About Leslye Joy Allen (Ayọ)

Leslye Joy Allen is a fourth generation native of Atlanta. A historian, educator, dramaturg, genealogist, consultant, and environmentalist (better known by her middle name "Joy"), she holds Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in History from Agnes Scott College and Georgia State University, respectively. She is currently a Candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in History at Georgia State University. She is also a charter member of Agnes Scott College’s Alpha-Theta-Psi chapter of Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society and is a former Coca-Cola Foundation Museum Fellow at The Atlanta History Center. She was a 2015-2016 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Dissertation Fellow and Scholar; and is currently finishing her dissertation. She specializes in twentieth century Georgia History, Atlanta History, and Performance Arts History with a specific emphasis on Theatre.

Aretha: A Mini-Multi-Ethnic History Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved

Aretha is/was international and global and pro-Black and pro-people of color long before those phrases became buzz words. But you already know Aretha. She’s part of the soundtrack of my/your life. If you were paying attention, you know about her activism, her once offering to pay Angela Davis’ bail; and the hurt in her voice at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.  My Dad was there. When he got home he said, “This is the only time I’ve ever heard Aretha sound so destroyed.”  But let’s consider the setting at Atlantic Records that nurtured her after her dad, the Reverend C. L. Franklin decided that Aretha’s voice was as secular as it was sacred; that her piano-playing was as inventive as anyone out there. I always, always wanted Aretha to make an instrumental album of nothing but her on piano, but I digress…

Ahmet Ertegün, our brother from Turkey, along with Jerry Wexler, founded Atlantic Records with the mission to produce some of the best Rhythm and Blues and Soul music ever. They succeeded. Not long after they made Ray Charles a household name, they signed Aretha Franklin, who reigned as Queen on a record label that had no shortage of music luminaries: Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, The Spinners, The Pointer Sisters, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, The Bee Gees, and the list goes on.  The early days for Aretha consisted of recording sessions with musicians, the majority of whom were young white men from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a tiny town that still does not have 15,000 residents. The Black brothers in the band grew up with Rhythm and Blues, but these white musicians took a turn toward the Blues and Soul Music and never, ever looked back. These cats backing Aretha produced some of the most poignant, memorable, timeless, and soulful music in the twentieth century.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Arif Mardin served as Aretha’s principle producer for over two decades at Atlantic Records. Mardin, another musical genius from Istanbul, Turkey impressed the hell out of Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, so much so that after meeting these two Black American musical giants in 1956 after a State Department-sponsored concert, he became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. After Mardin graduated in 1961, he went to work for Atlantic Records. Aretha acknowledged him as the positive turning point in her career.  Together they churned out the hits all of us already know.  He produced that incredible gospel album “Amazing Grace” that everybody still talks about, and still plays.

So what is my point?  Well, the whole concept of globalization has always existed in music and the arts; and it, for damned sure existed with Aretha; and for people of color.  That multi-ethnic colored world that some white folks fear, the one that seems to be suddenly upon us has always been here.  You’ve been grooving to it, remember?  But know this: I don’t just know my people when I see them; I know them when and where I hear them. Marinate on that for a while. Rest in Paradise Queen of Soul, Aretha Louise Franklin.

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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Before He Ever Got to the White House

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen 

A few people just asked me what I remembered about our current president before anyone ever dreamed about his occupying the White House.  Here goes.

First things first. Back in 1993, I watched “The Donald” try to block a Native American Nation from operating a casino in the Catskills because “they didn’t all look like Indians.” He then spent well over a million dollars in attack ads to try to prevent them from running a casino. I wrote a word about this a few years ago.

Second (feel free to click this hyperlink): He spewed the vitriol and helped the criminal justice system railroad the Central Park Five (Thank Goddess that filmmaker Ava DuVernay is bringing these young men’s tragic story to a series for Netflix; and thank God they’re here to witness it.) The Central Park Five were five Black and Afro-Latin young men falsely accused of rape and sentenced to prison. Yusef Saalam was 15-years-old when Trump asked for his execution for a crime he did not commit. These five young men were between the ages of 14 and 16 years old. They were beaten by police into pleading “Guilty” to a crime they did not commit. Nevertheless, they spent between 5 to 13 years behind bars.

Third. He spent three years barking about how Barack Obama was not an American citizen, even though Obama was born in Hawaii.  All of this was done to try to make people believe that the first African-American President of the United States was not legitimate because he allegedly wasn’t an American citizen.

