Agree to Disagree
Suddenly the conversation grew ugly. With but single word, a constructive dialogue turns into a bitter dispute. Where once they were friends, now they are adversaries who talk over rather than to one another. Questioning each others motives, character and commitment, one labels the other an uppity Negro. Damn fool, is the angry retort. In an instant, a single heartbeat, a once healthy relationship becomes a struggle for control; a contest of dominance. And this between allies who have worked together on multiple endeavors. This between friends who were basically saying the same thing only using different words and phrases to do so.
These types of arguments are not limited to a single ethnic group. They are however routine were it concerns family. We have all either witnessed or been a party to conversations where one or both of the participants become so emotional, so determined that he is right and the other person dead wrong as to lose all control, perspective and balance. Inevitably, something is said or done that can neither be erased, forgotten nor forgiven. And the once positive relationship is seriously strained or forever broken.
This is especially true when it involves the third rails of African-American culture and politics, i.e., religion, sexual preference, and the black condition. Group divergence over the causes of our plight and the solutions for moving forward is a prescription for conflict; an argument waiting to happen.
We can no longer avoid the question. Can we agree to disagree? Can we put aside our differences both great and small for the greater good. Or will we be lost in a sea of discord, conflict and senseless arguments?
We cannot agree on all things. No group can. Fortunately, we don’t have to. All that is necessary is that when appropriate, we agree to disagree.
When it comes to our mutual well-being and basic survival, it hardly matters that we interpret the bible differently, belong to alternative denominations or have differing faiths. Accord as to our sexual appetites, preferences or identities is not a requisite for shared goal or purpose. Who one chooses to love, pray to or vote for are matters of individual choice.
But instead of dealing with the emergency of now, we argue over the inconsequential. You live in a different neighborhood than I so we can’t live in peace. You are a Kappa and I am a Q so we don’t see eye to eye. You may be black but you don’t think, pray or have sex like me so we are totally different.
Needless to say, these differences are immaterial as are arguments over terminology. All that is matters is that we persevere. Regrettably, we use minor arguments over minor differences in ways that are contrary to our own best interest.
The number of L.G.B.T. African-Americans who have been ostracized; banished from church and home is disturbing. The number of divorces and fractured families caused by incessant arguments over who left the dish cloth in the sink is telling. And the incidences of domestic violence that occurs because one partner ate the last piece of chicken is disgraceful. Even worse, is how we hold grudges over differences in emphasis and style for eternity.
This is both the essence and consequences of the problem. And this is what will sink us if we do not learn to agree to disagree.
The bottom line is simply this. We may not always like one another, but we need each another, our junior disagreements notwithstanding. The last African-American in the world would not last a day before being warehoused in some damn museum or made the main attraction of a traveling freak show. Such was the fate of Venus Hottentot, an African woman of the early 19th century infamous for having a large posterior. See http://icarusfilms.com/new99/hottento.html. If this were an oddity today many of us would be similarly exploited.
It is perfectly acceptable to differ; to travel different paths. It is our mutual destination which counts. If we are to survive drowning in a sea of adversity, if we are to avoid being swept away, we must cooperate with one another regardless our differences. We are much more likely to reach the safety of shore by compounding our commonalities than by focusing on our disputes.
In conclusion, we are all in this lifeboat together. As such, we share the same fate. The sharks which circle us could care less our disagreements. They will gobble us up nonetheless.
So rather than being concerned about being right let us concentrate on being successful. Let us do whatever is necessary to agree whenever possible and agree to disagree whenever necessary. No group can long survive without mastering this basic dictum.
Our rickety lifeboat is rapidly taking on water. If the boat sinks, if we cannot agree to disagree, then we are all food for the sharks.
Leo Barron Hicks, President and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum