One of the most outstanding scenes in the film, “The Great Debaters, portrays a monumental moment in American history. A confident and raged African American woman stands at a podium addressing a predominately white audience about quality education and opportunity for her people.
“…but my opponent says today is not the day, for whites and colored to go to the same colleges. To share the same campus, to walk in the same classroom. Well would you kindly tell me when that day is going to come?”
So eloquently produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, directed and starred by Denzel Washington, this film speaks to so many larger truths, and here we speak on those most relevant to our time.
To answer the question posed by the powerful young woman in the film, let us first say that today is THE day. Today, those once divided based on race can share dialogue over deconstructing the exact systems that work to divide them.
The power in her statement did not come from some elaborated, drawn out theory about why Blacks and Whites cannot exist in the same spaces cohesively. She posed a very simple and straight forward question. The complexities lie in the deep, critical thinking skills required to unpack the reality of the truth she is speaking on.
“…because what the world does to you, is the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do it to yourself. You become a collaborator…because you believe the same things they do”
Writer and educator, James Baldwin, shares these words of truth in conversation with the then, young and inspired Writer, Nikki Giovanni. As they laugh and joy over the shared understanding expressed in this statement, the irony rests in the ways that Black people have always had to find humor in our collective pain and struggle. Beyond the humor lies a deep understanding of our need to remain inquisitive of the ideas and beliefs that shape our perception of self.
This is critical thinking at its finest.
The ability to analyze facts, what is true and what is not, with the determination to make sound judgement.
Going back to the question posed in The Great Debaters, Black people have come to think more critically about their position in the world. They have moved beyond conversations of acquiring freedom and equality because we can conceive that these are abstract concepts. We want more defined outcomes and that requires us to ask more questions, to analyze the facts closely and precisely.
This is how we acquire a perception of Self that is independent of how we are perceived in the world and supportive of the people that we aspire to become.
Think on your feet!
In the Black community the complexities of life can be unpacked in very few words and ideas. Everyday statements like “The white man keeps his foot on our neck”, keep us informed on the ways the Black people are conceptualizing their relationship to the world.
These statements also shape the way that we respond to our circumstances. When Black people understand their position as restrained by white forces inhibits this mindset inhibits them from seeing the ways that they are in fact restraining themselves.
When we unpack our experiences in relationship to the “facts” that influence our judgement, we are being critical about the information we are receiving and whether it aligns with what we know to be truth based on our experiences.
Black people do not have to question everything about our lived experiences to understand how we want to show up in the world and, in fact, we do not.
The structures that we have created to maneuver this world provide us with the tools to analyze what is worth our time and energy and what is not.
“The majority dies do not decide what is right or wrong. Your conscience does”
As the masters of our own destinies, Black people have the tools to be conscience and present in the conversations that rule our lives.
Most importantly we have the personal power to decide which conversations are supportive of our mental strength and development. These are the dialogues that help us expand mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
The San Diego Monitor-News has been serving Black San Diego since 1986