Fourth. This is from me, alone. I don’t need someone to call me “Nigger” to prove they are racist.  Most of the racists I know have grinned in my face. All of those chicken-eating, glory-seeking, money-grubbing Black preachers that met with Trump, along with Omarosa Manigault and her sudden discovery that she was working for a racist; and all the rest of the members of the Coon Show are not necessary for me for proof of the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  I’m not surprised he can divide immigrant families at the border, imprison children or ignore a storm-damaged Puerto Rico like the island and its people are the bastards at his family picnic.  Anyone who didn’t know the above three facts either had their heads buried in the sand or were too busy figuring out how to get their cut of money from the spawn of Satan himself.  I don’t have a short memory.  And I also prescribe to the Book of Malcolm X who said that you do not call any man (or woman, for that matter) your brother or sister until they demonstrate that that is exactly what they are. Peace.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Message for Democrats

by Leslye Joy Allen

About a year ago, I was interviewed by veteran broadcast journalist Maynard Eaton. One of the things I told him was that “No one ever asks educators anything.”  The recent election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina who unseated a veteran Congressman for New York’s 14th District DID NOT COME AS A COMPLETE SURPRISE TO ME.  Ocasio-Cortez is a newly elected Democratic Socialist and her opponent Joe Crowley, a 20-plus year veteran Congressman, out spent her campaign by a margin of 18 to 1.  Go figure. Well, here are about five of my own observations that I think Democrats need to pay attention to:

First things first.  Women are a big trend this year.  We, women are sick and tired of being talked down to, ignored, condescended to, assaulted, raped, murdered, denied equal pay, you name it. The current administration’s open hostility to women has made it abundantly clear that more women should be and are running for office and winning.  Men might start thinking about the fact that women are the majority.  Now, many women will vote against their own interests to keep the peace in their households or to hold onto a deeply flawed belief that the needs of their particular ethnic or racial group outweigh the real problems and needs of women. A lot of young women no longer have the capacity to be that self-sacrificing; and that’s a good thing. Self-sacrificing for others has never gotten women much reward, only fatigue, frustration, and maybe a few extra flowers on Mother’s Day.

Second, women (and a few men I know) are now tired of the “Pissing Contests” far too many male candidates and political pundits make of the Democratic process. I personally find that “male competitive streak” a complete turn off.  Very little productive work gets done when a group of men are trying to out talk, out preach, out pontificate, out work each other in their quest for some top position or for some form of dominance.  This kind of competition can destroy a perfectly good social movement when hyper-masculine egos worry more about what will happen to and for themselves as individuals. Many women have adapted this masculine paradigm, but it rarely works for them.  Women work best when they celebrate those things that are uniquely female and then fight against anything and anyone who works against women’s interests. I never forget that most of the so-called “established” Black male leadership and their attendant pontificators such as Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, John Lewis, along with pundits like Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Stanley Crouch, Cornell West, and Tavis Smiley, all went out of their way to hyper-critique Barack Obama when he sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.  NONE of these men were Obama supporters until it became apparent that Obama would win the nomination. They were wrong over eight years ago, so I don’t trust their political instincts and I don’t like their pettiness.  Women of all races and ethnicities were Obama supporters long before a lot of men decided to join his campaign.  Right now, younger women (and by young, I mean any woman born after the Baby Boom) are successfully collaborating with each other on everything from television production to political campaigns.  All Democrats might want to take a play out of the Feminine Playbook of female teamwork if you want to get elected.

Third, the Democratic Party is still currently dominated by aging men and women that young candidates and young voters see as part of a corrupt system.  Some of these Democratic politicians are now in their late sixties or well into their seventies and they haven’t had a new idea in two decades.  However, Bernie Sanders was an older white man that reached young America, the Millennials. Young Democratic Millennial America wanted Sanders as their Democratic candidate.  My own “play niece” CeAvani who graduated Maynard Jackson High School here in Atlanta in 2017 told me that ALL of the students at her high school were “Feeling the Bern.” Democrats, hell bent on focusing on Hillary Clinton, never bothered to find out what portion of Sanders’ message and platform resonated so well with young voters and those who would soon be registered voters.

