009

Are Black People allowed to Critically Analyse Other Black People?

I had a discussion with a relative of mine recently concerning black history and some black writers. My relative took particular exception to my criticism of certain aspects of IvanVan Sertima's book 'They Came Before Columbus'. On discussing her objections further it became clear that her real objection was that I could dare to make a critical comment about another black person. Her reasoning was that if, as Prof. Van Sertima had tried to do, the aim was to make more black people aware of their history then if he fabricated a few stories then he should be completely forgiven as the ends justified the means.
Words failed me. Then I understood: 'Oh, you mean like the Bible?' I said.

She couldn't see the link and advised me that she loved black people and anybody who felt it necessary to criticise black people quite clearly didn't. Anyway, Prof Van Sertima's aim was to (having both read his other books) 'enable black people to reclaim their kings and queens and princesses'.
Very much in the vein, it seems to me, as the absolute rubbish espoused by those who revere Haile Selassie and call themselves Rasta. So now we can look to Africa and say we have a black person who is similar to the Queen! It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Don't criticise black people. (A bit like the 'don't snitch' policy, eh?)
I don't think, like my relative does, that being 'spiritual' andwhat I call a 'Designer African' is positive for black people, especially when it is wrapped up in a belief in the supernatural.
Bullshit is bullshit no matter how it is dressed up and black people should not be excluded from any form of critical analysis.

Just in case you don't know: I don't care where you are from - your colour of skin, hair, race, belief system, gender, sexual orientation or anything else - if you are black you will not be excluded from criticism, praise or even indifference. The same applies to any 'group' I come across.
I chose 'black woman thinks' as the name of this blog to enable people to find me in amongst the billions of sites out there, but don't be fooled into thinking that this site is a lovefest exclusively for black people and all other groups will be trashed.

I don't speak for or on behalf of any group. I have my opinions but I am not the voice of 'the black world' or women (what a horrible thought!) and I will continue to try my best to see the world as it really is and not try to ignore things that make me feel uncomfortable or embrace fabricated myths as truth.

I don't always succeed but as the late Carl Sagan said:

“I would rather face a cold reality than delude myself with comforting fantasies”

What do you think?


¡Revulo! said...

I think that I agree very strongly with this post

Others can give you such traitorous looks when you criticize other black people, it's crazy. When I took my African American Rhetoric class, it's amazing that the stares didn't burn holes in my clothes.

isabella mori said...

great post, as always! haven't been here in ages ...

not being open to criticism is, in my mind, a sign of immaturity. i don't care if you're black or green, or left or right or a german biracially-married white over-50 late-bloomiong-academic woman like me (those are all the labels i could come up with right now). critique is healthy and a source of progress and creativity.

btw, have you seen field negro's "big timer"? it reads a bit similar to your post.

Oli said...

In total agreement with you.
I have no particular dislike or favour towards anything or anyone. I'm my own person, with my own thoughts and beliefs.

laBiscuitnapper said...

As ever, I completely agree with you on this one. As someone who is also interested in Ancient African history, having to wade through afro-centric nonsense is doubly irritating, especially as - like with so much hyperbole - it tends to drown out the more interesting reality.

Anonymous said...

I agree that criticism of black individuals and culture is something many people find offensive. I think its a big shame though because criticism is a source of strength and improvement too. It's not going to tear our whole race down when we reflect on ourselves and each other and think critically.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't matter who you are - if you are a human being then you are not perfect. We are all subject to criticism. If it is valid then it is a learning experience and gives us a chance to reflect on who we are and out actions.

If it is not valid then it gives us a chance to educate someone.

Hicham said...

What kind of criticism people place in the 1st place? If the answer is 'constructive criticism' then it's important to sustaine the society, regardless the faith, race, and culture.

If, on the contrary, it is just another 'destructive criticism' then it's another time-wasting since it add nothing but fussy regardless the faith, race, and culture.

Jewelry Rockstar said...

It's a touchy subject because Black people are often being criticized by outsiders. We begin to believe that to be a part of the family you must agree. You don't have to. You have the right to disagree. However, you must be careful that you don't fall into the category of being the one to always criticize blacks because that could indicate that you have some feelings of deficiency about blacks and being black.

