The last straw for certain things came with a Baltimore Sun front page banner headline:
Skepticism, despair as killings continue
Residents question city response; Four day death toll stands at 12.
What was the last straw?
In short, it’s time for me to stop concerning myself with racism and race.
All my life, I’ve been intensely concerned about both. Countless hours have gone into agonizing over any possible solution.
One version of my conclusion is, there is none. A different version of my conclusion says, I’ve got the solution, but it involves paying no attention to either racism or race.
It involves instead two things: love for oneself; and presence.
The great distractor
Racial bigotry and racial inequalities are prevalent in America today. The terms and concepts, the lens through which we see them, affect the likelihood of change.
The powers that be insist that “racism” means not “prejudice,” but “the combination of prejudice with power.” The powerless are defined as black, and the black as powerless. I don’t accept this definition, but use it, only because otherwise no conversation will occur.
This concept of racism becomes the great distractor, preventing the consideration of any possibility of change. The more one focuses on the assumption of black powerlessness, the more energy one invests in that assumption — the more one empowers it.
The concept is prescriptive. Black powerlessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The way it always has been, is how it is now, and appears to be the only way it ever can be. If the black man is defined as powerless, he can never be any other way.
The results are devastating. Being powerless, the black man has no responsibility; he cannot be responsible. He is powerless to engage in self-definition; to think for himself; to manage his own affairs; to control himself; to affect his circumstances; to help himself.
The presumption of black powerlessness disempowers everyone. White America is immobilized. Justice requires that blacks become full partners with whites in every conceivable endeavor. But partnership assumes shared expectations, and in the mainstream media, the champions of black powerlessness assert every day that it’s racist for anyone to expect anything of the black man.
I no longer hope for improvement in race relations in my time. Other factors may be more important to black advancement.
Love for oneself
The most fundamental, universal human need is to love oneself.
It’s so fundamental most people never give it any thought.
Love for oneself is what enables one to deal with adversity.
Love for oneself is also the fuel for personal growth, the development of emotional maturity or autonomy.
Whether or not to love oneself is a wholly arbitrary choice, but has momentous consequences.
It is a wholly affective, not cognitive, decision, and thus inherently irrational. Indeed, one may face all kinds of reasons to decide the other way.
The choice to love oneself is tantamount to a choice to thrive.
Between birth and school age, the average child overcomes adversities of which I am more and more in awe. School-ready autonomy represents a monumental achievement, a major triumph of self-love.
The first major transition from infantilism towards autonomy comes with weaning. Prior to this time, the child displays what psychologists call an “oral personality.” For an infant, “The world owes me” is a wholly appropriate worldview. He or she actually is entitled to immediate gratification. Everything must be given to him or her, and he or she takes greatest joy in taking things away from others. He or she can do nothing for oneself. The child has no responsibilities but to eat, poop and cry. There is as yet no need to clean up one’s own messes or wipe one’s own behind.
The next major obstacle a child confronts is toilet training. Normal learnings of this time include these:
– There is a designated time and place to deposit wastes, e.g. trash or feces.
– One is responsible to clean up one’s own messes; to wipe one’s own behind.
– Respect for others’ rights — the beginning of the end of self-centeredness.
– Respect for one’s own possessions — that is, one’s assets, one’s bootstraps.
– Justice, right and wrong don’t necessarily pertain to the immediate gratification of one’s infantile desires.
The average child reaches school age with enough autonomy to focus on a task, follow directions, and display basic respect for others. Many children, however, arrive not only without those skills, but unable to tie one’s shoes or use the bathroom independently.
Schools do not teach these skills; they presume them. If a child who lacks these skills does not find some other setting in which to learn them, he or she will have a brief academic career of failure.
For the most part, the most disruptive members of society display arrested development.
Most of the men I met in jail were like this. In effect, most of them had never been toilet-trained, nor weaned. Their speech was potty language. No one’s business was one’s own. They were impatient, irritable, short-tempered, quarrelsome, and as entitled and defiant as two-year-olds.