Fourth, every teacher, college instructor, and college professor you know could have told you that there were Bernie Sanders loyalists sitting in their classrooms.  One of my former students told me point blank that there were elements of Socialism in Sanders’ message.  There’s that terrifying word: Socialism.   Yet, she said, that is exactly what drew her to him. Now, none of these young people are talking about Cold War Era Soviet-style Socialism where the government owns and controls everything. Yet, they do think certain protections (like having healthcare and not drowning in Student Loan Debt) ought to be things that they shouldn’t have to constantly worry about. It is no accident that newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is defined as a Democratic Socialist.  I met and meet young Democratic Socialists with a variety of ideas almost every day. Yet, you can’t find any career Democratic politicians willing to examine this particular pulse in the youngest voting population in this country.  (And here’s another sidebar to remember: It wasn’t Democratic or Republican members of Congress that put the National Rifle Association on notice; it was a group of high school students, led by 18-year-old Emma González, who formed the March For Our Lives Movement because they are weary of seeing their classmates shot to death because some crazy guy could easily purchase an assault rifle. They are currently going around the country registering people to vote.)

Finally, young people, and young women in particular, are about to reshape American politics in ways no Democrat over the age of 50 has ever seen. These young people do not engage in Twitter wars of words (a waste of time, if there ever was one).  They don’t respond to or post every ridiculous comment our current president says.  They are back on the streets.  They are knocking on doors. They are going to places of business and schools and talking to people face-to-face instead of doing what lazy ass politicians do: namely, annoying everybody with robocalls. They are doing things not always covered by the news media. They have also discovered and perfected methods of campaigning where they don’t need as much money to get elected as the long term Congress People they intend to replace; and not a single current member of Congress can tell you how these young people are accomplishing any of this.  So Democrats, if you want to regain some political momentum, you need to stop acting like young people have nothing to tell you. They do.  You also need to stop thinking that the only way you should leave public office is in a coffin or an urn.  For God’s sake, please retire with some grace; and remember our young people are not supposed to think just like you and I.  If you care anything at all about them and about our future, you might consider that they are the future. They will outlive and out last us all.  They will turn the tide.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Good Day In Court

by Leslye Joy Allen

Recently I went to court on a routine traffic offense.  Last year, I pleaded “Not Guilty” to this offense and requested a trial.  There is/was no way in hell I was going to roll over for some cop sitting near a corner on a street where the Stop Sign was and remains completely obscured by an oak tree.  Well, after the City of Atlanta finally transferred my ticket to Fulton County Courts—for those of you who don’t know, most of our city is located in Fulton County, Georgia—I arrived on time and anticipated having a long stay.  Well, something different happened.  The Solicitor General of Fulton County, Keith E. Gammage walked in the courtroom.

Gammage told all of us that we were the first group to participate in a brand new program.  This was its first day.  He noted that many of our tickets could possibly be dismissed, and that the Solicitor General’s Office wanted to prosecute real criminals rather than tie up its time with cases involving minor offenses like “failing to yield.” Then the next thing he said floored me.  All offenses for everyone’s minor traffic violations would be reduced to a fine of $75 dollars rather than the $250 to $450 plus dollars that most of us expected to pay if found guilty. My fine, had I been required to pay it, would have been $265.  Gammage stood there and answered everyone’s questions about what plea they should enter to what did they have to do if they couldn’t pay that $75 on their day in court.  Everyone with this $75 fine would have a full 30 days to pay it.

While seated in court and waiting for my name to be called, I made small talk with a Spelman College alum who was also a teacher.  I told her about my dissertation research; and when I discovered that she was a Kindergarten teacher, the conversation shifted to my late Mama (also a kindergarten teacher) and we laughed about some of the crazy things that five-year-olds can do and say.  I mentioned to her that I voted for Keith E. Gammage for Solicitor General after attending a conference devoted to the late Sandra Bland, who tragically died in jail for failing to put her blinker on.  Bland was ordered out of her car by a cop that resented her asking him why she had to put her cigarette out.  My brilliant performance artist-writer-educator-poet-actor-activist-sister/daughter Talitha Anyabwelé organized a “Sandy’s Day” program in her honor.  A young Black woman on Anyabwelé’s panel of speakers named Anana Harris Parris brought up Keith E. Gammage’s name as someone who wanted to help straighten out our criminal justice system.  This same young woman, who worked for a law firm, recalled in vivid and horrid detail how she had been stopped by police one night right in front of her parents’ home when she was a college student. Ms. Anana Harris Parris was physically searched and had her breasts groped by a male police officer right in front of her home.  So when Anana Harris Parris brought up the name Keith E. Gammage as a young Black man trying to do the right thing, I remembered his name…So

