Let me begin this post by declaring that contrary to some beliefs, one person cannot speak for their entire race, group, or culture. As we all know there are innumerable diversities at work in every individual and my comments with regard to the subject of race, religion, culture, or any other category under which one might feel comfortable placing me are solely the reflection of my personal experience.
With that said, I would like to continue my honoring of what we call Black History Month with some more perspectives on race in America. I am doing this because I find it worthy to give my energies toward this effort. God has given me the experience of living all over this country and traveling to other countries as well as the opportunity to speak with all types of people across extremes from a hardcore white racist in Mississippi to hardcore militant Black separatists in NY. What I have learned from these experiences is that very often people are having very different conversations when it comes to push button topics. Most of the time, people are so concerned about being heard that they rarely listen. As a result, hurt feelings and misunderstandings are often perpetuated. Even when people sit down and try to “reconcile” as it were, very little gets accomplished, because, as we know, “hurt people, hurt people.” In other words, when someone feels slighted, it is often very difficult to restrain from projecting that pain onto someone else. I will skip getting into the psychology behind that and get to the point of this post.
If you watched the video link from the movie, Amistad, featuring Djimon Honsou as Sengbe Pieh and assuming you have a heart and a human conscience, you should be able to access the feeling required of you to get the point I am about to make. When Sengbe screams out “Give us us free!”, that is “Give us our freedom!”, he is tapping into the natural human instinct toward self expression. “Give us us free!” We all know that feeling to some degree and some of us know it more than others.
So last week I got into a conversation with the nephew of Malcolm X, Rodnell Collins. No seriously, I did. We didn’t talk long, but in the few moments we talked I could feel the power of his convictions and the depth and almost burden of his knowledge. He is so well aware of the psychological factors that affect many African Americans that I can only imagine that it must weigh on him in ways that many of us today do not understand. The emotional, mental, physical, and psychological struggles that generations of our ancestors had to endure for us to have any semblance of expressed freedom in this country is immeasurable.
Now I say expressed freedom specifically, because no human can give another human freedom. It is not theirs to give or take away. One can only, through manipulation, restrict another’s ability to express their God-given freedom. But in reality we all are free–even if we don’t know it or don’t want to be. And as I expressed in my last post, we are bound by what we bind. So if we hold someone down, we are ensuring that we have to stay down with them.
Anyway, in our conversation he mentioned that what some people don’t get–Black and white–is that when Africans were kidnapped and brought here and forced to labor, the debilitating psychological effects became ingrained and if they are not confronted they will continue to plague us. That’s the Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome, I mentioned in my last post. He then went on to say that it is funny how when one person like Elizabeth Smart gets kidnapped, the nation gets it.
They say, “Poor girl. It’s terrible that she had to be in captivity for 9 months and forced to work and be the wife of some man she did not know”. And it is true. It is terrible. NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO GO THROUGH ANYTHING LIKE THAT! If Elizabeth Smart came to us saying she had a hard time adjusting to the world after her 9 month ordeal, we would understand. That’s because as humans, we sympathize with those who have been held captive. We would not tell her to “Get over it.” While it is true that the ideal hope is that someday she’ll make peace with her experience and perhaps even transcend it (My translation of “Get over it.”), we must understand that in most cases, she cannot be expected to do that without the loving support of those around her.
Well, after my conversation I did a Google search on the words “kidnap recovery psychological” and found an article on the victims of kidnapping in the L.A. Times. If you dare read the article and see just how disturbing kidnapping is to a person and their families, you will get just a pinch of what the effects might have been on African people who were snatched up, sent across oceans, and then sold like property perpetually for 250 years, not including the effectual slavery of sharecropping, convict leasing programs, Jim Crow and other Black social entrapments.
In contrast, Smart was found 18 miles from her home. And yet, the psychologists say that this experience will damage her and her children for three generations hence at least. Now, I am not taking anything away from her experience. If anything, I sympathize with her to some degree, but I cannot ignore the reality that far too many people can get this in her and her children and children’s children’s case and yet claim not to understand that the wounds of slavery in America run at least just as deep. Consider, that I myself, knew a man whose parents were born in slavery. And I was born in 1975. But again, this is not about guilt. I hate guilt. It is a useless waste of energy. Consciousness is what I am talking about. We cannot continue to remain conversational cowards. We need to get headaches from thinking out of the box once in a while and stop looking for ways to distract ourselves from reality.
At some point I believe that we will all transcend this, but for now, we need to have the same conversations. We need to face the facts. There’s a poisonous mentality out there that says, “Their problem is not my problem.” It doesn’t matter who the “they” is, if someone has a problem, one day it is going to be your problem. Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I’ll be honest, for a long time I struggled with what I was called to offer with the life I have lived. Without God, my life looks like a mess of confusion. But because I have been exposed to tremendous diversity all of my life, I have cultivated a means of communicating honestly with everyone I meet. But what I have found is that most people do not want honest. They want what makes them feel better about themselves and the fact is that often those two are not the same thing. I’m saying things because I realize that if people from differing perspectives don’t talk honestly about these issues then we will continue to live in a world where assumptions are arguing against assumptions.
I prayed a long time ago that God would turn my dysfunctions into my functions and it looks like it is finally starting to kick in. I feel like we are all called to this purpose at every level of society. So to me, that means that America is called to demonstrate a consciousness of communication, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and harmony of differences. Using the dysfunction to function model, the people of this country could actually do a lot of good in the world if we could just get honest with ourselves and stop pretending like we have everything under control. My continual theme for this month is going to be that we are bound by what we bind and are set free by what we liberate. My hope is that with these posts I can spark some honest conversations among people and we can start communicating at the same table. I know that we will not necessarily see things the same way, but at a minimum, we can work to get on the same page.
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