The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Today’s My Birthday!

Wow. Fifty-Five. Interesting. I have to make damned certain to get my yoga work in 3 X a week, but other than that, feel about the same as thirty-five. Of course, I do supplement more these days, and if I don’t get my sleep I’m a disaster…
Let me try to bring to a close my basic position on the human adulthood thing as it might map over with race relationships and realities in America. Then I can finally get on with the really interesting stuff--personal evolution applied across the board to all individuals and groups.

1) There are very real differences between the children of immigrants and the children of slaves. Please don’t make this false analogy.
2) Very real, quantifiable damage was done during 400 years of slavery and segregation. How much? Hard to say, but I realized yesterday that I vastly underestimated it. Between to and fifteen million slaves were IMPORTED into the U.S. How many slaves ever lived here, total, over the entire period between 1619 and 1865? I can’t find a number. Shall I be relatively conservative and assume that each imported slave might have produced ten descendants? Wouldn’t that make an absolutely dead minimum of about 100 million slaves during that period? And since it can be statistically established that each slave lived about 14 years less than they would have in a liberated state (average lifespan of slave: 23 years. Average lifespan of a white during the same time: about 37 years, about the same as a Kalahari hunter-gatherer, or a black within 20 years after emancipation). Let’s take the low number. Make it lower, say to 10 years of stolen life due to starvation, overwork, despair. Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed in form. Gee…where do you think all of that life-energy WENT? Into the communities of their masters, of course. Benefiting their children and business associates. What would that be, at a minimum? At least a BILLION MAN-YEARS stolen from the black community, and invested in the white. There is no way to get this back. I am not in favor of reparations. But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back and let anyone imply we weren’t savagely damaged, or that whites would somehow have done better in the same circumstances.
3) Descended from slave-owners or not, whites profited by living in a system designed to elevate them. Sorry about that. You did. And continue to.
4) Black readers, check this carefully: all of the above is true, and has NO RELEVANCE TO YOUR PERSONAL SUCCESS OR FAILURE. You are responsible. Statistics have meaning to groups, not individuals. If you want to make it happen, this is the time, the best time for blacks in the history of this country…and in some senses, the history of this poor old world. You, your generation, our generation, is the hope and the dream of the slave.
5) The path to getting what you want…whether you be white, black, or whatever, is to take full responsibility for your actions and efforts. That requires the willingness to be an adult.
6) The black community was badly damaged and brainwashed, and the damage is still there. STOP PRETENDING IT ISN’T TRUE. My favorite horrible example is popular music. When I listen to a black station, there is a preponderance of nihilistic, misogynistic, vulgar crap. That simply wasn’t as true during, say, the Motown years. If I change the channel to, say, a Country Western station, there is a stark difference: CW covers the entire range of human experience. Children are born, parents die, jobs are lost, people fall in love and raise families, marriages dissolve, dreams are won and disaster strikes. The full range. I do NOT hear that same range on top 40 black radio to the same degree at all. Black people experience the same range of emotional experiences, but we’ve stopped speaking as honestly about our hopes and dreams. It’s not an accident that Eminem talks more about his feelings than almost any Black rapper. We’ve got to hold our artists to higher standards. We are NOT what the media worked so hard to paint us as being. But it is OUR responsibility to force the change.
7) The entire “Baby Momma” phenomenon is fantastically damaging. The majority of black children are no longer raised in two-parent homes. Yes, I know that the stats are almost as bad in white communities. So what? They can better afford to be assholes about this. We cannot. Those of us who have access to media, or any influence over the behaviors of those around us, MUST SPEAK UP. And more to the point, we must lead by example.

The “Lifewriting” approach can, finally be of some use here. It suggests that the basic patterns of life are encoded in literature and story from around the world, since the beginning of human society. And that that basic pattern tells us what our lives will be, or better still, how to organize our resources to make the best run at our dreams. I’m going to explore this with a mind to “human adulthood” on the individual level and “social adulthood” on the macro level.

1) CONFRONTED WITH THE CHALLENGE. For God’s sake, take a look around. There are people succeeding in almost any arena of life you choose to examine. Whether your concern is individual growth and maturation, or the advancement of an entire racial group, the challenge is the same: to see that there is work to be done, and to grasp that it is doable. All you need do is examine the beliefs, actions, and values of those who began roughly where you began, and got where you want to go. Look at the difference between your actions, beliefs, and values, and theirs. I PROMISE those differences exist. This is your crappy software, the programming that stands between you and your dreams. One of those programs is responsibility. One of them is clear-eyed acknowledgement of any disadvantageous position you are in (if you can’t admit you’re in a desert, you won’t value water when you encounter it.) One of them is forgiveness. Complete. Total. Not for the benefit of anyone who might have hurt you, but for your own. Anger and hatred devour your heart. Another is self-protection, the absolute commitment not to let anyone hurt you again. And one is belief in your own potential: that there is, within you, a miracle unborn. That you are made of the same stuff as the stars. That no one who has ever walked this Earth is any better than you. No one. And that you are better than no one else. And that we are all in this together.
Those are my thoughts. I want to explore this over the next weeks and months. Get into my own theories about human maturation, and how that acts as a springboard for higher development. Along the way I may say some things offensive to one side or position or group or another. I can live with that. What I can’t live with is being less than honest.

Hey, cut me a break.

It’s my birthday.

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