as I sat in court, Mr. Gammage looked in my direction, walked over to me and said, “Didn’t I meet you before?”  I honestly don’t know why or how he remembered me.  I told him we did meet over a year ago at a coffee shop in our neighborhood when he was out campaigning to become the new Solicitor General of Fulton County.  We exchanged pleasantries and he handed me his business card.  He resumed wallking around the courtroom.  I turned back to talk with my Spelman sister and told her that I thought he was an impressive young Black brother trying to do the right thing.  She confessed that she was worried about being in court all day.  I totally understood her point of view. When you plead “not guilty” or don’t just pay the fine, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County drags the process out.  Just as she was beginning to worry about having to go out to put money in the parking meter, Keith E. Gammage pulled her aside to speak with her.  When she came back to where I was seated she said that he found out she was a school teacher and since her offense was so minor it was dismissed.  “After all,” he said, “Your money is best spent on the things you need to teach our kids.”  Everyone in that courtroom had only $75 to pay (well below the $250 to $450+ original fines) within 30 days or no fine to pay at all; and for a change being an educator was treated with the respect that it deserves.  Remember the name of Keith E. Gammage because this court date/my court date was one of the very few times it was pleasant.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Social Media Overload

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

I freely admit I enjoy social media.  We social media denizens trade ideas, photos, debate politics, say prayers for people in need, raise money, promote good causes, advertise our own enterprises, post recipes and witty sayings, talk about art, film, theatre, and occasionally go on rants.  I try to keep rants to a bare minimum. But hey, if ranting on social media is what keeps you from going out and shooting people at the mall, then rant away.  Now with all that’s good about social media, I’ve also experienced what I now call “social media overload.” I thought I would share some of my opinions because occasionally I get messages from people asking me why I don’t comment on posts as much as I used to.  Well, I know I’ve lost time in the past by spending too much time posting, commenting, clicking and tweeting.

I primarily use my laptop much more than I use my smartphone for any form of social media; and I always log out when I’m done, so I don’t hear those dings you hear on a smartphone when someone posts or tweets something new. Plus, with a sporadic and highly irregular work schedule while I also try to write and edit and finish a dissertation is hard enough.  I can typically write a blog in less than 30 minutes, but writing and editing a dissertation in squirts is a slow and agonizing process, so staying online isn’t possible anyway.  I now deliberately and regularly go a minimum of 24 to 48 hours (often longer) without checking in on social media. The first time I did this several months ago, I discovered something about these 24 to 48 hour cycles.  My first full day away, I found myself severely missing posting and commenting on other people’s posts.

If you stay away from all social media for roughly 24 to 48 hours and then return, you will probably notice one or two (or maybe three) subjects trending.  There will be one post after another about essentially the same thing.  Let’s say it’s something that everyone seems to like; so everyone is super happy about an event, a film, you name it.  When that happens I can almost guarantee that if you sign off again and then revisit after the next 24 to 48 hours, whatever was trending that everyone liked a few days ago will now have its critics.  So then there will be a series of comments or a few articles telling you that what you initially liked 24 to 48 hours ago is no longer something that you should like, but something you should question or at least greet with some suspicion.  Some of these fresh critiques often have some value and tend to make good reading.  Yet, I noticed that a lot of these articles and comments read like the pseudo-intellectual hogwash they are; and often the real tragedy is that these articles are penned by perfectly good writers who seem to be having a hard time finding something to write about and have simply jumped on the bandwagon with the rest of the cynics.  Then if you sign off and stay gone for yet another couple of days, something even more curious will have probably happened.  Within that next 24 to 48-hour cycle—this is our third cycle, now—you will have another set of reverse critics who will critique those initial critics who dared criticize what you and everyone else liked in the first place. If you have a headache reading this, don’t feel bad.  I have one too!  However, I didn’t see these patterns until I let a few days go by without visiting social media.

