On Friday, I wrote and published a review on Solange’s new album, A Seat at the Table, honestly reflective of the opinions I had of the artistic effort. In short, overall, I found it to be mediocre, underwhelming and uninspired. The piece was viewed and shared thousands of times and received hundreds of comments. Many did not agree with my assessment, which was fine, I expected most wouldn’t. After all, the album was heralded all week as a “masterpiece” by the Black (and White) intelligentsia.
What I did not expect, however, was vitriolic rage over an opinion piece. Hate messages in my inbox, one specifically rather sexist one which read: “Not here for it, and I’m so ashamed that you are as beautiful as you are spreading such intellectual witchcraft!!”, as if a beautiful woman somehow should not be inclined to critical thought. Comments branding me a “hater,” “petty,” “divisive” or claiming that the piece was merely clickbait or that it was an attempt to “pit Black women against another.”
It was then that I recognized something very strange about White and Black folk alike in this country: Americans collectively share disdain for any opinions which don’t align with their own in a way that is truly problematic. And further, arguments posed against critical thought or “unpopular opinion” all sound the same, whether from Whites who don’t want to confront racism or Blacks who don’t want to hear another opinion on artwork they have declared is “hot.”
For example, here is a response to a piece I wrote about the fact that most rampage killers are men (a verifiable fact):
Here is another response to a piece I wrote condemning a group of teacher’s choice to wear NYPD t-shirts to school on their first day after the Eric Garner murder:
In White opinion, talk about racism is always “divisive” and simply a matter of “click bait.” After years of writing for White audiences, I honestly cannot even keep count of the number of times these arguments have been presented to counter very basic, valid points, personal experiences or even more “controversial” opinions. It absolutely saddened and dumbfounded me to watch Black people employ the very same counter points used by White people to dismiss Black expression, against me. On the receiving end, it felt equally oppressive coming from Black folk, as it did from Whites.
One thing I have certainly learned after years of engaging White folk in “race” discourse is that shared opinions aren’t “right” opinions. And opinions that don’t align with the status quo aren’t always expressed to be malicious, “attention seeking,” contrarian or angry. In the case of my writing, my opinions are a reflection of my experiences and education. My experiences with racism, sexism and the like. And in the case of Solange’s album review, my experiences of Black music and understanding of Black music history. I write to provoke thought, provide insight, initiate dialogue, entertain, persuade and so on. Not to incite online lynch mobs. Sadly, in a society that only has room for opinions that align with the status quo, the presentation of ideas that do not, manage to do precisely that: incite rage and violence.
This is excruciatingly problematic, because a world with no room for differing opinions is a world with no room for evolution or revolution. That is best exemplified (and most easily understood) when White people fight to remain ignorant of racism and White privilege. They dismiss our experiences, our history and our opinions. They tell us that expressing ourselves means that we are “divisive” or “angry.” And we are often silenced, unable to shout over the voices of the many to be heard. As Black people, we constantly demand openness and understanding from others. How can we do so while being so closed to different ideas and opinions amongst ourselves?
There has to be a seat at the table for those who both agree and disagree with the shared or popular opinions of the moment. It is in those moments of heated intellectual exchange around the table, and I do not mean the hurling of ad hominem attacks or wholesale dismissal of ideas without exploration, that we grow as a movement, a culture, a society and a species. Agreement is not necessary for that growth to take place, but respect and understanding definitely is.