(De)Colonizing the Mind or, Entering the Fray If Only for a Moment

Should females be formed by their association with males? It is not uncommon to hear certain discussions of gender roles and relationships follow ideologically from the reference to human origins in Genesis, “She will be called a woman because from a man she was taken.”

Flowing from the description in Genesis others follow hard after a hierarchical vision for gendered relationships. This may be seen in the characteristically naive interpretation of what is often referred to as the Fall. Adam to God, “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate,” becomes a means to refer to women as the beguiling sex. Or, put another way, for certain streams in the Christian Tradition, it becomes a means to exonerate males from cause.

In A Different Voice

Freud may or may not have been influenced by such a narrative but his research sits squarely in this vein. Modern understandings of childhood and adolescent development stem from his purported research using male control groups. From there he extrapolated the common notions of childhood development for both males and females.

gilliganCarol Gilligan, in her book, In a Different Voice, challenges Freud’s research and offers a different vision. That is, males and females develop both morally and socially along different trajectories. It is not a one size fits all. Her work subverts a reductionistic approach where blanket statements should no longer be made regarding children based solely on the research of one gender.

We could easily extend that criticism to how we judge others based on social or ethnic identities. One size does not fit all. Except of course when some want to reduce all human maladies to sin, which comes off a bit like, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

It is not that I have decided against the notion of sin. It is simply that the same pietists who believe it important to name specific sins as opposed to generalizing sin, to avoid ignoring particular implications, tend to apply that schema when the sin is clearly personal. There seems little room for the particular when sin is embedded in the social fabric, economic systems, or political institutions, even churches. Sin remains generalized and as such particular implications of those sins remain unaddressed. It is accustomed to saying, “We have repented of slavery, can’t we just move on.” Or worse, “I never owned any slaves, that was years ago.”

Language Matters

bindingReading in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, I happened across a phrase that spurred this quick post. Ched Myers describes Marks’ semantic field as political language. Semantic field refers to the structural elements of language use. Careful attention exposes the reader to the resident friction between cultures and subcultures. Myers gives this example,

Another example would be the way in which European languages dominate the education, and hence intellectual life, of Third World peoples, something liberation proponents refer to as “colonization of the mind.” (Binding the Strong Man, p.95)

The language we use to talk about the issue matters as much as the substantive particulars. For instance, in an innocent reply one might say, “I know a black family that lives like a white family.” Sure, that very sentence is incendiary before we ever talk about the point said statement was used to illustrate. It is close to the dismissive response, “But, some of my best friends are black.”

What may be deemed innocent references on their face carry a deep seated acceptance of the given, the as-is. We do need to talk about the matter in language that will not become an impediment to whatever way forward is pursued.

A Still Different Voice

Yesterday a friend and I were having a conversation over the recent interpretations of Ferguson raised by Voddie Baucham and Thabiti Anyabwile. Throw in the post repudiating Baucham and the reference to Alan Noble’s piece and my young friend was concerned with piling on. At the center of our conversation, admittedly being had by two white guys, was the wrestling with the notion black on black violence is an expression of white on black violence.

Another friend read one of those posts and, while in agreement with much of what was written, was equally disjointed by the idea all black on black violence could be traced to white on black violence. Neither he or I would agree with all, but I would not be in position to argue against the idea that much or most fit that description. I would want to hear from Anthony Smith or other of my Black friends. I really do think we white males should do a lot more listening.

Myers’ reference to liberation proponents use of “colonization of the mind” reminded me of Giligan’s work. In both instances the medium for understanding or in some cases asserting ideas or pronouncements came via white male intermediaries. Concerning the way 20th Century Westerners understood childhood development and adolescence, all children fell under Freud’s male control group. Concerning the way Ferguson is discussed among my friends, it is as though when white males can get their minds around the complexities then all will be well and explainable.

teamInstead, we need to remain cautious and open when Chris Rock or Charles Barkley offer their thoughts, And, we need to listen as Baucham and Anyabwile post their interpretations and responses. Even more, we may do well to listen as our Black brothers and sisters work out their own disagreements as to cause, effect, and possible solutions.

My young friend is interested in what he describes as the end game, as we all should be. What will set us on a different trajectory? What will it take to own what Ferguson has grown to signify, an irruption of the Real? When will we address our systemic ideologies that keep things as they are? Or, when will we recognize when we need to de-colonize the mind?

What most find troubling with some of the analysis, or so it seems, is the semantic field being used to work through what this event, and others like it, means and where we may be headed. Myers’ analysis of the Gospel of Mark may offer at least one skill we could all work to develop. What would it mean if we all stopped and listened for the ways language is used to strike at the status quo, that reveals the friction between cultures and subcultures?

Join me in listening. What are you hearing?

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Carol Gilligan

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.