I had an interesting conversation recently with a Personal Development Counselor. He was a charismatic young man who looked to be in his late twenties to early thirties.  He told me something that I found quite troubling.  Most of his work, he said, was with young male Internet Technology professionals, commonly called ITs.  He stated that almost all of the young male ITs he meets have problems talking to women because they spend all day staring at a computer screen.  He bluntly told me that most of them don’t know how to make small talk.  Almost all of the questions they ask him are about how they might best find the right words to approach a woman to date via some online service.  Simple things like having a conversation with a woman and then asking her out for a simple cup of coffee is totally foreign to many of these guys.  His job as a Personal Development Counselor is to give these young men some kind of road map to use to help them create a satisfying personal life because they do not know how to do it by themselves.

Now, before every Internet Technology professional sends me personal denials of such behavior and/or hate comments, hold your horses and slow your roll.  I know plenty of well-rounded IT professionals and I know that the majority of folks in this profession do not have the problems identified by this Personal Development Counselor.  I do suspect that  youth plays a factor in these problems. Those of us who are now in our AARP years remember a time when you didn’t need a computer or a smartphone to do anything and everything.  You had to go out and meet people, make eye contact, have conversations, and you did not have a smartphone as a constant distraction.  Younger men and women have no such memories.  What this young Personal Development Councilor shared with me made me take a good hard look at how much, how long and what content I place on social media and why I do it.

A while back I made a personal commitment to not post the news on my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.  What appears on MSNBC or CNN or FOX is almost always bad news anyway. I’ve managed to stick with this formula about 98 percent of the time.  On those days when something tragic has happened yet again to another Black person, to another woman, another LGBTQ person, another child, and etcetera, you can expect the threads on most social media to be filled to the brim with this bad news, tragic news, and horrible news, along with their shock and hurt about these tragedies.  All of it would be easier to stomach if there wasn’t so much of it.  It’s not that racists and sexists and misogynists and homophobes and rapists and murderers don’t do ugly, horrible mess to people with great regularity; it’s that this ugliness is not happening to me or you every single minute of the day because if it were happening to all of us 24/7, none of us would have the time or the luxury to post about it and debate about it on social media.  It is not that bad things don’t happen, but rather that good things happen as well. Now before you say that we all need to talk about these problems and vent about these tragedies, consider this:  If you do not post or comment about some major issue or problem, what exactly is going to happen or not happen if you don’t post or if you are absent for a few days?  What exactly would you be doing if you were not posting and commenting on your own or someone else’s posts?  This leads me to what I call the “Instant Gratification Trap.”  I’m as guilty of being caught by it and in it as anyone.

The “Instant Gratification Trap” is when you discover that your posts are rather popular and/or make people feel better and/or make people think deeply. Suddenly you feel important and admired. When I simply stopped posting anything negative and made it a point to post something positive, I found nothing wrong with basking in the warmth of compliments generated by folks who pressed the “Like” button and “Share” button and those who “Re-Tweeted” my posts.  All of this makes for good feelings all around.  However, the next thing I felt was obligated to continue making these kinds of intellectually stimulating posts.  “Obligated” is actually the wrong word here.  I felt compelled to post more positive posts because I ENJOYED and DESIRED the affirmative reactions of my real friends and my “cyberspace associates.”  Even further, I started to believe that what I had to say was so very important that I better hurry up and post something else that was wise and wonderful because, hey, what’s going to happen to all of those people who rely on my posts and my comments if I’m not there to post or comment?!  Let me say this as plainly as possible:  This is some ego tripping of the highest order.  All of us, hopefully, get to help people out, give some good advice and feel a little extra special, which is healthy.  We should feel confident about our work and our words and our contributions.  But exactly where do we draw the line?

Now, I read a lot of writing by my own real personal friends and many of my cyberspace associates; and there are some seriously talented writers and thinkers among them. Many of us are quite bright and we might say a lot of things that need to be said, but we’re not the only crayons in the box.  The problem with Instant Gratification is that it is short-lived because you haven’t worked that hard for it; it’s fleeting.  So, like a drug addict in search of another high, you post more and more to get more and more validation.  That validation strokes the ego; at least I know it stroked mine.  However, here’s how I’ve decided to use my ego.  I have enough of an ego to not want my very best writing to be on some social media site because once it’s posted there, it belongs to the site.  You can always lay claim to what you wrote, but the jury is still out as to whether any social media site needs your permission to reproduce what you’ve written somewhere else for the site’s own purposes.  When I feel the need to say something really serious, I put it in my blog or in my notes for some future essay.

