I touched on this briefly in an older blog entry, but I feel very strongly the need to write on this again. From my previous post:
Critical reading and thinking means not just looking at what is said, but understanding what it means, and how best to apply what knowledge has been provided.
Until more black women are able to critically regard and think carefully about the "advice" coming their way from various sources, they will continue to leave themselves open to suggestions that, however well meant, had might as well be a dagger lodged directly in their spines.
I bolded that section for a reason. Sometimes, I believe people knowingly offer false information in order to undermine other people. And other times, it is not intentioned at at all; the person just holds a point of view that is harmful, and are imparting the only wisdom they have available to them.
You could compare it to the unfortunate story of a girl being told by the mothers of her church to pray and "Lean on Jesus!" after confessing to being abused by her husband. Thankfully someone else helped her to get out of the situation before she was beaten to death.
I do not necessarily think those women offered that advice with the intent to hurt this young woman. It may have been their experience that it was all they could do in a similar situation. Maybe they felt it allowed them to be "delivered" or was a coping mechanism for their sense of helplessness.
But the fact remains that even though no ill will may have been meant, their advice was dangerous. People offer dangerous advice all the time. On purpose or not on purpose. People put forth solutions and ideas that they may feel very well are useful and helpful, but they are anything but.
I hold no hatred in my heart for such people. I simply treat them the way I do people who knowingly offer input that is meant to harm me.
I listen/read what they have to say in a critical manner, and then act accordingly.
Critical thinking is “reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do.”*
You read something and then you have to decide whether or not it is true or false (or a combination), and how best to act in response to what you've just read.
Information is more than "tone". So often, black women are thrown by tone because they cannot distinguish something meant to harm them from something meant to help them. Not all truths are pleasant!
How different would the world be if this were so?
I know it's hard dealing with words that make you feel bad, however intended, but active listening isn't just about your hurt feelings.
comprehension >>> retention >>> response = active listening
And in order to listen actively, you have got to be able to think critically. How else are you going to take in information and understand it if you can't get beyond the non-issues and absorb useful and necessary information? How else can you protect yourself against advice and ideals that harm you rather than help you?
How does one go about thinking critically?
I was extremely fortunate enough to have a course on this in my early college years. I advise ANYONE who is in college or plans to go to take this type of course. It requires you to not just read information, but to ask serious questions about it. To look at what is being said, and what is not being said. To not necessarily take something at face-value, but to come up with an interpretation of that information that is as true and accurate as possible. This is at the heart of what it means to read and think critically.
When you are able to do that, you will be much better armed against trolls and de-railers who may creep into your spaces, or even against those well meaning persons that would cause unintended hurt.
Because you don't necessarily look at tone, or bias, or distractions, etc. You look at the most important points to be taken away and then you are able to respond appropriately.