I opened the PDF. I read the chapter title: “A Preliminary Examination of Hegemonic Masculinity: Definitional Transference of Black Masculinity Affecting Lethal Tactics against Black Males”. I close the PDF. It is not that I’m not intelligent or that I cannot read. It is not that I am too lazy to Google the words and fill in the gaps. I do that most times. I simply read the title and thought to myself, that even though this thing was literally about me, a Black man, it is not made for me. So, who is it for? I go back to Instagram.
Before I wrote this, my partner stepped onto a step ladder to get into the cabinet to grab something she needed for dinner. What we are eating is not the focus, but the fact that she needed to step onto a ladder to get something that she needed to prepare what we are eating is. As a User Experience designer, my work is to research to understand people, and then to design things that are easy to use and easy to learn by the majority of them. Even if that means designing it far outside of what I think is the best way. Now, as I type this, we’re listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. You’re probably wondering what the hell any of these things have to do with each other and I hope to make these random connections clear for us.
As someone who designs things, I often get too focused on the fact that I am designing something for someone, so much that I forget to involve their voice during the design process. The things that I create are not supposed to be mine. They belong to those that I am designing with. As my partner stepped onto this step ladder, my first thought would have been “Why does she need the step ladder? It’s right there.” But, thanks to self-proclaimed growth, I thought “Damn, since she uses that strainer more often, I should have put the strainer at the front of the shelf so she could reach it more easily”.
“Quay, what does this mean? Just give me the point.” I got you. This is about access. Even more about words and language. Words and revolution are connected in a way that means we HAVE to use our words well. We have to realize that the words we use have power. Power to shut out those who should be front and center of the movement and/or Power to make space for those who should be front and center. Lisa Yebuah, a brilliant Black woman, our pastor, and wordsmith (along with other visionaries within our church community) uses the phrase “Words create worlds”, and my question is: Who is allowed in the world that our words create? Who is our world for? Who does it include? Who does it center? After listening intensely to a IGTV conversation between Biko Mandela Gray and Cleve Tinsley and their dialogue on doing the reading and how that can often be weaponized against folks, especially those who heavily worded texts aren’t easily accessible to, or in the interest of, and it made me wonder…who is all of this shit for? How might we create tools that are able to be used by everyone? Language being one of those tools that I wonder most about. Hell, how do we expect those who these tools are not created to include, to use them? (For example: How do I expect the homies to battle patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia, with no idea of what all those fancy terms even mean? Couldn’t I just say “the ways straight men are granted power and decision making position, that leads to harm against women, queer and trans people with little to no consequences?”)
In the matter of step ladders, how do we expect folks to reach spaces and places that are out of reach to them, by design, because we didn’t include their experience? How might we ‘educated and enlightened folk’ re-design our lives so we center the thoughts of those we wish to be more deeply in community with? In regard to Hamilton, I learned hella history that I ignored in school because it was given to me in Hip Hop and Theatre. It encourages me to keep asking how might we re-design learning, care, food, faith & religion, to center solutions of those who know the harms of these systems the most?
Conclusion: Doing work for communities and doing work with the voices and visions of those communities at the center are very different experiences. That is where charity and service differ. Service calls us to offer ourselves fully, honestly, and without ourselves in the center. Let us master truly putting others first and not simply putting them first just long enough to do what we think is best for them. This is asking “How do you need the room set up to be most effective?” before assuming someone desires to, or is able to, sit at “the table”. Our words are tools. Our words are tools that build and shape our world. And we have to ask, who is all of this for?