Thursday, March 20, 2014

An Obligatory and Welcome Meta Conversation: What Do You Believe About the Common Good and Questions of Social Justice? What is Your Personal Mission Statement?

I require all of my students to write up a personal self-evaluation. Some have done this before; other students have never been asked to be critically self-reflective about their work. 

In my limited experience, I have found that the personal self-evaluation exercise creates animosity and negative feelings on the part of some students, while also defusing them for (some) others. Mature students welcome the opportunity to reflect on their own performance relative to the standards for the class established by the syllabus. 

In all, we have to deal with the students we have as opposed to the ones we desire.

My experience on these matters is a simple one: if you force someone to confront their sub-par performance, it creates difficulty at their then later justifying the common delusion that all students "deserve" an "A". I am a fool because I live and die based on principle: you earn a grade; it is not a given.

Ultimately, students will retaliate for being forced to confront their own behavior.

Do ask me how that one has worked out for me in a few months. Trust me. It is easier to give all of your students an "A" regardless of the quality of their work.

I have a question, one that is central to the great conversations and sharing of ideas which we have engaged in here on We Are Respectable Negroes

What are your foundational beliefs about social justice and the struggle against racial injustice? What is your personal statement about your relationship to the Common Good and social justice more generally?

Please be honest. There are no right or wrong answers.

At Alternet, I offered up the following in response to the well-intentioned comment by a very kind supporter of my work who suggested that I view issues from a "black" perspective.

I responded with the following:
I appreciate your energy. But, I do have to offer a clarification. You wrote: "he will latch onto some "race" issue and explain it through a "black" perspective." 
I work and think about the issue of social justice regarding race and other issues through a perspective informed by human rights and secular humanism. As others who I admire have said, all I ask is that the United States enforce the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and various other laws such as the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts. 
The fight against white supremacy is a fight for human rights. As such it is not a "black" issue.
I am a radical secular humanist. My personal ethics are not exclusive of the fact that I am a Black American. I proudly claim that identity. I also have many other identities as well.

What are you?


Myshkin the Idiot said...

my internet is being spotty, and it's difficult to reduce those questions in a quick response.

Essentially, I came to this conversation and the fight against white hegemony because of my upbringing. My step dad and dad would both like for me to be as racist as them, which I refuse. What is that passage? "Becoming a race traitor is allegiance to humanity."

I had to teach myself the humanity of others as an act of rebellion. My step dad's abuse pushed me away from the other life lessons he taught me. To understand my own anger issues as a result of that upbringing, I looked to Buddhism. No one in my family ever took me to a church nor read or taught me the Bible, but I was expected to be a Christian and accept their inability to explain the complex intricacies of that belief system. Rebellion, quiet rebellion, was always my tool and weapon.

My dad told me I was going to hell in a very threatening manner because I became a Buddhist. I thought that was just silliness. It's his way of maintaining distance between the dark-skinned Other and white America.

So I was a Buddhist Atheist for a while, somewhere along the way I became a Buddhist Theist. I am also an anarchist at heart, but I am essentially pragmatic about that. I work in the way of volunteerism, essentially I cannot support any coercing of others, unless violence is involved, and I prefer to have a conversation and apply those principles of life to my everyday actions.

kokanee said...

You might enjoy the Buddhist economics segment:

P. S. You have an obvious typo if you haven't fixed it already.

lioness said...

The two things that define my background in social justice would be that 1) I grew up a white adoptee in the late '60s - '80s South (I'm currently blogging about that), and 2) I'm an INTP far better at reading data that at reading people (My shrink tells me I'm so analytical my PTSD flashbacks take the form of metadata as opposed to visual or auditory hallucinations.). I started school in the South immediately after Integration and the Great Society, and I saw the good that they accomplished. Mine was the first generation for whom integrated classrooms were the norm. For our teachers it was all shiny and new, but for us kids it was just normal.

I didn't see overt racism in adults at school, as they were all too conscious of being in the public spotlight. I did see racism in private places where people thought they could get away with it, such as private homes and especially white churches. I liked they way people acted at school better than the way they acted at church. It was more just and moral.

I suppose if I had been better able to read people or more in tune with my racist family I would have picked up on the fact that I was supposed to be an integrationist in public and a racist in private, but I'm neither that people-savvy nor that duplicitous.

It's hard to put what I believe in words, so thank you for the opportunity to try. I guess I'm a Nuanced New Deal Democrat. I believe that all people are equal as human beings and should be afforded the same rights and opportunities. However, people are different in terms of abilities and aptitudes, and forcing everyone into "one size fits all" programs isn't fair, just, or even equal since some will fit better than others. Nor can you pre-judge somone's interests, abilities, or aptitudes based on their race, class, gender, and so on. Everyone must have an equal opportunity to reach their true potential.

