What did the Zen Master say to the Hot Dog Vendor?
“MAKE ME ONE WITH EVERYTHING.”
What did the Zen Master say to the Hot Dog Vendor?
What did the Zen Master say to the Hot Dog Vendor?
“MAKE ME ONE WITH EVERYTHING.”
Sometimes in class, I feel like I am a stranger. You know, like a friend asked me to meet them at a party, but didn’t show up. So I’m stranger at a party that I was not invited to. And everyone is trying to be friendly but wondering how I fit into the equation. What can I do? I try to find commonality and be gracious as possible. But class is not a party. Sometimes a class is not a class, but a performance and a game. My classmates drop names, referring to texts and contexts that I’m only vaguely familiar with. Not only do I feel confused, but I feel like I’m losing every round. How does one become engaged intellectually when it becomes more about performance and winning points?
Despite the downfalls of class performance, I am sometimes inspired in my intellectual pursuits. Recently, I have been inspired by my friend’s epic journey into mysticism, postmodernism, and existential phenomenology. We do very different things, but we are both studying something that moves us. I am interested in what moves people and moving people. Specifically, people who migrate and become strangers in foreign lands for religious purposes.
I had big ambitions this evening. I began doing a little research on theoretical and analytical tools that might help shape my research and writing. My three goals this next year are to develop my languages, to sharpen my intellect, and broaden my base of knowledge. I have lots of questions and some fuzzy ideas about things I would like clarified. Then big idea came to me: look for critical summaries of the books I would like to read before I leave for Egypt. If I familiarize myself with the concepts, I might be more comfortable approaching these Great Books, the canon of western thought. I want something to work with as I write another seminar paper.
Almost every serious study on Africa and the Middle East indicates the importance of knowing about European thinkers, philosophers, and theorists. Even if you can’t apply the theoretical or analytical tools of Marx, Foucault, Gramsci, Weber, Wallerstein, etc. to Africa, you still have to contend their analysis. While it is important to recognize how they can be useful, you have to be familiar with them to know their shortcomings.
From my conversations with my friend, I began to think about how existential phenomonology may be useful in critiquing materialist analysis of religious movements, such as rational choice theory and poltical economy theory. I remember asking one of my professors, a Marxist historian, “why should we assume that human beings are rational actors?” My big question: How do we take into account non-material motivations? What about people who sacrifice themselves for religion or ethnics? Specifically, can you make a rational choice equation figuring in a religious person’s desire for union with God? What about the insane and irrational? How do we factor in culture and faith? Often the conventional histories and euro-centric approaches disregard the experiences of vast majority of people. I have often found books written by Western scholars troubling because they seem to belittle people’s lived experiences and the ways they understand the world.
I began looking into ways existential thought could be a tool to think about my work. Since I am interested in religiously motivated mobility, I didn’t want to focus on a material analysis of migration. As I was researching various writers and creating a little database to save my notes. I came several people who interested me. But one stuck out because I remember being really upset about reading his work–Albert Camus.
I first read Camus in a Maghribi social history class three years ago. We read an English translation of his novel, L’Étranger, The Stranger(1942).It is set in Algeria and the main character, Meursault, is a French settler colonist kills an Arab. Here is a bit about what Robert Royal wrote about Albert Camus:
Robert Royal writes that Albert Camus “was both shadowed and inspired by the voiceless mass of people, who, like the Algerians of his youth, go through their lives leaving barely a trace of their existence” (Royal, 1995: 54).
Royal tells us that Camus devised a three stage writing plan. In this first phase, Royal tells us, Camus wrestled with the nihilistic movement. This context offers an important lens by which to view the novel. Camus tries to come to terms with the absurd. Royal writes that Camus believed this was an important step towards a “fuller vision of human meaning and value” (Royal, 1995: 56).
Here are some of my thoughts on the story:
Clearly from The Stranger Camus told the story of an Algeria from the pied noir, perspective of a settler colonist, perspective. The books serves a dual purpose, giving voice to an overlooked community and reflecting an international intellectual movement–existentialist movement. At the same time, it is an artistic creation that offers a view of how a pied noir viewed his world. In order to understand Meursault’s view of Algerians, and Camus rendered them invisible and voiceless, it is important to consider the reasoning and workings of settler colonialism.