Now, here’s an aspect of social media that is more delicate.  On most social media sites you can “unfollow” or “block” people. On Facebook you can “unfriend and block” people.  Every person I know has had that moment when they suddenly discover that “friend” or what I call a “cyberspace associate” who disagrees with them on every moral or ethical question out there.  Their contradictory opinions seem to come out of nowhere, but they really don’t come out of nowhere.  Remember, you don’t actually personally know a lot of these people who make it to your friend list; and they typically made it to your list because they know about thirty people that you actually know or they seem to be natural allies due to their posts and comments. Then one day they comment on some thread of yours and manage to annoy everyone with their narrowmindedness or their determination to ram their opinions down everyone’s throat and by their unwillingness to respect the opinions of others.  So after a few acrimonious comments and a variety of pithy rebuttals to their opinion, you get angry as hell and you click that “Unfriend” button so you don’t have to hear from them again.  Now, there are some good reasons for unfriending these creeps.  I got rid of one that was running for public office and who also turned out to be damned near a stalker.  (I also blocked him and thank God he lost his election.)

Now, I don’t blame folks for not wanting to be bothered with internet trolls or real life ass holes who spend the better part of their days trying to start arguments and foment dissension among groups of people who might be having a stimulating and insightful discussion. Yet, the problem with unfriending people with opposing views is that’s not how it works in the real world. As I have encouraged healthy debates among my former History students, they know like I do that you don’t learn as much from the people with whom you agree, but from those people with whom you disagree.  It might make you feel better to “unfriend” someone. I know it made me feel better. Yet, when met with opposition face-to-face instead of in cyberspace, you have to monitor your anger to prevent a debate from turning into a full-fledged argument or worse.  You have to think with more precision because you are in the physical presence of someone who disagrees with you and who has also pushed your buttons. I often think we argue on social media because it’s physically safer to do so; and there is nothing wrong with that. However, you might discover in face-to-face communications that your adversary has a point worth listening to.  And the key word here is “listen.”  Unless you’re communicating via FaceTime, most communication on social media is written. I have read (and learned to stay the hell off of) some threads where someone’s words were misconstrued precisely because no one on the thread could see that person’s body language or hear the natural inflections in that person’s voice that give additional meanings and depth to the point they were trying to make. And this leads me to something the Personal Development Counselor said about empathy.

The last thing he told me was that he thought too much consumption of social media led a lot of folks to believe that they were highly informed and highly sympathetic to people with problems when they were not.  Reading a book or a story, he said, created empathy.  He’s right.  You identify with the protagonist or some character in the book.  After you’ve finished reading the book, you continue thinking about the characters, the themes, what did it all mean, and why you enjoyed it, etcetera.  The brevity of posts on social media, he said, doesn’t require this kind of investment. You read a few lines of a post, and think about it for a few minutes, and then you move on to the next post or the next thread.  There isn’t much time to ponder and process what you just read if you’re suddenly distracted by something else that is more provocative.

I met a couple of young people recently who have deleted several of their social media accounts, including this Personal Development Counselor.  I probably will continue to enjoy social media for all the reasons I listed at the beginning of this blog.  I personally know plenty of people on social media who are caring, thoughtful people who genuinely want everyone they know to be informed about some serious problems going on in the world or about the good that’s out there; but there’s a creeping shallowness on social media that I’ve noticed in recent years.  It is no accident that the rapper Kanye West thinks “slavery was a choice,” if we consider that his exposure to the subject and its history has obviously been through imbibing short blurbs, 30 second soundbites, memes and slogans designed more to catch the ear and eye than to honestly analyze and inform anyone about what was a highly complex and brutally oppressive institution.

The fact that West and others think you can explain and reduce Chattel Slavery in the Americas—a 400-plus year old institution—to something as simple and singular as “choice” not only speaks volumes about what books they haven’t read, but also how their brains are now wired to believe that their ability to understand complex subjects can be accomplished via tweets, short articles, and a few posts.  West is not unusual nor is he an anomaly.  Kanye West is the results.  It’s hard to invest in people and consider their feelings when empathy with other people and their history is short term because the next post or thread about someone or something else is so much more exciting.  It’s easy to dismiss what is not provocative or catchy; after all, most of these posts are designed to draw people to them.  I don’t know what the long term repercussions of this type of media saturation will mean to everyone, but for me it means I’m going to be taking regular breaks from all forms of it from now on. Peace.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.

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