The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lifewriting applied to Race?

Yesterday I spoke at a Mensa meeting in Monrovia. Sort of like a science fiction convention, without the science fiction, if you know what I mean. At any rate, a young man there was wearing a martial arts t-shirt, and we spoke a bit about his current training in Aikido down in San Diego. There’s a big guy in his class who hurts people (accidentally) and my new acquaintance was rather intimidated. I told him that this gentleman is exactly the sort of fellow he needs to train with if he is ever to learn to apply his skills in real life. He protested that he already knows how to hurt people, that’s not what he’s training for. Oh? I asked. Were you a mean little ass-kicker before you started training. No, he replied, but he had fantasies…

And that’s the problem, of course. Your fantasies of competence in an arena may or may not map over to actual ability. And the fear that they don’t will force you to back away from real tests. The gentleman in his class is a real test. “When you learn to deal with him,” I said, “you’ll be one step closer to that black belt you covet. He’s your mountain. Start climbing.”

This search for truth stuff is hard, because one of the first things I notice is that intelligence, education, and spiritual orientation don’t seem to mean much. Those are all as likely to trip you up and trap you as are ignorance and mean-spiritedness. Odd, but it seems to be true. Remember a loooong time ago I started talking about Balance? And have we noticed yet that terribly few people are interested? Now, I’m not suggesting that that “Balance” thing is necessary to wake up. But you can be damned sure that anyone who is out of alignment with their own values in those three arenas is sound asleep.
Yesterday, Robin posted an interesting question, very much in alignment with the Lifewriting position, asking me to turn the technique on the racial divide in America. Something to the effect of: “Steve, what would you say to a student who came to you and said they had been enslaved for the first thirty years of his life, and then abused and brainwashed for the next nine. He is currently about forty years old. What do you do for him?” A fascinating question. I’m not sure I can answer it yet. But I can back off from that one just a bit, and try addressing the following question, which might be even more useful:

“A family comes to you. They live in a very small town, where for thirty years they were robbed and then enslaved and repeatedly raped. And for the next nine, they were abused and reviled. Three years ago, the town finally changed its laws, making them equal citizens. None of their property was returned to them, but they have no place to move. What can they do?”

That comes pretty close to the metaphor I’ve been building. Whew. How do I apply what I know to this family? I can try to make some very broad statements and parallels. Please remember that I understand fully that this metaphor doesn’t hold totally—but it may be useful.

1) If you can’t kill the other families in the town, you have to forgive them. Completely. This is not for their benefit, it is for yours.
2) You are not imagining things if you think some of them are smirking at you. They fondly remember raping your mother and sisters, and fantasize that the men in your family are impotent buffoons. They stole your belongings and labor, divided it amongst themselves and passed it to their children--and then pretended it never happened. Yes. But you CANNOT allow your self-image to be permanently affected by this.
3) You must have clear goals. What do you want to be in five years? I suggest the following, to begin with:
a) a higher education rate than the rest of the town. Higher income. Higher inherited wealth.
b) A healthier, better balanced family than the rest of the town.
c) Stronger, healthier bodies than the rest of the town. A longer life expectancy.
d) A lower incarceration rate than the rest of the town.

No, I don't know how you will accomplish these things. BUT THE GOAL COMES FIRST. And the commitment to die to accomplish them. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When you have committed completely, totally, only then does the answer inevitably arise.

4) You must not allow your children to fall into the jaws of the legal system, where they will face “juries of their peers” consisting totally of those who so recently abused you. So you have to be VERY socially conservative. Train them well. Do not allow them to idolize criminals or those who pretend to be.
5) You must remember that the education system in the town is designed for the children of those who enslaved you. There is not necessarily any conscious venom in this—it is just human nature. So your homes must be a place of learning. You will also have to “interpret” the lessons so that your children can understand them. They must be translated into the language they speak. If they are not, the other townsfolk will shake their heads sadly and say: “see? They were better off slaves. Just don’t quite have it…”
6) Goals must be clear, and your children must believe they can reach them. To this end, search far and wide for role models of others who have overcome similar adversity. Their beliefs and actions will be greatly different from those who are swallowed by it.
7) Take full responsibility for your lives and results. Yes, you were raped and beaten and chained. But every second you spend whining about it is a second lost in your struggle to build a life of meaning.
8) Love yourselves, and each other. You have been programmed for self-hatred, trust me. Your ego-bubbles will be thin, scant protection against the fear that you are less intelligent, less beautiful, and farther from God than those who hurt you. Be careful in your interpretation of media images—educate your children to see how they portray you disproportunately as unattractive, dull-witted, criminal, and asexual. Unless they are images of your women—in which case they are always available to, and attracted to, the guys who used to rape your momma.
9) Remember that, among the townsfolk—perhaps even the majority of the townsfolk—are good and decent people who just care about the safety and welfare of their own children. You can ally yourselves with them, so long as you keep their attention on the world you can build together, and off your skin color.
10) Every day, you must perform rituals of cleansing: meditations and affirmations designed to prepare you to enter the battle. Remember: you are creating a safe world for your children, and grandchildren. You yourself may not enter the Promised Land. And that’s all right. It’s not fair, but it’s not unfair either. It just is.
11) Remember that the others in the town are frightened of you, as you are of them. Deep down, they know they hurt you, and wonder when or if you will take revenge. They will pretend to be confused by your anger, while knowing that, if the position was reversed, they would want to kill you. This denial cannot be compartmentalized: it creeps over into other aspects of their lives, poisons their spirituality and dulls their minds. To the degree you can, love them and pity them.
12) Do not, EVER, give members of your family a “pass” for bad behavior. They must care for their children. They must obey the laws—so long as those laws are equally applied to all. If the laws are unfair, then they must have their own, higher moral standards from which they will NOT be moved. They must pay their own way. They must carry themselves with pride and courtesy. They must, in every way, be examples for the community. One can only lead by example. All else is a lie.
13) Do not strive to be “equal.” Strive to excel. Kick ass, take names. Smile politely, and destroy your opponents on the playing field, the courtroom, the board room, at the bank. I promise you that this is what they are teaching their children. Teach it to yours.
14) Remember that everything we as a species have ever done, always, has been an attempt to re-connect with the divine. To find our lost place in Paradise. When you forgive and love others, you will find it easier to love and forgive yourself. And you must. The tendency to self-loathing is unbelievably strong.
15) Guys: Your women have borne special and terrible abuse, and are now being tempted to consider their bodies as coin in the market place, and your men as animalistic thugs. Love them, cherish them, and show them in every way this is not true, that they are precious gems, and that you can be trusted. And ladies: your men have been subjected to special and terrible abuse, murdered and stripped of their masculinity. Don’t be fooled by the contemporary music extolling their mighty penises and fearsome Glocks. They are scared to death that they will be crushed by the odds—and have good reason to be. Love them. Let them cry on your shoulders, while whispering in their ears that they are, in your eyes, the mighty warriors who will lift their people back to their rightful place. And that you do not blame them for the terrible position in which you find yourselves.
16) Remember that you are, in every way, the equal of any people who have ever walked this planet. No one is better than you…and you are better than no one. Only this position is unassailable. All else is built on ego, and will crack under pressure.


Just a few thoughts of what I’d say. If I was the king of the world, what would I DO? Not sure. But thanks for letting me clear my thoughts.

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