Camus does something important, he shows how settler colonialism builds within itself a number of contradictions. It dehumanizes both the colonized and the colonizer. Activists have demonized the colons, and Camus shows how one man could take the life of a dehumanized “other.” Camus, however, refrains from a didactic tale because the contradictions reflect absurdity of existence.
Writers like Memmi and Fanon have explored the psychological effects of colonialism on the colonized. But few writers have elaborated on the psychological effects of being the colonizer. Camus offers a glimpse of the colon’s anxiety. Camus novel starkly reminds us that Europeans and indigenous North Africans lived in a parallel world. How were the distinctions drawn when their lives intersected? The colons were privileged and rendered Algerians voiceless. In the novel, they were like cardboard characters, drawn out to fill space. Through the novel we are given the names of Europeans but those who were seen as Arabs were without names and without history….
A classmate called the main character, Meursault, an existential hero. That to me was the most absurd thing about the novel. I was deeply troubled when I read the bok. I remember in class spinning off into some tangent about how white colonizers render the colonized subjects invisible. People thought my my tangent was actually funny because I went off about Tolkien–who likely saw people of color in South Africa–and his ultra white Lord of the Rings. People are really dismissive about the racist assumptions that were commonly held during that time. But I have found some articles that point out that a few scholars have pointed out Tolkiens racial symbolism. In a similar way, I found Camus’s novel to be racist. I really doubt that he was a racist, but the novel promoted the image that Algerian Arabs were objects. They were mistreated, abused, ignored, and murdered in the novel. They also did not have a voice. Nor were they valorized as existential heroes. That day, more than any other day, I felt like a familiar stranger. I related to those voiceless Arabs in Camus’s novel. I felt like those great European writers, like Tolkien wished me away as they created a perfect white world. Sometimes it is difficult to read and absorb the works of Great thinkers, become so intimately familiar with their ideas, while at the same time always being that “other.” The ones who say that I don’t have a history. The ones who overlook my experiences because it is not meaningful to them. The ones who have disregarded the lives of countless people who exist in the Global South.
In order to engage in broader debates I have to be that familiar stranger. But this raises the question, can those who do not see us tell us a great deal about our lives and experiences? I am not sure.But in order to engage in a discussion with those who view the world through a western lens, I have to understand how they order their world. So, in the end I think that understanding their philosophies may be useful. Perhaps something can be legible…
After the Michael Richards racist tirade many non-Blacks chastised Black folks for being angry and suspicious about white America’s hidden racist views. A number of non-Black commentators said that Black folks’ suspicions were just as bad as Richards’s use of the term nigger and references to lynching. I have been called the nigger with the same contempt and rage that Richards spewed on that stage. I am not alone, I know a number of Black people who have been insulted, intimidated, physically threatened, and even assaulted under the banner of white supremacy (all over the country). It isn’t rare to hear family histories where relatives or family friends were lynched, gang raped, or chased down by white mobs. Based upon this real, and not imagined history, a lot of us Black folks were enraged. And NO… apology is still not accepted. It is especially not going to be accepted when the American public belittles our rage by pointing out that rappers appropriated the term nigger. Same thing for Don Imus calling those young women at Rutgers nappy-headed hos.
The internet discourse on Richards, Imus, and Black rage is emblematic of many cross-cultural discourses on race and class in America. I have often been disappointed by some of my conversations with well meaning, open minded, and liberal white people. I have spent my life having cross-cultural discussions because I grew up in a multi-cultural environment. Coming from different backgrounds and expeirences of race, we approach the issue from very different subjective positions. Sometimes the conversations are difficult, they challenge underlying assumptions, they expose logical inaccuracies, and, above all, they push us to confront deep seated and complex issues.
Yet there is often a complete dismissal of my viewpoint. Sometimes, a reluctant acknowledgment. It is not unknown to experience a fiery backlash that seems to come out of nowhere. Despite the many opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, I find that many non-Black people do not seem to get it. There are people who do get it, but they seem to be few and far in between.
