Don Lemon’s Town Hall on CNN titled “Black, White and Blue: America 2016” on July 13, 2016 was indeed path breaking in many ways. I moved to the US in 1997 and since then, I have seen issues regarding politics, religion and race being pushed under the carpet and everyone knows whats going on but no one ever discusses them.
One of the result of this “burying the head” syndrome has been the ultra political correctness resulting in a backlash by some leading to the “Trump phenomenon.”
Nevertheless, I wanted to look at the whole situation from a perspective of a person who wasn’t born or grew up here, but has lived in this country for close to two decades and is a US citizen now.
Wherever the race relations are now in the US, they are a result of two things: Racism by the Whites at different levels and Predominance of the Victimization Narrative amongst the Blacks.
Let us talk about these two reasons in the different ways they manifest and impact.
Racism by Whites at Different Levels
Racism is the foundation of the United States of America. Let us get the “elephant in the room” out in the open, first and foremost. If humanity was ever the concern of the Europeans who landed on these shores and concern for others’ homes and lives was anything they cared for, Native Americans would be walking on the roads and working in every office and living in every community. A whole continent full of community vanished in mere 150 or so years. That requires a remarkable level of genocide and even greater level of perfidious hypocrisy. And all that happened due to a hatred for the “other” human being.
And meanwhile, Native Americans were not the only ones to be subjugated or persecuted. Slaves were brought from Africa and other continents and used as canon fodder for close to two centuries! With pride, if I might add. Now, I don’t care what “god” you follow, but such a level of inhumanity needs a historical level of evil.
That is the basis of the American dream. That is where it all started. So, even though some of the “founding fathers” did some good things, they lived dual lives – one inhuman and one of leadership. The latter only with respect to Whites specifically.
That this country celebrates probably the largest genocide in history as ‘Thanksgiving” – shows how hypocrisy can convert evil into a celebratory event via amnesia!
The difference between Native Americans and African Americans has been that the latter SURVIVED and the former PERISHED! But then that was perhaps part of the design, because the ones who perished had the claim of ownership on the land that was usurped, while the latter were as much of guests as their tormentors were.
It is not that today or even in history, racism has been universal or consistent. It hasn’t. But it has existed at different levels in different hues. Let us take some examples:
Racism by Police vs Blacks: As the statistics cited in the town hall suggested, there is a clear indication that proportionally much higher percentage of Blacks are pulled over and shot by police vs the Whites. The statistics and the number of assaults on the Blacks is one thing, it is the nature of search and frisking that happens which is an even critical part of the whole process. As shared by Charles Blow – Op-Ed Columnist from New York times – the whole process of stopping, talking and then searching by the police is humiliating and hardly distinguishable from Sexual Assault! Victims of sexual assault have a long term issue in their lives and find it very difficult to overcome the trauma even with the best of counseling help. And here we are talking about a community which hardly has access to any such resources.
Stereotypes and Profiling against Blacks: In 2013, Judge Edith Jones of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, while addressing the students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School said that “blacks and Hispanics are predisposed to crime and violent acts.” This was to a bunch of students who would go on to lead the law enforcement world in the US of tomorrow. They were starting off with a bias already. In fact, in one study by Harvard it came out that 70% of Americans are biased against Blacks. In the town hall, Dimitri Roberts, a Black Chicago police officer said that even though he had been at the receiving end of the racial profiling while growing up, he found that it was an effective tool when he joined the police. Now, little does he or others realize that there is an inherent “Machine Bias” in our data and systems as well. Here is an excellent article on how the system that helps courts and police to get the “risk assessment” for any offender itself is stacked against the Blacks. Making the conclusions of the system often times ridiculously bad!
Poverty, Diseases, Body type and Shameful Slurs: The world over a fairer skin has been considered to be superior to the darker one – in terms of looks. Unfortunately, that has been the prejudice which has been strongly perpetuated by the colonial rule and slavery by the White Europeans and fairer Arabs. The military superiority has translated over time into a halo effect that carries to this day. This is surely one of the prejudices that is inherent in the Black community as well. Other than that, over the centuries of various cultural practices and lack of opportunities, the Blacks in the US have predominantly become susceptible to various debilitating diseases including obesity. Bad community image and cultural susceptibility to certain diseases leads to unfortunate body and health issues, which in turn reinforce the lack of self image further. And, a society which revels in bullying and racism – covertly if not overtly – keeps perpetuating that through decidedly regressive ways. Remember the shameful slurs against Obama and Michelle in Fergusson by police officers in private communication? Or how people threw racial slurs against Malia Obama – US President’s daughter – in the comments section of a Fox News story?