Now exactly how these beliefs interact in the real world, I'm still figuring that out. The one thing I do know is that it has to rest on a foundation of respect for all human beings.

DanF said...

Secular humanist with a Zen Buddhist nature. I'm happy to be like the water and not the rock for the most part, as the water will eventually wear down the rock, but when the rock is an asshole, I like to speed the process up a bit.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

volunteerism? It should be voluntarism? that's the only thing I can see...

I should also have said, unless violence is being committed against an innocetnt person instead of, "unless violence is involved"

kokanee said...

I was reading your "violence" statement wrong. The comma threw me off.

Myshkin the Idiot said...


Myshkin the Idiot said...

that bit on slavery is truth, I was going to bring that up, but felt confined. I would like to say I am committed to changing the game entirely, but it's an uphill battle, personally.

Louis Dixon said...

I'm just black. I don't know about much more than that - just put me down as black. Here's a post, if you want: Rand Paul Will Not Run 4 President & Crack's Colorblind

chauncey devega said...

What does it mean to be black?

chauncey devega said...

Define terms if you would. What does "cosmopolitan" mean? What does "anarchist" mean?

chauncey devega said...

Brother Bruce is smiling at you. No?

chauncey devega said...

I like that sharing. Do some more. What perspective has life's experiences gifted you with that others may not be so blessed--or cursed--with?

Louis Dixon said...

The Native Son - individually and collectively - product of a brutal and indifferent society, determined to handle it's business (whatever that may be or have been) without looking back.

RPM said...

Cosmopolitan- citizen of the world, where all humans belong to the same planet without separation based on race, class, sexuality, gender, faith or region. Anarchist- where government is eliminated along with all borders, money,individual property and social divisions. Free association, mutual aid and a gift economy replaces capitalism and exploitation. Everything is free and shared. Items, resources, and food are used when needed and returned for public use when not. Think of your library. You request something when you need it and return it when you don't. Instead of wasting space and use by being hoarded by the few tools and equipment are shared by the many. Your food, shelter, mobility, health, education, recreation and wellbeing are not dependent on scarcity models, wage and debt slavery and class distinctions. 75-94 percent of human(depending on when you believe human beings came into advanced consciousness) history has had what modern humans would call a anarchistic or gift society. The last 12000 years with the invention of agriculture and the inflated breeding that it required for labor has been a slave economy full of war and theft. Essentially, our great hunter gather ancestors would look at all of us like schmucks living in a zoo. They spent 2 hours a day working (looking for food, which given humans all encompassing diet was literally anywhere) while modern humans spend anywhere from 8 to 18 hours a day trying to survive. So while I advocate a removal of class and other meaningless distinctions and a return to less sociopathic living I also aknowlege a changed planet we now inhabit. Automation will eventually displace most workers regardless of education or skill. On the one hand that will eliminate much of exploited labor. On the other without income from employment no one will be able to buy goods and services. So no demand, due to no income, equals no supply. Why make something no one can afford? This is one of the major logical flaws or capitalism. In capitals everlasting quest to reduce costs and increase profits it will self defeat. Much quicker than humans predict I imagine. I say cut out the middle man and remove currency and barter entirely. Most jobs throughout the world are bullshit and we can let machines have them. Craftsmanship, artistic endeavors, exploration and science would become what humans spent most of their time pursuing once resource fears and social seperation were removed. Volunteerism would replace forced labor. I know that was a long definition but the problem with people who self identify as something is that they co-opt or butcher ideas they like. Anytime someone says they are a libertarian-anarchist stop them. Libertarians believe in money and property above all else. Anarchists don't give a shit about either. I include cosmopolitan because I don't believe humans should band together in small groups rather than as a collective whole. Isolated communities breed fear and mistrust and in an open free society there is no place for such outdated concepts.

OldPolarBear said...

I lately have come to think of myself as a DFH* tree-hugging socialist. Perhaps with anarchist tendencies, pretty much as RPM defined anarchist. I might have once said liberal, but contemporary liberalism seems to far to the right for me. I'm what a colleague once referred to as "culturally" Christian, although I'm more agnostic and don't subscribe to the metaphysical parts. Perhaps a believer in Christian ethics, in the sense of how Christ said to treat people. On good and evil, I generally prefer to think of people doing evil rather than being evil, which comes off as just wishy-washy to most everybody else.

On one of those "what are you" online tests, I once scored way over in the libertarian quarter, probably because I'm pro-choice and pro-drug legalization while a lot of people who think they're libertarians are really just right-wing authoritarians who want to keep weed for themselves.

