I have many opinions about the Gayle King interview with Lisa Leslie; however, this observation revolves around what is happening on the periphery. As much as Black people talk about a collective consciousness and espouse pro-black sentiments, we have to realize that many of us have different definitions of what those designations mean.
It is both disconcerting and amusing to witness opposing parties clamor at each other with such authority about how Black people should react. As we all know, this is not a new point of contention in the dialogue around Black liberation and identity.
We proclaim that, “Black people are not a monolith!”, and we celebrate that diversity until it knocks up against our DJ table and disrupts our rhythm. Then we proceed to chastise the “disrupter” about how they should conduct themselves rather than acknowledge their prerogative to move to the beat of a different drum.
I learned long ago, no matter how much we think we are similar, Black people operate in tribes or “social clubs”. These clubs shape our identity. They have a shared understanding and shared language. Our formative experiences, education, familial structures, tastes and preferences all factor into who belongs and who is excluded. We may share beautiful shades of chocolate-coated skin, but we don’t always have commonality in our ideas and language because it is virtually impossible for people to share the same opinion on every meaningful issue despite our common experience of being Black in America.
Here I am asking for clarification: Why is Gayle King accused of hating Black men? Why are those who criticize Gayle accused of hating Black women? These polarizing binaries—love/hate, right/wrong—rarely capture the full picture, and often only confirm our own biases. Nevertheless, we operate with a dangerous assumption that we agree on what love and hate means. That epistemology may be informed by our politics, religion, sexuality or geography. Black people’s expressions in each of these areas have evolved significantly over the years. Within this evolution, we’ve ignored our communal complexity. There is no room for nuance. Furthermore, when someone holds to an ideology that is different than ours, we want to assume the worst of that person. It goes without saying that some ideas are trash; however, a total disregard makes it much easier for us to skip down the sidewalk while extending a middle finger to our neighbor: “Oh they’re ignorant!” “Oh they’re misogynists!” “Oh she a nappy-headed dog!”
I have meaningful relationships with people who hold “memberships” with various social clubs. They ALL say they want the same outcome, but there is a diversity of opinions on how to achieve it. This has always been the case. For example, Garvey, Washington, Du Bois, Wells, etc. all professed similar desires to see Black people liberated, but they sharply differed on the means. They agreed on the what, but never achieved a consensus on the how.
We are human beings driven by self-interest. We desire communities but not at the sacrifice of our own interest and desires. Maybe we shouldn’t have to surrender our strongest convictions. As Zora Neale would state in 2020, we need to comprehend we are a “brown bag of miscellany”.
I am not writing this because I’m afraid to pick a side. I hold these views because I know men who have abusive habits and I know conniving women. I know that both individuals deserve grace. I know I am a person who has a toxic past and I am clumsy in the present. I know that I will not uncritically align with anyone. The majority of us are neither heroes nor villains. We are bystanders trying to interpret the times.
We are bystanders who parade around with pseudo-solidarity. Recently, we’ve witnessed public debates on who deserves to identify as Black, in the off chance reparations are offered. There has been discourse around whom we’re speaking of when we state “#BlackLivesMatter”. Our interactions with members of adjacent clubs can be quite similar to suffering through a Thanksgiving dinner with relatives who endorse philosophies that you abhor. Yet, when Auntie Pam decides to play Donnie Hathaway’s This Christmas, all the divergent ideas relent to join the rejoicing choir. Once the last surviving pecan pie is wrapped in aluminum foil and you surrender to the fatigue, you’re left vacillating between appreciation and depreciation. You’re wondering, “How can I be so dramatically different from the people I love so dearly?”
The truth is, we are different but we love to sing the same songs. The melodies are often divine. But recently, they sound like clanging symbols.