Like President Obama, I, also, have evolved my opinion of lesbians, gays, the BTQ crew and the humans who love humans too. (That’s so Raven!) Once bottled in a cocoon woven with fear, disgust and damning socio-cultural doctrine, my opinion is now like a butterfly flying high upon the wings of love, understanding and deeper self-awareness. Though my personal evolution hasn’t taken nearly as long as the evolutionary period of human beings overall, it has taken me a good, long while to understand what being human means.
In case you’re wondering, “being human” means being who you are. I know, it sounds simple. So simple that it almost sounds silly. Yet I wonder: How many of us are “silly” enough to simply be who we are?
In the training that I received as a child, being was always bested by becoming. “What do you want to be[come] when you grow up?” is a classic question that almost every child is asked as soon as he or she can sing the alphabet. We think it’s cute – and at times it is – to hear a child forecast his or her future from a high-chair. But often, what we really think is cute – which generally is not – is hearing a child mimic a ‘proper’ response to the question that he or she has learned from an external source, with that external – and artificial – response then informing most, if not all, of that child’s worldview.
You see, children are intelligent. They understand the layered dimensions of behavioral learning as well as you and me. Though B.F. Skinner’s name may not be on the tips of their tongues, they can totally comprehend the theme of his instrumental conditioning experiments: Go that way and you’ll be punished; go this way and you’ll be rewarded.
Adding to children’s intelligence factor is their mastery of manipulation. They know what people want to hear. And even if what people want to hear is different from what children want to say, children will, many times, mimic ‘proper’ responses so as to avoid a punishment that they’ve been trained to expect, and earn a reward that they’ve been trained to receive.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” ~Proverbs 22:6
As children grow increasingly adept at navigating the social pressures of the way that they are conditioned to go, they then take that training with them into adulthood to navigate wider societal pressures to become the ‘proper’ images and titles they learned to mimic so many years prior. At least, this is my rationale for the behavior that many members of Morehouse College’s football team recently displayed at a movie theater in Columbia, South Carolina.
Earlier this week, I read blogger Ashley F. Miller’s riveting account of her experience with the team while watching the movie, “Dear White People”. What she originally saw as a treat to watch the movie with students of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s alma mater soon transformed into a trick. (Note: Movie spoiler ahead.)
“I want you to imagine yourself in a dark room with a hundred physically fit men rooting for a hate crime to be perpetrated against a gay man. It was terrifying. It was horrifying. It was depressing. Can you imagine what a kid on that team who was gay would have felt?”
“Damn, homies,” was my response to reading Ashley’s full account. Marcus Lee, the President of Morehouse SafeSpace – Morehouse’s Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversities – also responded to Ashley’s blog, albeit, with a tad more verbosity.
“Our situation is a complex and peculiar one. I’m proud to say that many of us (students & alum) have committed to loving ourselves/each other regardless of – and in some instances because of – our differences. Moreover, there are many faculty and staff members – including the President of the college, the Office of Student Life, several professors, etc. – that embrace us. However, Morehouse’s curricula, institutional policies and procedures do not reflect this embrace. There are no Black queer studies courses, gender and sexual orientation are absent from our employment nondiscrimination policy, we have a dress code that outlaws wearing ‘female attire,’ we have an inactive diversity committee, and the list continues. So, I don’t think the football team’s reactions are inherent to them specifically. Instead, they are a product of a grooming process – that begins in the world, and is buttressed or goes uninterrupted at Morehouse – that’s checkered with heteronormativity and silence; inclusive spaces are forged here in spite of, not because of, the culture of the college.”
“Train up a child” indeed. Again I say, damn, homies.
As Lee referenced, the Morehouse football team’s prejudiced grooming, or training, began in the world—the world where they, as intelligent children, learned to mimic the ‘proper’ prejudiced response toward homosexuality, and were thusly rewarded by the world with manhood. To Lee’s additional point about the role that Morehouse – an all-male, historically black college – plays in supporting the world’s manhood-reward system, Don Lemon, a CNN news anchor, stated the following in 2011, regarding his homosexuality as a black man:
“It’s quite different for an African-American male…It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.”
I’ve heard of the “pray the gay away” tactic. While watching the movie “Brokeback Mountain” again this week, I witnessed the “marry the gay away” and the “I wish I knew how to quit you [away]” tactics as well. And what I’ve learned over the course of my evolution and my crash course in queer studies is that no matter how much time people spend, intelligence people have, and manipulation, training and grooming people endure becoming something, we can never ever separate ourselves from our being.
So I say simply be who you are, and simply allow others to be as well. And the next time you hear someone asking a child what he or she wants to be[come] when he or she grows up, please interject: “The awesome human that s/he is being right now!”
Copyright © 2014-2015 Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All rights reserved.