Saturday, September 15, 2007

Say What?

Question Mark courtesy of Google Images

I finally got a copy of Na'im Akbar's, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery. Whether or not you agree with the contents (I'm still thinking about it) it's a nice example of the way one Black psychologist makes sense of the contemporary crises in black America. I also recently got a copy of Dr. Joy Leary's book, CD and DVD called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Go and get it immediately if you are familiar with it and tell me what you think, in fact watch the DVD with some friends and tell me about that too. As I've been pondering the work of these two devoted scholar/clinicians, various thoughts have been bouncing around in my mind. There is something very peculiar that goes on in America among both blacks and whites when people talk about why black people do what they do. Simply put if a black person does something (usually something bad) it is because they are black. If a white person does something (positive or negative) it's for all kinds of other reasons that have nothing or little to do with their race. Ever notice that? The one exception to this is racism, if a white person is racist well then it's absolutely because they are white. I'll give you an example, white people kill white people all the time. In fact a white person is killing another white person right this minute! When you hear about it on the news tomorrow, I challenge you to find single person in the media, academia or in your personal life who will say that the murder happened because of race. There will be no collective hand wringing and soul searching about the negative influence of "white culture" or "white poverty" or "white music" or single "white mothers" or being the descendants of "white slave masters" and how white people need to take responsibility for "white on white" violence. If you find a single mention of the "whiteness" of the person killed or the killer leave a comment right away. Remember Columbine? Did you hear even one person say that those kids did what they did because they were white? No, it was because people at school picked on them. If my observation is accurate, then why is that when a black person kills a black person, it's all about their race and what's wrong with black people, culture, communities, families, values, world view and on and on? Remember how after the whole Imus nonsense people suddenly decided we all needed to talk about rap lyrics and videos and so on? When was the last time you heard a lunch room discussion about whether or not the Sopranos or Sex and the City were bad influences on young white kids and how those "artists" should take responsibility for the way they are glorifying violence and sex? Now you may have heard people say they thought the Sopranos was too violent or Sex and the City was trashy, but what you probably didn't hear was anything about the race of the characters in those shows! Are you feelin' me here?

I want to make myself clear. I do not want to in any way minimize the impact of institutional and internalized racism on the thinking, feeling and behavior of black people or the importance of the historical experiences of blacks in America. However I think that we have to ask some hard questions about the notion that somehow everything a black person does is determined by their race, especially when we do not apply a similar analysis to whites. Is it not plausible that blacks are actually human beings capable of behaviors both good and bad, endowed with free will and moral reasoning capacity? Is it not possible that like whites, blacks don't always do well in school, make good decisions about their sexual behavior, or exercise restraint when they want to hurt someone? Race certainly influences the behavior of blacks, but it also influences the behavior of whites. Why not start talking about that for a change? Ultimately justice does not simply demand changes in public policy or personal behavior regarding race. It requires changes in the way we talk about the "most vital and challenging issue".

"Oh, friends of God, be living examples of justice! So that by the Mercy of God, the world may see in your actions that you manifest the attributes of justice and mercy. Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 159)