Hollywood’s Liberal Racism: Avatar by James Cameron was perhaps one of the movies which seemed to carry an “enlightened narrative”. But if you look at it objectively, it was symptomatic of racism’s “Thanksgiving hoax”! In the face of an aggressive attack from American (read White) nation against an alien population, guess who helped them? Yes, a White American. If it wasn’t for a White American, even the Aliens could not have saved themselves! First, are all other nations idiots? And Second, what about the other communities in US? How about a Korean-American or a Black American showing the Aliens how to save themselves from genocidal Trump-like Americans?
And this was supposedly an enlightened narrative in a Hollywood movie. In every “End of Life event” movie, I often bet with my wife, who all amongst the Americans will die and who will emerge heroes in the end. All the Asian-Americans die because invariably they “can’t make it” and Blacks die following orders and the last guy left standing is a White American who has been instrumental in “saving the world.” Watch “Olympus Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen” and you will know what I mean.
This subtle narrative that White Americans are the best human breed the world has ever known is what I call the Liberal Racism from Hollywood.
Predominance of the Victimization Narrative amongst the Blacks
Now let us talk about the other side of the story. The feeling of Victimization by Blacks and predominance of this narrative within the community.
Once I sat with a Black guy on a flight. He was an educator who had made it his mission to help the Black kids in the inner city of Chicago to take up school and studies seriously. He discussed what a tough task it was when there were no role models for those kids in the area of educational achievement. Despite Barack Obama becoming the President! It was predominant, he suggested, in the minds of young black kids that they were not cut out for sciences or medicine or other such professions requiring higher education. It was a fight against odds to even keep these kids in school until High School!
This is a manifestation of the Victimization Narrative in the community. That they are not good enough because they are predisposed to a certain way and mindset. And, when you probe why there is a lack of role models in education when you do see professionals at the highest levels who are Black, the answer is that the history of slavery and subsequent racism has ingrained the sense of hopelessness deeply in the Black community.
Indeed, that was also the central message of the many outbursts by the Black participants in Don Lemon’s town hall. The system is stacked against them and how the world needs to be fair and just to the community.
Some Alternative Narratives and the Way Forward
Let me share a stark alternative situation. Some years back, I used to sit in Barnes & Noble in Houston, to study for a test. I did that for roughly a month each, 2-3 times a year for the different parts of the same exam. My time there was separated by a few months apart. The store had a number of tables which the residents around the area would use to sit and read and prepare for different tests. Several of those desks would be occupied by Black women. They spoke the same language – African in origin – and interacted with each other sometimes. In my brief interactions with them I realized that all of them were from Nigeria and studying for either the USMLE – to become certified as a doctor in the US – or for the Nurses exam. Now, I know of a few friends who have gone through the grind of a USMLE. It isn’t a cakewalk. But those women were passing those tests everytime.
They had no baggage to tow. No one in their country had ever told them they could not do anything. They owned their country! And they knew they could do anything. So they did! Intelligence and IQ has nothing to do with race. It has to do with application and focus. Yet, the predominant view in the Black community is that subjects like Science and Math are not for them. The role models in education and scientific excellence are missing!
I am not suggesting that racism – that too debilitating racism – is not there. It is. And some of that racism – maybe not as much as against the Blacks – is experienced by everyone in the US and even in Europe. But, things can change if the community takes charge.
Since I happen to be from one minority community – Indian-Americans in the US – I can discuss that. When I came to the US in late 90s – Indians were known more as “snake-charmers” or “backward.” I remember being asked if we in India moved on elephants or in cars! Fast Forward 15 years and suddenly the prejudice is that “Brown man is God’s gift to IT!!” Not just that, I have observed another extremely interesting phenomenon in most large cities of the US. Wherever Indians start to buy houses, the prices of the real estate sky rockets! Why? Because the schools in the district suddenly start reporting higher scores and become exemplary. Better schools, higher house prices. It has happened in many suburbs near Houston – check Sugarland, Katy or Spring; and it has happened in suburbs in Atlanta – check Alpharetta for example!
Concentration of a community in one place need not result in bad results after all. That is the message.
For the black leaders, it is extremely important to create a new model and way of looking at themselves and the community. If Nigerians can excel in studies and subjects related to Medicine and Science, then why can’t their brethren who came a few hundred years back to the US?!
