Passing Messages in Black Communities: Part Two-Hoarding Information

Sometimes information hoarders, whether intentionally or inadertently, sabotage community building by creating barriers to trust and information flow.

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Identification as a black clergywoman in midlife gives me a valuable lens through which to view the needs of underserved, marginalized and disadvantaged populations in my ministry context. Unfortunately, community building to meet those needs may not be a priority to persons with individual motives or agendas. Individualism is characteristic of information hoarders and some self-appointed gatekeepers. Witnessing numerous cases of anti-communal behavior has compelled me to address the issue. In order address counterproductive behaviors contrary to building communal relationships for good, I call it out by name here-hoarding information.

A moral defibrillator speaks truth to power and among persons with whom she or he seeks to build community. Speaking about the heart of what matters does not require one to be abrupt or rude. However, speaking truth in love may ruffle feathers, hurt feelings or cause temporary fall out. Truth telling must thrive if we are to build community together. Openly speaking truth to one another in black communities remains a central component of passing messages as when griots, keepers of oral history, passed it on through storytelling in our native land. The principle of truth telling guides my sharing of personal observations in this blog.

img_3868Resistance of oppression through African spirituality in community during colonialism resulted in the survival of enslaved Africans. After surviving the middle passage (Maafa), enslaved Africans endured inhumane living conditions yet experienced hope through African spirituality. In resistance to animalistic treatment of enslaved Africans predominant in colonialism growth into Western culture, the enslaved redefined themselves in community with one another. Lee Butler, Jr. (2006) writes, “It was our faith in life, our spirituality, that made our survival creative rather than destructive. African spirituality provided a passion for living in relationship, helping us to resist a life defined by rugged individualism” (p. 107).
Western culture’s individualism has greatly influenced values and norms of black communities. Individualism inherent in modern western culture is contrary to the community of African clans. Tony Campolo and Michael Battle (2005) differentiate North American culture and African spirituality. Their book makes reference to the African tradition of Ubuntu-“I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.” Africans gain their sense of self in relationship to community within their clan. Western culture is characterized by “a high degree of competitiveness and selfishness” and in churches, “we find the frightening world of survival-of-the-fittest culture, a jockeying for power and prestige” (pp. 80-81). Building community to affect change will require black community members to shift from individualism and move to reclaim the communal culture of our African heritage.
In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of how some black community members hold on to information like its value far outweighs bars of gold. This hoarding of information allows them to be in the know, so to speak. Knowing information few people can accessreinforces a sense of power many black folk may not otherwise experience in the workplace, in church or at home. Black church and community leaders must be aware of idiosyncrasies in the ways we communicate because power struggles frequently  occur in black churches.

Perceived or actual gatekeepers affect the passing of information to black community members. Self-appointed gatekeepers of black communities may try to control who has access to information, even blocking its flow to key stakeholders. Hoarding information is a method of control gatekeepers use to keep messages in a closed setting of people deemed significant to her or his agenda. Gatekeepers may also pass messages as a community’s preferred point of contact. Messages go directly to the gatekeeper for dissemination to other community leaders. In any case, gatekeepers know pertinent details of community activities. Sometimes information hoarders, whether intentionally or inadvertently, sabotage community building by creating barriers to trust and information flow.
Hoarding information can be detrimental to community relations and building community for black folk because it fosters misuse and abuse of trust among community members. In my local region, small groups and subgroups out of the black community share some information among themselves without regard to the community at large. It appears the subgroups have leaders who either pass information back and forth or race to retrieve certain things to control its distribution. When black community members cannot authentically communicate without fear of people being more important than them, division surely will undermine community relations.
In order for black communities to make progress in deconstructing underlying issues that obliterate our humanity, black folk do well to take self-inventory of individual motives and agendas associated with individualism of modernity. Postmodern community building means relinquishing aspects of individualism to adopt a mode of unity with other community members. Problems occur when one individual in the community thinks she or he can totally control the activities of the others like a puppet master. Working together for the greater good of the black community without concern of who gets credit for the efforts is detrimental to its survival. Together we stand; divided we fall. Building community in group work will be the focus of the next blog.

Copyright © 2016 by DV’s Heart2Heart™. All Rights Reserved.

  1. Lee H. Butler, Jr., Liberating Our Dignity, Saving Our Souls (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press), 2006.
  2. Tony Campolo and Michael Battle, The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality of Racial Reconciliation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press), 2005.

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