Though I feel pretty settled in my positions now, I've been all over the map. I even went through an Ayn Rand phase in my late teens/early twenties LOLSOB!. Later dumped it as the garbage it is, but can still remember a lot of her stuff and could probably do pretty well in an AR trivia contest.

I went to K-12 school in a small, all-white, pretty racist town. Fortunately my parents worked pretty hard at being non-racist and keeping non-racist ideas in front of us (as well as other fairness and equality concepts), even though they came from racist environments themselves. I don't kid myself that I might not have internalized a lot more racism than I did had that not been the case.

I don't feel that I do, or have done, much social-justice work. I suppose I tell myself that I do what I can, but that surely isn't true. I keep trying to think of things to do, but I'm getting to where I'm just feeling tired, probably beyond what I should for my years because I haven't taken care of my health. I think we're in for some really bad times what with peak oil and global warming (among other things) and I hate saying this but there are times when I am glad I'm not that young.

40 mg/day of paroxetine (generic Paxil) help me get by.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I conceive of myself as a patch of sea foam, bobbing atop a fathomless deep, and therefore try not to adopt any one political stance as The Answer. The closest I have to a personal philosophy is The Golden Rule. My ambivalent attitude towards social justice is best summed in this W. H. Auden verse:

"Heartless cynics!" the young men shout,
Blind to the world of Fact without.
"Silly dreamers," the old men grin,
Deaf to a world of Purpose within.

RPM said...

I took one of those tests too. I came up social-democratic cosmopolitan. Anarchist wasn't on the list it seems. My father was a hippie back in the 60's but over time I worried he was becoming more libertarian. He took one of those tests and came up socialist. I was so happy. I think a lot of these type of questions or issues people use to define themselves really depend how you word them. A lot of social justice or just smart folks tired of the bullshit that I've encountered tend to self medicate. You'll never be a threat that way but I understand the impulse. When other socially conscious people around make a stink just for attention or to feel better about themselves it's easy to become despondent. The trick to corrective action is collective action. Individually no one accomplishes anything. Collectively is what brings progress. The best lie, the most destructive lie the PTB ever told was the whopper about how you have no power. Not just individually but collectively. When people accept that they have power, autonomy and will as well as the numbers things will change. Outrage is needed. Those in control want to depress everyone with reality instead of pissing them off. The stupidity of suffering can drive you nuts. But don't get crazy get mad.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

In my later years, I became thankful that I had such close relationships with overt racists. First of all, I learned what most people tell themselves doesn't exist anymore.

Second, I learned this important lesson: I asked my step dad what "n****r" meant when I was maybe eight or nine years old. I had heard him say it as well as other family members. He told me that a n****r was a man without a nation. Africans had been brought to the Americas and had their whole culture obliterated, such that they have no memory of being African. This means that they can never be trusted by white Americans because they hold no real loyalty.

Reflecting on that as an adult is mind blowing. At the time I remember thinking and feeling how he could hold such disdain for black folk knowing at least that their ancestry could have gone through that and it only opened up my empathy for the black American experience even more.

kokanee said...

I think the starting point is democracy and our civil liberties under the Bill of Rights. And the starting point to democracy is by not voting for any candidate that accepts corporate donations or accepts donations over $100.

j.ottopohl said...

I have the conversation over the delusion that I "give" grades rather than the fact that they "earn" grades with students all the time. Strangely enough it is not only students dissatisfied with their grades who make this error. I have had a number of students thank me for "giving" them an A. In reality I grade everything anonymously.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Oh, forgot my background. I am just your garden-variety Scot-Irish white southerner, the first in my lineage since the 1600s not to grow up on an eastern seaboard tobacco farm. Thanks to the sacrifices and hard work of my parents, I have managed to get a little book l'arning and secure a spot in the middle class. I'm not especially well-traveled, but my home area is a destination spot for northern & overseas transplants. I'm hoping to avoid having my children succumb to the uniquely American phenomenon of "from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations."
Hope that's not TMI.

Audrey said...

I have a pretty simple worldview; I want a world where all women are free, and I want an end to male supremacy.

chauncey devega said...

Have to cosign that great dream.

chauncey devega said...

I have had the latter too w. good students. Where does the entitlement on the part of weak and/or lazy students come from?

Nonesuch said...

I don't wear a label because how I face the world depends a great deal on the day. I try (and often fail) to understand how others face their world. I do this knowing that in order honestly connect with people you have to respect them. I feel that a lack of respect for differences is causing a great deal of harm in our shared world. So I try to be respectful and kind, to live a life that causes me no shame, to be open and vulnerable. Again, I try to do this, but some days its easier than others. My personal creedo is don't needlessly hurt others and if I had to name it I suppose you could call me a humanist.