Saturday, January 28, 2017

On the distinction between number and quality when talking about ourselves (for Summer A class)

aLfreDo tRifF

Because of our discussion yesterday and some of the comments put forward just before the class ended. We talked about how a white person is not qualified to talk for a black person (and viceversa), a man for a woman (and viceversa), a  heterosexual for a homosexual (and viceversa), a non-transgender for a transgender and viceversa). At first, these qualifications may seem limiting, indeed overbearing. After all (as Roberto pointed out), even amongst blacks, a black person may say (referring to another black person) "this black person is not qualified to talk for me."

Let's take for example, Samuel Horace, black, age 21, born in Haiti; an only child, honor student, living in Miami, going to MDC.

We advanced that he belongs in a club all by himself. That's his number. Then comes the qualities (characteristics) he shares with others, let's see: sex (man), race (black), gender (male), age bracket (in his 20s), health features (if he has diabetes, or if he's myopic, or if he's 7 tall, or if he's math wizard. Even less obvious ones: being an orphan, or having traumatic social memories for being different, etc.

one's own club (S)
Black person club (...,S,...)
Haitian club (...,S,...)
Only child club (...,S,...)
20 yrs old people club (...,S,...)
living in Miami (...,S,...)
going to MDC (...,S,...)
7' tall (...,S,...)
and so on...

Each Samuel Horace-characteristic automatically makes him a member of an infinite number of clubs. What does this mean? Samuel is qualitatively identical to many people. The next question is, how does one evaluate these clubs? Which are the clubs that make up for essential characteristics?

It seems that the club race is more important than being 7' tall. Yes, there are both substance clubs, but culturally one matters more than the other. I, Triff, don't belong to the black club (that doesn't mean I may get admittance into it later). Race is biological, it's substance. I don't share Horace's "black experience" (meaning culture). Historically, Homo Sapiens comes embedded in cultures. Cultural practices and the cultural presumptions generally precede our social interactions.

As a white person, can I have opinions about blacks? You bet (this was Athenais' point). That's quite different from the assumption that I can speak as a black, which I'm not. "But I'm a human being." Sure, but to speak about Samuel, I'd have to move up to the human-being-club. What can I say as a human being to Samuel? All the stuff we share, all the OTHER clubs he and I both belong to! For example, I'm also myopic, live in Miami and go to MDC. I could also speak about "having been in my 20s" (which I was), or "having been a student" (which I was), etc. I could speak of "being a minority" (which I am), or "being an only child."There's plenty Samuel and I share. And yet, not enough.

This is going to take deliberate, careful threading the deep. We have a tool: Understanding.

Let's explore the deep: "Under," one has to go below the foundation: "the standing": layers of different clubs, horizons of information.

We must get to the task: Not quickly, peremptorily, carelessly, hastily, no. Carefully, deliberately, patiently. The more we try the more we bridge. We thread the cultural divide, learn the language, cook the food, travel to Port-au-Prince, befriend college students and professors, etc.  The more I do this, the closer I come to understanding Samuel. He'll come to see it.

Can I speak for Samuel now? Well, sort of. Understanding takes threading the deep -but there is always more to understand. One never understand fully (this is the point Zion made). Infinite number of clubs, many of which (surprise!) Samuel himself does not understand.

Although in principle, I will never "fully" understand Samuel, in time (and no without effort), I could understand more and more, even as much as others who are in the black club.

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