Two trends in my discourse on race and class really bother me: 1.) color-blind approach; 2.) Blackness-as-a-pathology approach. In the first approach, they assume that America is color-blind society. They tend to point to Irish American or Italian experiences in America to make their case. They tend to overlook the fact that the Irish, Southern Europeans, and Eastern Europeans were not considered white when they immigrated by the masses to America. The people who argue for a color-blind society rarely have a critical understanding of how whiteness is construted in this society. The color-blind view minimizes the traumatic experience for many of black folk under the barrage of a global system of White supremacy. The second group does see race, America is not color-blind. But this group insists that African Americans do not have a distinct culture. Basically, they believe that AA do not have any cultural contributions that are worthwhile. Black culture for them is poverty, crime, a key example of the dangers of matriarchy, social depravity, and social marginalization, etc. Blackness becomes a pathology, a sickness, a “Negro Problem.” Black cultural heritage is invisible to them and any positives produced by Blacks is often attributed to them letting go of their Blackness and “becoming” White in a cultural sense. The people who see Black people as pathological basically see people who celebrate Black culture or highlight connections in the African Diaspora as dreamers, Black nationalists, facsists, ethnocentric. They are not satisfied in the conversation until you say that we are all the same, except somehow Black cultures is manifestation of the worst in American culture. Basically, they are not happy until you are so full of self loathing and shame about the condition of Black people that you are apologetic for being of African descent.
If African Americans are pathological, so is everyone else. It just plays out in different ways in the AA community because of the break down in social structures and networks due to exploitation, various migrations, and ruptures in families. Despite these challenges African Americans have many beautiful things to share with the rest of the world. And it is not just about singing, dancing, or playing basketball. We have strong family ties based upon extended and fictive relations, strong loyalties, spiritual values, inclinations toward communalism, and cutting edge intellectual thought from the academy. But this gets lost in a lot of discussions.
Without the writings of amazing Black intellectuals, and white anti-racist scholars and intellectuals such as Tim Wise, Allen Johnson , Dalton Conley, I think I might have checked my self into some psych ward. Many of white folk have told me that my perceptions were off, observations skewed, and experiences imagined, especially when things did not line up with how they perceived race and class in American society. But over the years, I have become increasingly sensitive to the asymmetries of power that allowed them to be so dismissive of my views in those exchanges. I am beginning to see how white privilege or male privilege plays such a prominent role in many of my cross-cultural conversations on race.
A while back, I read Sunni sister’s blog about White privilege. She wrote:
White privilege tells a male who admits he has nothing to do with this belief that he knows more about radical Black Islamist and racial seperatist movements than Black Muslims who follow a mainstream path of belief, who may have even come out of those movements themselves. And White privilege means that White male can tell Black people this. And he can call those Black people names and get applauded for it. And White privilege, and male privilege, means that he can represent himself as a voice of Islam, and outsiders don’t question this, and others egg him on and encourage his “voice,” without giving a moment of thought to the racist implications of his actions and words. He too, extends his middle finger.
In some ways I found myself in this type of exchange as I chimed in on a Umar Lee blog entry My Thought, Culture Matters. There was a side argument that developed where I argued that Black families instilled strict discipline on children because of the legacy of slavery. A White Muslim man, who argued that he had daily contact with African Americans of various classes, contested my claim about cultural practices in rearing Black children. Who was right? The insider or outsider? What came to mind was the anthropological view of the outsider. There is this historical legacy of the impartial observer (a rational white male) who draws upon empirical observations. His point of view is priveleged in both academic and mainstream circles. Academia, like mainstream media, is often quick to dismiss the insider’s point of view. We cannot get beyond our bias. So, as an insider speaking about Black issues or Muslim issues, I better be on point. If I have anything to say that challenges the sensibilities of my white friends, I better have my facts 100% together. They cannot be based upon my personal observations, and I better have 10 widely accepted scholars and their books to prove it. Importantly, I need to conjure up a white person like Tim Wise to make sure my view point sticks. Otherwise, not much I say holds weight.
