I am inspired by the reading and writing of one of my most erudite professors: Grant Farred.
I begin with the words of Martin Luther King Jr., though I despise the sanitized, decontextualized image of him in popular discourse today. It’s like the complexity of his thought has been exhumed by unthinking bodily grave robbers for any kind of flowery agenda under his non-violent sun.
“Rarely do we find men [sic] who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
It is from here that I begin — from my mind, a mind encased in Black skin, poised to think rigorously, rebelliously.
I consider myself a Black intellectual, a philosopher, a reveler in the demanding yet cozy life of the mind. The confines of the white and gray matter in my skull churn out life-sustaining thoughts that provide solace from the external world that taunts me with its cowardly ignorance; its timid trek into the shallow end of the littoral slosh of rigorous thinking.
Thinking, particularly for Black folk, is to decide how things are arranged in the world, who has power, whose history is validated. And to think — especially for Black subjects whose thoughts have historically been invalidated, cast as “biased” — is a deeply political act.
I’ve said to myself, to friends, to colleagues that: The more you learn — really, the more you think — the more unfit for society you become. That is the truest shit I think I’ve ever said. Proclaim that gospel from the hilltops. Maybe then they’ll listen.
And each moment, and each time I read the dried ink of a book, my own advice becomes ever more true. I am one who would rather read Heidegger or Toni Morrison or Derrida or Michel Foucault or Judith Butler than go out on a Friday night.
I am one who flouts societal norms as a result of deep cogitation on the order of things. I am one who is never satisfied with answers but perennially seeks knowledge, constantly questions, incessantly pushes the intellect.
In short, I don’t fit. A square peg trying to pass fluidly through ever-shrinking circles.
It is my Blackness that makes thinking so pressing for me. Black folks indeed have a rather precarious and fucked-over lot in life.
And as Du Bois said, “they whose lot is gravest must have the carefulest training to think aright.”
I’ve come to this revelation:
Thinking is a fugitive act — it unearths the lies of the world, severs people’s embrace of their certainty, and interrogates the truths that allow us to exist in tranquility.
Thinking, and thinking rigorously, unflinchingly, unapologetically, is quite simply to be an outlaw. A rebel. A revolutionary. A muthafuckin’ goon.
It is undoubtedly an act of courage, and courage, as my man Brother Cornel West says, is to be willing to look unflinchingly at catastrophic circumstances and muster the will to overcome the fear…So that fear has not pushed one into conformity, complacency.
And the opposite of this courageous thinking — indeed, thinking, period — is not cowardice but indifference, and indifference to evil is more invidious than evil itself precisely because indifference to evil is contagious.
Damn, yo, Cornel be on his shit.
This sentiment is real, though. Like, for real for real, being someone who thinks with the rigor I cherish is in many ways a super suspect thing to do nowadays. You got people on Facebook thinking they’re degree-holding experts on every subject they can type into Wikipedia, and then catch an attitude when you respond with some cogent facts and logic. Allergic to actual thought, it seems.
My thinking staves off my own nonexistence. Black folks are subject to extreme misrecognition; Black life is often to live “with the possibility — it is closer, in truth, to an inevitability — of misrecognition,” Grant Farred says.
“It is to live with the prospect of being named, of being subsumed into a racial-racist…or racist-economic…category.”
So that means I gotta know my shit, “think aright,” as Du Bois says, and speak, because to be speechless in the face of injustice can be fatal for Black folks. Silence, as we know from all those kickass radical Black feminists, is starvation, is death.
And we’ve been dying for too long.
“Don’t you ever get tired of thinking?” some have asked.
“Can we just have a ‘fun’ conversation, talk about stuff that isn’t so deep?”
I give a long ass mental sigh and then I say this:
When you grow up, as I did, starved of intellectual stimulation, the valuation of thinking, and the practice of cultivating the mind — hungry for thought, cognition that leaps across boundaries — you promise yourself you’ll never be hungry again. I don’t have time for paltry rations of conversation and intellectual sharing.
I think much of the backlash to my own practice of thinking has centered around one word:
Such a simple word often used in people’s faux-psychological discourses, deployed to denote when someone is “over-thinking.”
I hate that term, really. For one, who the hell are you to put a cap on thinking, as if you’ve really reached the sweet spot on sufficient thinking? And two, what does that even mean? Thinking too much? Like, that’s not even a thing, yo. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Everybody and their mother tells me not to analyze “simple” things. Don’t over-analyze, stop analyzing the situation, why are you always analyzing everything, blahzee blah blah.
But first of all, to analyze is simply to interpret, to derive meaning from something, which we do, literally, all the time. We analyze when we read, we analyze when we see someone walking down the street, we analyze when we watch TV, we analyze when we eat.
And the G-ass Black Lives Matter activists are analyzing the shit outta U.S. White supremacy and racism.
To tell them, to tell me to stop analyzing is to tell us to stop living, to concede to the brutalization of our bodies. We don’t have time for bullshit. This shit is fatal.
Also, I’ll analyze whatever the hell I want.
As a Black subject, like Du Bois, I, too, claim my right to command thinking.
“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas,” Du Bois writes.
You can’t deny Du Bois, or me and my Black self, the company of Shakespeare, Dumas, or Aristotle and Aurelius. I’ma be Black ‘til I die, and go down thinking. The Enlightenment — that era of U.S. history that bred thinking — “is constitutive of the black experience (in all the violence and cultural prospect that constitute that experience) that is shared by other black figures.”
I claim my Blackness as I claim my mind, my thinking. I think. Black.