How a Black Lady Should Be

Question: What is fear of black sexuality and what are its origins?

Juan Battle: I think the origins were clearly from this whole idea of an effort to keep black men away from white women. That was at core what the hope, wish and desire were. That’s where its origins were. How does that show up now if you will? There is kind of a tacit agreement that never has to be languaged, but it is extremely easy to tap into and that is that you know all black men want to screw white women or do something harmful to white women and women must therefore be protected. Okay, but based upon that alone so we can see racism. We can see patriarchy. We see sexism. We see misogyny, all sorts of things give rise in that scenario. There was an incident that happened a few years ago where a woman unfortunately drove her children into a river and claimed that a black man carjacked her. There were far too many reports in the media where women talk about or even men talk about they have beaten their own wives. And they claim that some black guy came along and did that. Well that is a narrative you don’t have to convince people of. All you have to do is simply tap into it, if you will.

If you were doing a survey to see how a racist a group of people were or in a certain region you wouldn’t say, “Hey, are you racist?” That’s a waste of breath because you know only the most extreme moron would answer yes to that question, but one way you can get at that question is to basically say to someone, “How comfortable would you feel…?” If you’re talking to somebody who is white in the south let’s say in rural areas, “How would you feel if your daughter brought home a black man?” You know what I mean? And then you can begin to measure comfort levels, something called feeling thermometers that they have in social science research. And that I think gets added and that exists all by itself. It doesn’t take a lot to create it. It already exists and all you have to do is just sort of tap into it. It’s just there.

Question: Why is everyone aware of this black male white female notion?

Juan Battle: Again, I go back to probably in the early 1600s when in the United States there was this desire for those who had power who were land owners who were overwhelmingly white men whose desire it was to maintain and to control all of their property and among their property they clearly saw was also the women in their lives. You know seeing black people as property that was easy. They already were property. That was clear, but in order to maintain control and so quite often when dealing with even women the whole idea was I’m trying to protect you from them you know that generalized other, that evil thing off to the side and you know I don’t think that’s unfortunately you know I don’t think that that is completely gone and when I say gone, I don’t mean to imply that there are people who wake up every morning and it’s the first thing that they’re thinking. I don’t mean to imply that, but there is awareness, and it goes both ways. When I say goes both ways, it shows up both negatively and positively, this controlling and displaying of bodies and the black male body and what that looks like through sports and the black female body and now we’re seeing it much more with Latino populations and Latinas. Jennifer Lopez, who I often times point to when she first quote, unquote, hit it big she was a raceless figure and then once she became Latina we then allowed for this space and opportunity for her to actually have a big ass and it was a good thing. Beforehand she was just this raceless person with a big butt and she needed to get a smaller one, but as soon as that label of Latino was put on to her she not only had it, we as a culture began to exploit it and looked forward to it and magnified and referred to it in shall we say bootylicious ways.

Question: How did figures like Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton broaden the notions of traditional black sexuality?

Juan Battle: They controlled their sexuality, in the case of Bessie Smith, with both women and men. She controlled her presentation of self and it wasn’t seen as a negative because it was so masterfully done and it was this sort of “I’m in charge of what is going on. I’m an actor and I’m just not being acted up.” Who white did that very well? Mae West: she did a great job of controlling it and you knew any man she was with she controlled him. She controlled the dynamics. She had the power of it and so it was this broadening and creating space and license for women to say you know you don’t have to just be you know acted upon. You can be an actor and you can enjoy sex. You can enjoy these broader expressions of sexuality and up until that point there was sort of “what a lady should do,” and I guess these women came along and said, “okay that is what you say a lady should do and there is what I’m going to do.”

Question: Does the “what a lady should do” idea still exist?

Juan Battle: Yeah, yeah. Until our culture comes up with an equivalent term that is pejorative for men who sleep around we’ll forever you know. We talk about man whores or whatever, but it still doesn’t have the same level of negative connotation. And in the very place that you work, if there was a gentleman who had slept with three or four of the ladies who work there, that sort of thing we might call him a dog. We might investigate the circumstances of those relationships. Conversely, if there was a woman who slept with four of the guys here it’s a short conversation. She is a slut. We’re done.

Recorded on March 2, 2010

Decades after figures like Bessie Smith asserted masterful control over black female identity, some racial and sexual stereotypes refuse to die.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.