C Woods said...

I agree with you. To me, nothing is so sacred that it cannot be criticized.

That being said, I believe the most helpful criticism is that from within one's own community. If a white person criticizes a black individual, s/he is labeled a racist. If a Gentile criticizes Israel, s/he is called an anti-semite. In both cases, the criticism is thought to be invalid. We all tend to dismiss criticism from without. Even though Arabs have valid criticisms of the U.S., most people just think they are angry Muslims who don't know or understand us. We need to see and move to correct our own faults.

If the criticism of blacks comes from blacks, or of Israel from Jews, of of the U.S. from Americans, then progress can begin.

uglyblackjohn said...

It's funny that you compare the critisism to the whole "Stop Snitching" ideology.
When you criticize - in effect you are "snitching" on those who should be doing better.

These and the self-agrandizement through names (Diva This, King That) are just more lies to avoid the truth that one may not be on the level they would wish.

Robert Williams said...

How does one believe criticism as an act of disloyalty? Where must a psyche be to acknowledge such powerless energy.

I am no more loyal to unenlightened individuals, as I am to people who share the same pigmentation.

Both acts would be superficial, race, gender, same neighborhood are worthless indicators of a sense of group pride.

There's no scientific evidence that someone of the same race will Love us better. Such debates are adolescently driven, and antiquated.

Ralph Dumain said...

In complete agreement, with this post and with the comments so far.

Lorraine M. said...


So, then, are we ever going to be allowed to talk about Michael Jackson? Or will the accusations--and his own remarks about the "innocence" of the bedroom visits--going to remain forever the elephant in the room African-Americans pretend isn't there?

Just wondering.

Lorraine M. said...

Aach! Forgot to edit out the "going to" when I re-typed; sorry, folks.

Jonathan West said...

Hi there!
Followed you back from the very kind comment you left on my blog! Thank you also for the recommendation!

This issue of whether it is acceptable as a member of a discriminated-against minority to make a public criticism of somebody else in the same minority is always difficult.

On the one hand, we all have a duty to the truth, but on the other, such criticisms may be used by the outside world against the group as a whole, and so there is a great temptation to "circle the wagons" and decide that solidarity against outside criticism is the higher priority.

Seth Freedman a couple of years ago wrote an article Spare the rod... in which he described just this issue in the ambivalent attitude of British Jews towards criticism of Israel.

In essence, the conclusion of one relative was that the worse Israel behaves, the greater outside criticism it attracts, and so the greater is the need for solidarity. This resulted in the paradoxical position that the worse Israel behaves, the more it becomes impermissible for Jews to criticise it!

There's no easy answer to this one, and so I am very careful to avoid joining in with kneejerk demands that the leaders of any minority group ritualistically condemn the activities (even terrorist activities) of hotheads from groups associated in some way with that minority. Such demands only make the external pressure and the need for solidarity even greater, and so are counterproductive. Criticism is more effective for not being made under duress (either in fact or by general perception).

Lorraine M. said...

So where does this leave us, Jonathan, when it is important to be honest with one another? We can confront only when no one else is watching?

When we choose silent solidarity over open criticism aren't we in fact enabling the very things we see as wrong?

Jonathan West said...

Hi Lorraine
Criticism is most effective when it comes from close to home. For me as a white person in Britain to criticise American blacks when I know so little of the American black experience is likely to have little or no positive effect.

At best I would be likely to cause irritation at the the ignorance and presumption of my criticism, at worst it might encourage the very "circling the wagons" attitude that would suppress constructive criticism from within the black community.

The only circumstance under which it would be remotely possible that criticism from somebody outside the community would be taken to heart is if the critic already has a reputation for fearlessly criticising his own community, so that there is less chance of an accusation of double standards.

So for the most part I restrict my criticisms to those times, places and people where I think that doing so might have a positive effect, and carefully avoid doing so when I believe that it will contribute to a siege mentality. It is important that in speaking you do not have the effect of making a bad situation worse.

This way, I do what little I can to encourage the creation of an atmosphere where open and constructive criticism from within a community can flourish. Sometimes it is necessary to be silent in order to give others a better chance to be heard.