I will continue with the discussion that begin in Umar Lee’s Blog. The reason why I think it is important is because there is something at stake, for me. I value my culture and feel that some of the views expressed on Umar Lee’s blog about Black culture were demeaning and not problematized. I will only address one topic. The issue that drew the most ire from a well meaning commentor. I am arguing that there are some cultural specificities of African American culture by looking at child rearing and disciplining young children. So, in the spirit of my own scholarly endeavors, I will support my arguments with evidence. I’ll start with an article on discipline, then provide some empirical evidence with a study on spanking, then I will list books that deal specifically with sociology of the Black family to show that this issue is subject to several erudite studies. Finally, I will point to a brief sample of one of the academic programs that specialize in the sociology and culture of the Black family. (Mind you, I am not an Americanist so my knowledge of the material is limited). My primary argument is there is enough scholarly work and anecdotal evidence to support my insider view that Black cultural practices in child-rearing tend to emphasize discipline (and corporeal punishment) because of the historical legacies of slavery. Here goes:
In support of my comments on the blog, I found this article in Salon magazine that discussed corporeal punishment.
In the article,“Spanking: A Black Mother’s Point of View” the author points out Black cultural perspectives on discipline:
Spanking is part of a long, historic continuum in our community. During slavery, a black person’s pout or backtalk to the wrong person could not only get him whipped, it could get him sold — or, if the transgression was deemed bad enough, maimed or killed. So black mothers and, by extension, the entire local community, had a vested interest in keeping their children alive and safe. Swift physical retribution for even minute transgressions tended to reinforce the rules, and adhering to the rules meant you were able to live to raise another generation — who, in all probability, spanked, too, but not as hard as the previous one.
The annals of black comedy are rife with examples of strict parental discipline. Sinbad, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and the late Robin Harris have all riffed howlingly funny on the subject of gettin’ whupped. Cosby used to make audiences scream in delighted recognition when he went into his routine about The Belt that hung in his father’s closet: how long it was. How thick it was. How big the metal buckle was. What it sounded like as it whistled through the air, accurately aiming, like a smart bomb made from the cow’s outside, at his quivering buttocks. What it felt like when, on impact, his flesh was sucked through the holes.
A new study by Marjorie Linder Gunnoe, a developmental psychologist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has revealed something different from previous studies, which found that race and class do not affect the decision whether or not to spank. According to Gunnoe’s study, which tracked 1,110 children from 4 to 11 years old over a five-year period, spanking may be divided along racial lines. Gunnoe found that spanking increased antisocial behavior (lying, cheating and bullying) among white boys, but was correlated with a decrease in aggression among black boys. Her explanation: Spanking is not only tolerated, but endorsed by the black community. The culture expects that adults will be seen, and treated as, authority figures.
Whether or not certain traditions are dying, Black families have traditionally used corporeal punishment, taught children to respect elders, taught children to not talk back to authority figures, to be seen not heard. I’m not saying that all of these practices were good. But my cultural sensibilities were rudely shaken when I went to nanny for a mixed-race couple.
I found a study that breaks down stats:
Non-Hispanic black women are more likely than Hispanic women to agree or strongly agree that spanking a child is sometimes necessary. In 2002, 80 percent of non-Hispanic black women, compared with 56 percent of Hispanic women, agreed that a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.” Seventy-four percent of non-Hispanic white women say that spanking a child is sometimes necessary. Differences for men were not statistically significant.
See the rest of the study here.
I have encountered two books that demonstrate the cultural and social practices in Black families. The first is Theodore R. Kennedy’s
and the second is Carol B. Stack’s
. I am sure there is a wide range of scholarly literature on Black families. These books detail parent-child relationships and relationships between children and extended kin and fictive kin. I think they move beyond the clinical approach to the Black family, diagnosed as disfunctional because of matriarchy, to point out complex social relationships.
In addition to various books, there are legitimate degree programs and classes that explore issues specific to the Black family. I will not even mention the graduate programs that focus on similar issues.
