The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, January 11, 2010

Small Steps, Big Change

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

-Gautama Buddha

I think this is why I consider myself a "Zen Christian." That is: any of the principles of the religion I was raised in, which also seem to be in alignment with the behavior of animals and the interaction of natural forces...that's what I hold to be true. Further, I look for the principles which are consistent across the world's major religions, and consider that to be the center, and generative. What remains?

Well, "do unto others" sure survives. As does the idea of protecting the children, being honest, kind, industrious, and remembering that the domains of spirit and flesh overlap but are not exactly the same thing. Loving my neighbor. Forgiveness (which is NOT forgetfulness, or allowing people to hurt you repeatedly.)

That's how it sorts out for me. Starting there, I can see very easily how the rest of various religions' various rules grow out of cultural conditions, politics and personal prejudice. I feel comfortable ignoring that stuff.

The whole "reality calibration" thing uses body, career and relationship to cross-check theories and ideas. Not that it isn't possible to be in the very highest rank of human energy without being anchored in the material plain (as all three of these aspects are), but that it is WAY easy to lose yourself in illusion if you can pretend you don't want relationships, or money, or fitness. Yeah, I know I'm using prejudicial language to say "pretend" but that's 99% of my experience: people act like they don't want things if they don't have faith they can have them without pain.


The whole Harry Reid situation seems to be a teachable moment. What is racism? I would say that strictly speaking, it is differentiating between people based on race--most specifically assigning a pejorative on that basis. Especially when whatever differences you are assigning are genetic instead of environmental. That said, a racist is not necessarily a bad person--it would all depend on what they DO with that opinion, and whether they are willing to judge individual members of that group as, well, individuals. Believing the average member of group X isn't as smart as the average member of group Y is very different from denying all members of X the right to attend your school or live in your neighborhood.

That said, Reid's comments just don't seem to meet that standard. It was "racist" in the strictest sense that it was discussing race. But it seems to me he was just commenting on some common-sense things.

1) That as a light-skinned black man, Obama would be more acceptable to white Americans than he would be were he darker skinned. Duh.

2) That speaking the Kings English is more acceptable than speaking some mumble-tongued argot. Such vocal fumblings can be found in disadvantaged groups across the country and around the world. Reid and Bill Cosby would probably have a long, good conversation about this one.

3) Usage of the word "Negro" is a generational thing. As those of African descent did not have the opportunity to define themselves in America, or ever have the isolation necessary to create what I would consider a real society. As a result, there was never a heirarchical structure speaking for black people, and different groups at different times stumped for different terms to apply to the descendants of African slaves. "Colored," "Negro," "Black," and "African-American" have all been used. But just as Bruce Lee referred to himself as a "Chinaman," a term that might now be considered racist, the fact that certain words in certain quarters are no longer fashionable simply doesn't mean that using them is indicative of disrespect.

A number of times I came across comments that these comments were acceptable in private black-on-black conversations, but not for white people. My thoughts there:

1)I can understand how some people feel uncomfortable about this. Yeah, well, I don't. So no one can say there is "agreement" on this issue. Who exactly is Reid supposed to listen to? There is no single voice, and never has been.

2) Are there subjects that only whites can talk about publicly? I've never been aware of black people refraining from commenting on anything they want. Where, again, is the official list of those things blacks can talk about, but not whites? Men but not women? Gays but not straights?

I just think that this is a waste of breath, and serves no purpose at all. We have bigger fish to fry.


The Golden Hour

In the 101 program, we discuss the concept of the "Golden Hour." In all honesty, my new website, WWW.DIAMONDHOUR.COM would have been called "Golden Hour" except that was already taken. All right, I'm flexible, and the concept of facets fits into my teaching quite smoothly. Many have heard of "pay yourself first" when it comes to income and bills. But the exact same concept applied to time management is slightly radical. Many people claim to have no time, and use that to excuse their lack of meditation, planning, exercise, or whatever. Careful examination of their time, in 99+% of cases, shows that lack of time isn't the problem. The problem is wasted time, lack of prioritization, fatigue, denial, and fear. That's what the Five Minute Miracle was about: creating a powerful program for change which could be implemented in only 300 seconds a day. Never in my life have I met anyone who doesn't have five minutes a day. That means that if they commit to the program, whatever comes up to distract them can be clearly labeled as b.s.

But how do you move on from there? One minute at a time. Add another minute a week. In a year or so, you'll be at an hour. What can you accomplish in an hour? Miracles. If you draw the line, insist on taking just one hour a day for yourself: not for your kids, your family, your pets, or your job, you can meditate, exercise, time-manage, and write a book a year.

Not bad. But to do that, you have to find the technologies and approaches that are hyper-efficient, and operate without your psychic "brakes" on. Let's see:

5 minutes goal reading

10 minutes Meditation

15 minutes exercise

30 minutes writing (flow or editing)

There are many different variations on the above, but if you are sufficiently serious, you can create massive change through small daily actions. Believe it.


Marty S said...

I agree with you that Harry Reid's comments were not overly racist. They certainly did not seem to be putting Obama down, merely noting his light skin and excellent speaking ability as pluses. However, if one was inclined to see him as racist one could interpret the no Negro dialect as casting aspersions on those African Americans who do speak with said dialog. So my question is if a Republican of the same age had made the exact same statement evaluating Obama's prospects in the presidential race how many Democrats/Liberals would be screaming racist at the top of their lungs.

Pagan Topologist said...

Fair question, Marty. As a card-carrying ACLU member, I think freedom of speech is vital to discourse. I commented on Steve's shorter post on this topic elsewhere that the idea that politicians cannot discuss pragmatic political realities in private is absurd.