The community where I lived at the time consisted essentially of the same population. At least once a week, I’d see an adult sucking his or her thumb. The alley was the depository of choice not only for one’s household wastes, but body wastes as well. “Oral” people don’t just dump trash; they create disproportionate quantities of trash, for reason that they are constantly “trashing” their own possessions — their assets, their bootstraps.
Among adults, “The world owes me” always indicates a person who refuses to do the first thing anyone must do for oneself: love.
It’s never too late to begin loving yourself.
However, the sooner you start, the better — for everyone.
“Presence” refers to focusing one’s attention on one’s immediate, mundane circumstances, here and now — the facts at hand.
As love for oneself is the most fundamental, universal human need, presence is the most fundamental, universal human task. However one may want one’s circumstances to change; no matter where one wants to “go;” there is only one place one can begin: here and now, with the facts at hand.
Related: A place to begin
At this writing, I have been homeless for about five years.
For a time a couple years ago, I had patrons who equipped me with a total of $35 every Sunday. Two or three times a week, I sat down and counted my pennies — literally — and strategized my spending for the rest of the week. On Sunday morning, I might wind up with seven cents or seventeen cents; but I had made it. I had managed my life with the resources at hand.
This was tremendously empowering. My world was not broken. I had accomplished this. I could lift up my eyes to envision still better things to accomplish. I had hope.
Millions of Americans live in continuous despair for reason that they attend only to grievances they can’t do anything about. “This person disrespected me.” “That person would not give me money.” “She is living her life all wrong.” “McDonald’s discriminates against the homeless.”
My homelessness stems in large part from the thousands of hours I spent grieving injustice instead of securing financial stability.
A sense of powerlessness will prevail so long as one attends to matters other than the one thing over which one does have power: one’s own conduct, here and now.
Self-love must finally realize itself in tolerance and generosity.
Each person has his or her own place to begin. Someone else may have to begin somewhere you don’t want to go, or somewhere you don’t even want to see.
In my world, disproportionate numbers of people begin with active addiction, mental illness, amputation or gross disfigurements; survivors of incest, products of incest. The person may display arrested development.
The person may be privileged.
His or her circumstances are the facts at hand for that person. He or she may begin in a bad place, but there is no such thing as a wrong place. No one can say to another, “You’re wrong to be where you are.” Any negativity you hold toward another person reflects a negativity you hold toward yourself.
Self-love ultimately requires that one “Live and let live” — an ethic sorely absent from the streets of Baltimore today.
If the choice to love oneself were rational, this child would have every reason to choose otherwise.
So begins Mitch Weiss’s AP report about Dorian Lee Harper and Wanda Sue Larson.
He was an emergency room nurse. She was a supervisor at the Union County, NC Department of Social Services. They’re not married, but had adopted four children and were in the process of adopting a fifth, their 11-year old foster child. His name has never been released.
“The abuse came to light when a sheriff’s deputy was called to investigate a report of a loose pig. While the officer tracked the pig’s whereabouts, he found the boy chained to the front porch holding a dead chicken.
“Then the other four children opened the home’s front door, letting out Harper’s dogs. The deputy knew something was terribly wrong — the children were filthy, prosecutor Daniell Chunn said.
“So was the house, ‘covered in dust, urine and animal feces,’ an investigator said.
“The children were removed from the house. They told investigators they were abused and forced to beg for scraps of food. They said Harper seemed to take out most of his rage on the 11-year-old.
“The boy had scars all over his body, especially around the ankles, Chunn said. Harper used an electric wire to burn his face.
“Prosecutors and investigators said that eventually, the boy was chained up all day. At night, he’d sleep on the floor with the others, chained to part of a railroad tie. The boy wasn’t given a blanket, but the other children made sure he was covered and gave him food when Harper wasn’t looking.”
I hear many voices saying I should not care about these people. They’re the wrong skin color.
I can’t care about skin color any more.
[*]Indeed, as of this date, there has been none.