San Francisco State’s Africana Department
The Black Studies Department at San Francisco State University was the first Black Studies Department established on a four-year college campus in the United States. The birth of Black Studies at SFSU in 1968 was, in fact, inspired by student-led opposition to the then Western intellectual hegemony and racist scholarship that characterized the limitations found in traditional approaches to college education. In 2005, the Black Studies Department at SFSU changed its name to the Africana Studies Department.
They offer courses on the Black family. Also, Virginia Common Wealth universities offers a sociology course on African American families:
206/AFAM 206/SOCY 206 African American Family Relationships
Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Focuses on the African American family from the 1940s to the present. Examines the values and the interpersonal/role relationships that are involved in forming and maintaining African American families in the contemporary United States. Topics include dating and sexual relationships, marital relationships, parent-child relationships and relationships with members of the extended family.
Finally, I found a curious final exam for class on the Black Family from the department of Pan African Studies at University of Louisville :
PASS 520.01: Black Family in America
Exam Questions: Summer 2002
Instructor: Professor Lateef P. Badru
1) What evidence would you cite to support or oppose the thesis that the black family in America today is disintegrating or dying? Discuss your answer.
2) Drawing on your personal experience and observation of the portrayal
of African Americans on popular TV, identify the basic stereotypes associated with Black family life in the United States. Discuss your points.
3) What aspects of African family pattern are still retained in the
African American Community? How do you think a comparative study of
family can be of value to you? Discuss your points.
4) What major functions does the Black Church, as an institution, perform today in the African American community? How are these functions different from the ones performed immediately after emancipation? Discuss your points.
5) What are the major obstacles to “plural marriage” in American
society? Can multiple cohabitation (men- sharing) solve the crisis of
shortage of mating partners for black women? Discuss.
6) Briefly define the following concepts:
i. Polyandry us Polygyny.
ii. Matrilocality vs. patrilocality
iii. Matrilineal vs. patrilineal descent
iv. Exogamous vs. Endogamous marriages
v. Nuclear vs. extended family
7). What role does religion play in black family life? Discuss your
answer with specific reference to the adoption of Christianity during
slavery and after emancipation
This is not to say that the students in this class come out blazing experts. But I am sure they have been given tools to think critically about issues involving cultural and social practices in the Black community. A number of the top scholars studying race in America are white. And they deal with the topic empathetically while focusing on understanding Black realities. An outsider’s gaze can be helpful in providing perspective on issues that face a given community. But when it comes to dealing with communities of color, the white point of view is often given more weight than a person of color. This is not to say that Africans or Black people have a monopoly on truth, but that insiders have an important perspective that is often overlooked but should be taken into account.
When it comes to engaging with these issues, whether over dinner, at a cocktail party, tea party, internet forum, or wherever, it is important to distinguish between informed opinions and unsubstantiated claims. In cross cultural discussion, neither party may fully understand the socio-economic and cultural structures that undergird our social worlds. But when it comes to weight of evidence and cultural translations, I would rather refer to the insider’s (especially those who have been rendered voiceless by the dominant group) viewpoint.
There are few mysteries in the Black community that others cannot participate in. It is really a matter of whether people want to join. The anthropologist’s gaze is on us on a daily level and he often tells us that he knows more about us than we do. That would be great his assessment was accurate. But sometimes those observations miss the complexities. Instead, they often provide an unnuanced understanding of Black culture and the challenges we face. I extend an olive branch in hopes of an honest and respectful cross-cultural discourse. But it is important that we all note our positions of power and privilege. I recognize that my status as an educated Black American Muslim Woman means that I have to fight tooth and nail for my voice to be heard by almost anyone. My perspective is so easily dismissed by so many. But it is still worth fighting to get it out there, don’t ya think?
I write precisely because I don’t know yet what to think about a subject that attracts my interest. In so doing, the book transforms me, changes what I think. As a consequence, each new work profoundly changes the terms of thinking which I had reached with the previous work…When I write, I do it above all to change myself and not to think the same thing as before.