Steve: I think you are exactly right on this. Thank you for the post, although as you noted it should probably not be necessary.

Pagan Topologist said...

BTW, I remember arguing in 1976 that Jimmy Carter could not be elected President because his Southern accent would make non-southerners think he was stupid. It turned out I was wrong, or at least, statistically speaking, wrong enough.

(However, as I often do, I voted for a third party candidate in 1976, since I thought Carter was too conservative.)

Anonymous said...

"What is racism? I would say that strictly speaking, it is differentiating between people based on race--most specifically assigning a pejorative on that basis."

By your own definition Harry Reid and you would seem to be racist in ascribing predjudice to white Americans.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

The burden we white people have had to bear in this area is a heavy one, but we must persevere despite the Barneses and Reids of the world.

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.


Pagan Topologist said...

Dan, I have read and reread your post here and I cannot figure out the meaning or point at all. I am guessing that there is irony there I don't understand, but I am at a loss. Can you clarify, please?

Tana Yasu said...

These people are acting more like children than grown, OLD-ASS, men. It's just gettin' corney now. White/Black and what!? We got Asian and White kids running around here calling THEMSELVES nigga', yeah we got some big damn fish to fry. Let's just be real people, there is always going to be some 'good ol' boys' around who wish anything other than European wasn't here, unless of course they're chattel. We are AMERICANS of AFRICAN DESCENT~GET OVER IT! WE HERE, AND WE AINT GOING NOWHERE! The more we've been oppressed the more we persevere. WE built this country, our blood, bones, sweat, and tears. Curse your forefathers,haters, not us, we didn't ask to come here. We are first, we taught you, we're teaching you still. All civilization came from us, and there will be none without US. WORD!
(is that negro enough?)

Anonymous said...

I think Reid's comments are ignorable. In a world where Obama's President and both Powell and Rice being Secretary of State are "old news", his comments are a last gasp of white cluelessness as it sinks into the tarpit of history. I'm happy to discount them as such. Apparently, Steve agrees with me.

I have a hard time believing they'd be dismissed that way, though, if Reid weren't a Democrat. The idea that a Republican Senator would get the pass that Reid's being given just utterly beggars -- nay, bankrupts and pauperizes -- what remains of my youthful credulity.

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

It's gotten to the point where you can't even speak the word "race" without having to call a press conference and apologize. And yet, anything on this planet is worthy of discussion, so who gets to discuss it, and what universally accepted rules of engagement should they follow to eliminate the backlash?

It's a fair question.

Tana Yasu said...

Just keep it real, ALL THE TIME. I may not agree with KKK , but I can respect the fact their not smiling in our faces while kicking us in the hind parts. If you cant "talk" about the race thing without "searching" for the "right" words, that's a problem. why be so guarded about it, say what comes natural. It really doesn't matter in the long run anyway, now does it? And if you really believe racism is dying out, I got a Space Needle for sale. Technically our President is White and African anyway, so what part is negro since we Americans like labeling folks? We really need to focus on being AMERICAN.

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Daniel Keys Moran said...


I was merely offering White Solidarity to the individual who felt that Barnes noticing racism in others was, by definition, racist. If you found irony in my statement, well, those things happen. :-)

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"I think Reid's comments are ignorable."

I view Reid's comments as shrewd and strategic. Reid's a stalwart Democrat, who was speaking candidly about Obama's prospects, given America racial reality. Prevalent racial stereotypes by necessity dictate aspects of campaign strategies. Since much of the public reflexively expects Blacks to speak in dialect, ads where Obama dazzles with eloquent oratory are preferable to silent montages, which some Whites will subconsciously subtitle with Ebonics. Still ads should also use lighting and backgrounds that minimize color contrast, or even superficially "lighten" Obama. Who's preferable, a tactician who speaks honestly about racial realities and thereby equips the campaign to confront or exploit these, or an idealist who maims his candidate by ignoring rough reality? Moralists who find acknowledging or exploiting racism under any circumstances unpalatable should consider the long-term ramification of Obama's election on American political inclusiveness. Unsurprisingly, the first Black President is a light-skinned, biracial Harvard super-achiever who speaks finer English than royalty. Should The Republic endure, Obama's merely the first of a long series of African American Presidents, whose subsequent members will benefit from greater acceptance won by the incumbent's performance. Today a mulatto president who's diction shames dictionaries; tomorrow a Congolese look-alike who's free to jive and rap if she's so inclined.

Pagan Topologist said...

Ethiopian_Inifdel, your comment is beautiful! Thank you for it. I hope you will try to publish it in a wider forum. It belongs in the New York Times as an op-ed or something.

Vlad said...

I think not--my attitude is that there is nothing special at all about white people, including their foibles and flaws. They're just as messed up as the rest of us (although organized in REALLY interesting ways.)

Or DISORGANIZED to the point of acceptance through long-term expousure and osmosis whereby Tweedledum and Tweedledee actually make sense after consultations with the Mad Hatter in another domain and shown to us on THIS side of the looking glass.

Steven Barnes said...

Anonymous: I defy you to find a single comment from me suggesting white Americans are more prejudiced than anyone else. You don't read carefully enough. My only point is that human beings are tribal, and when there is a numerical differential, that tribalism can have negative effects on the smaller group. To repeat: I think there is NOTHING special about whites, either positive or negative. Get it?

Steven Barnes said...

"I have a hard time believing they'd be dismissed that way, though, if Reid weren't a Democrat."
Erich--you are exactly right. Partisans on either side will attack wherever they see a weakness. I myself have often commented when I thought a comment on the part of a Republican was innocent. I do see this as naked political maneuvering, however. No MORE naked than many Democratic efforts, to be sure. Just part of what I consider to be an ugly game, one played by both sides.

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