History is a double-edged sword. It helps to put things into perspective. But it also perpetuates baggage that should be left behind. History in the US about its past sins should NOT be buried. It should be acknowledged and stated the way it was. However, for the Blacks to move on and create a better future, historical baggage needs to be rested. For, far more than the succor that one hopes to get from the injustices and related impact for the current situation, it puts a baggage that is damning. If history of slavery is stopping the progeny of an African who came in 1700s to believe that he is now not fit for Science and higher education when his own long-lost relatives who stayed behind ace that easily, then the historical baggage is succor no more. It is a curse!
Spiritual Perspective: Policies, Morality and Religious Edict Will NOT Work!
Despite the fact that Christians – Whites and Blacks alike – read and believe that Jesus told them to “love thy neighbor” and “not to murder anyone” – the two communities have been engaged in decidedly one of the worst human interactions in history! If Moral Edicts could help then we all would still have had Native Americans living amongst us, following their customs and Blacks would have been visitors to this land, not progeny of forced slaves! The fact is that despite the supposed love for Bible and Christ and all the attempt to thrust it on the native population here, White Christians have not shown any concern for “love thy neighbor.” In fact, their love manifested ONLY after the neighbor was exterminated! During Thanksgiving, gratitude is shown for the very Native Americans that the ancestors of people who celebrate it today had themselves exterminated! Loving your dead neighbor was probably not the intent of whoever suggested that principle. But then that is the fate of all moral edicts. You tell a man “not do something”, and he will continue to think about that. For example, Islamic groups constantly go ballistic about the “modesty of women” and why so many restrictions should be put on them. Yet, people in the Islamic world top the searches on all kinds of porn (even animal porn for that matter!), Osama Bin Laden had porn videos as his entertainment in the shack in Pakistan, and ISIS terrorists’ laptops have been found to be full of porn! Heck, even the Islamic heaven is a Playboy-mansion on steroids! All because of edicts to save the “modesty of women”!
Morality is an over-rated pretentious nonsense! It has never changed anyone and can never change any society. Populations change ONLY when their humanity flowers. Bhutan is a small country with a peaceful population and one with the highest Happiness Index. There, the people do not need to be told to “love thy neighbor”. Yet they do love their neighbor. And the neighbor’s neighbor as well! Because a substantial populace takes to the life of monks and spends time in meditation.
Within every human being is the seat of divinity. The problem is that we cloud the manifestation of divinity by the conditioning of our society and our upbringing. To make up for the obvious limitations of our mind, we take refuge in moral pretensions. Pretensions which are contextual in time and space. The problem however is that BOTH – the Issues and the Moral Solutions – are the product of our conditioning! If one is bad enough, the other makes it worse!
The way out is the flowering of humanity and enhancing people’s consciousness. That alone can bring about social and global change.
When a person steps onto the path of Spirituality – called Sanyasa – very seriously in India then the first thing s/he has to do is – to perform the death rites of all the relatives, including siblings and parents! No, not because one wants them dead. But because one wants to take away the impact and conditioning of one’s own family (including forefathers) off one’s being. Only when you are free from conditioning, can you forge a new, fresh mind and a being that looks at every moment afresh. Otherwise, conditioning mandates every moment to be an interpretation from the past influences. There can be no fresh path! The Spiritual Journey is not any special undertaking that is outside of living this life. It is an attempt to live life MORE fully! As opposed to living as a slave to the past.
Slavery of men by men is bad enough, but when we become slaves of our own conditioning and the machinations of our ancestor’s prejudices, then it is worse than any slavery anyone has faced. Yet, we take it as normal. The way out of any slavery is the annihilation of conditioning!
It is time that both Whites and Blacks enter the state of Sanyasa in the US to find a new being for the social paradigms for future. Otherwise, nothing can ever changed.
I leave us all with this brilliantly honest articulation from one of the sharpest intellects of the last century – J. Krishnamurti. Take some time to let it sink in.
To deny conventional morality completely is to be highly moral, because what we call social morality, the morality of respectability, is utterly immoral; we are competitive, greedy, envious, seeking our own way – you know how we behave. We call this social morality; religious people talk about a different kind of morality, but their life, their whole attitude, the hierarchical structure of religious organization and belief, is immoral. To deny that is not to react, because when you react, this is another form of dissenting through one’s own resistance. But when you deny it because you understand it, there is the highest form of morality.
In the same way, to negate social morality, to negate the way we are living – our petty little lives, our shallow thinking and existence, the satisfaction at a superficial level with our accumulated things – to deny all that, not as a reaction but seeing the utter stupidity and the destructive nature of this way of living – to negate all that is to live. To see the false as the false – this seeing is the true.