Michel Foucault in Remarks on Marx, 1981
I didn’t expect to discover something about myself today. I discovered something about the way that I communicate, write, and conduct my research. Foucault went on to say that in the beginning of a project, he never knows what the conclusion will be. Work is experience. This insight is something that Western academics rarely talk about. That is because there is this standard of removed and objective scholarship. But we all have something at stake in the production of knowledge.
We should have something at stake and be transformed by our work. Louis Brenner’s study of education reform in Mali, Controlling Knowledge shows us how traditional methods of Islamic education linked knowledge with practice. Knowledge was supposed to be implemented, knowledge was transformative, with every level of education from early Quranic school to higher Islamic sciences, students’ daily lives were changed. Now, people learn a subject without changing, or at least they imagine themselves to remain objective and removed from the subject. I think that Western orientations stress the mastery of knowledge and stockpiling information. It is like a hoarding of knowledge without applying it or using it effectively. Through modernizing reforms in Islamic education Western orientations have shaped Muslims and their approaches to knowledge. Knowledge is less linked to practice (praxis), and just knowing does not make one a better Muslim, let alone person.
But back to why I write. I write because I am wrestling with difficult issues. I don’t know the conclusion of my life will look like. I have so many questions and I’m not sure what to think about many things. But I know that I want to change and be better. I have often had a difficult time writing about the present, but have looked to the past–distant and recent. One of my primary interests has been the ways knowledge is passed on in the Muslim world, and how it is spread across space and through time. Often, as a historian, I am confronted with limitations of what can be known about people’s experiences. There is always the problem of evidence–skewed evidence and lack of evidence. We can barely talk to each other and understand the ways people now order their lives and make sense of their worlds. It seems like an impossible task to interpret fragments of evidence to get at the lived experiences of those who are long gone. I write because I don’t know what to think about those fragments in documentary evidence or those tales that were passed on in oral traditions. I write to make sense of those bits. It is a narrative, but is it fictional? Perhaps in a sense that it simplifies, creates analogies, comparisons, and connections that the people who lived in the past may not have seen. Yet, what was legible to them is not longer legible for me. Ultimately, I am subject to the whims of knowledge and what can be known.
With all the limitations of an impossible task, I am seeking knowledge, truth, and the reality of my lived experiences. If al-Haqq (Ultimate Reality and Truth) is infinite, then mere mortals can only grasp a finite sliver of Truth for an ephemeral moment. Postmodernists point argue that there is not a universal truth. Not one that we can fully grasp, at least.
Randomness, I know…The things an insominiac writes late at night.
DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility or even blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.
I think this is a brilliant description a typical reaction. I notice it in arguments when one person in a relationship has a grievance. Okay, to make things clear I will create a DARVO scenario, let’s call one person A and the other person B.
-A has done something hurtful or abusive to B
-B confronts A in order to resolve the issue.
-A denies B’s accusations. A calls B crazy for even bringing this subject up. A accuses B of making things up or imagining things.
-A then becomes angry and attacks B’s credibility or points out B’s shortcomings. -A then feels victimized by B because B’s confrontation makes A feel exposed.
-A then accuses B of being abusive person for raising this issue, criticizing A’s behavior, or making false accusations.
Clearly, A does not want to be the guilty party. A is like many of us when we deflect our guilt and justify our actions. Who wants to hear that they are a bad bad person? B’s issues are still unresolved nor has A reformed their hurtful behavior. Instead A is involved in the blame game. Perpetrator make themselves into victims in order to justify their actions, no matter how abusive, exploitative, or heinous. Cheaters ofen use the DARVO action, especially when their partner catches them in an embarrassing lie. Perpetrators of domestic violence use DARVO and it gets real ugly.
I came upon this site that explained Darvo, from my good friend Kali Tal. I think she pointed out that DARVO reponse is typical when confronting sexist and racist behavior. Now, racists feel as if they are attacked, they use DARVO tactics to make a claim that anti-racists are impinging upon their freedom. DARVO is another power trip for an oppressor or abuser. I think DARVO applies to many relationshps. But it is especially problematic when the perpetrator holds most of the power, whether in a family or work relationship.