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Who Invited Me to the Cookout?
Thanksgiving for Free Black Thought
WHO INVITED ME TO THE COOKOUT?
Thanksgiving for Free Black Thought
With the season of thanks (and overeating) upon us, I want to express my gratitude to my friends at FBT and our supporters, and extend a hand to the haters. This year I got to experience the warmth that all, friends and haters alike, have to offer.
Before I go any further I should acknowledge that I’m white. When I first met Shemeka Michelle she almost fell off her chair, because she hadn’t received a heads-up about my race. I don’t want that to happen to you! In fact, me being white has proven startling and irritating to quite a few people. It certainly brought the trolls out! From the benign and hilarious, “How’d Jason get invited to the cookout?” to accusations of malevolent intent on my part. The attacks have included such claims as that white people determine which black thoughts should be classified as “Free” at FBT, that FBT is black in “face only,” and that FBT is really controlled by whites. My friend and FBT colleague Erec discusses these charges here in a Newsweek article.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, out of exhaustion over our social divisions, and from a desire to move forward with all of y’all, I’d like to address a few issues so that when my “whiteness” pops up again, the trolls and those presuming negative intent will have their questions answered and my energies can be spent on bringing people together and making the most of our short time on this planet.
How’d Jason get invited to the cookout?
During the pandemic, I happened to meet up with the FBT bunch as they were coming together. It turned out they appreciated the work I was doing and that over the course of the three previous years, FBT President Erec Smith and I had been having parallel experiences. We had both felt the brunt of wokeness in our professions merely for saying, “Maybe we should talk about alternative approaches.” We were both interested in emotional intelligence and true empowerment. After a couple of meetings, I was asked if I’d be interested in joining FBT’s efforts. Of course I said, “YES!”
In fact, I told Erec, “I feel like I’ve been looking for you for a long time!” and asked him to join me at my company EmpowerED Pathways, which I started after spending several years trying to convince my colleagues in K-21 education that the ideology of “white privilege” and the portrayal of individuals as either “oppressed” or “oppressors” were rooted in collectivist thought and would impair individual well-being and erode individual autonomy. My efforts resulted in my excommunication from the world of K-12 education. Erec was the first person I met that understood the crisis at hand and was working towards viable solutions. I was honored, relieved, and grateful to join him at the cookout.
Why did Jason join FBT?
Here is where being a hippie country boy has been helpful. You see, if it weren’t for the rednecks, the hippies, the weirdos, the nerds, the jocks, the “cool kids” and the outcasts, I too might have fallen victim to the allure of wokism. Growing up, I moved around a bit and never really fit in anywhere but was welcomed everywhere and in every social group, so I was able to form meaningful friendships with multiracial and pluralistic groups of people my entire life. Technically, I’ve been getting invited to cookouts, birthday parties, funerals, and so on my entire life.
I grew up in a time when En Vogue was telling us, “Free your mind and the rest will follow, be colorblind, don’t be so shallow,” and Michael Jackson and Madonna were telling us, “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.” I still believe it now, just like I believed it then. But around 2017 I started noticing all black people were being painted as a monolithic group and none of the assigned traits and qualities were positive or reflective of the individuals I’ve known in my life. Nor did those individuals appreciate how this new ideology was framing them. So, again, when asked if I’d like to be a part of Free Black Thought, I naturally said “YES!”
Are you or FBT “far-right”
We are obviously not “far left” and to be clear, we are not “far right,” either. Personally, I don’t have a preferred political filter or lens. Nor do I put any faith in political partisanship. We are a group of “far out” individuals who prioritize maintaining classical liberalism, promoting human well-being, and choosing relationships over politics. As we say on our website:
As citizens, we pursue no political agenda other than a commitment to free speech, civil rights, and a conviction that a pluralistic society committed to liberal democracy is nourished by the entire spectrum of black thinking on matters of politics, society, and culture.
In fact, we rarely discuss partisan politics—the latest buzz about Biden, Trump, or elections—when we’re together. We each have our own politics. But, man, do we share a concern about maintaining a society where people can freely exchange ideas so that the best ideas can be identified, refined, and shared widely.
Is FBT really controlled by “the whites”?
Bruh?! C’mon, really?
Is there a nefarious agenda by whites to celebrate the viewpoint diversity of black people? Do white people have something to gain by FBT sharing ideas, largely generated by black academics, that the mainstream deems wrongthink? Is the problem our Compendium of Free Black Thought, which is one of the largest collections of heterodox black scholars, leaders, artists, and academics ever assembled?
I’ve have enough going on in my life that I can’t be trying to control people, things, or ideas. I fully embrace the term “Free.” Friendships and human relationships are an important part of FBT and “control,” by the white team members or the black ones, has no place here.
Over the past five years, it’s become quite apparent to me that the only “acceptable black people” are the ones that believe and vote a particular way. In fact, the only “acceptable person,” white, black, or other is the one that believes and votes a particular way. I see FBT as a big, happy middle finger to that idea and I’m grateful and honored to be invited to this particular cookout.
If it weren’t for worshiping with, competing with, grieving with, partying with, and being a mentee and a mentor to black people of all sorts, I might’ve fallen for the big lie that advances a dehumanizing worldview that perceives “black people” in a particular, constraining way. Now I get to be part of an organization that is changing that narrative and, through EmpowerED Pathways, I get to work with Erec to strengthen our common humanity and personal well-being. So, FBT is a win for all parties!
Now that that is all cleared up, let’s get back to the meaning of the season, which is giving thanks, being grateful, sharing traditions, and opening our hearts to others. May the spirit of Thanksgiving fill you for the coming year! Express your gratitude and open your hearts to others as often as you can. This is a way forward and these are the traditions that connect us and allow us to thrive.
Peace, Love, and Free Black Black Thought,
P.S.: if you ever invite me to your cookout, I pledge not to put too much mayonnaise in the potato salad and if it’s a Thanksgiving meal, there will be no raisins in the casserole.
Jason Littlefield is an educator who is passionate about personal wellbeing and establishing a society of individuals at peace within themselves and others. He established EmpowerED Pathways in 2017 and co-designed Empowered Humanity Theory, a framework for life, leadership, and learning. He served as a public educator for twenty-one years in multiple capacities. From 2014 to 2021 he was a Social and Emotional Learning Specialist for the Austin Independent School District. Jason has also served students and families from around the world, including Taiwan, China, and Benin. Through his work with EmpowerED Pathways, Free Black Thought, and The Institute for Liberal Values, he advocates for decreasing human division and increasing personal wellbeing by bringing awareness to the impact and intent of the emerging ideology dominating our institutions and permeating the Zeitgeist.