Yvette was my first friend who was African American. We met in college. It was a good liberal arts school with lots of fresh smart activists, thinkers and artists. We all felt like we were on top of the world and we were in ways we did not even realize. I never knew many black people, but had only grown up in a Boston suburb feeling there was something strange, wrong and confusing with the Vietnam War, all the anger between blacks and whites and the opposition to the hippies who were fixing it. None of that transferred to my having any critical consciousness or intrinsic sense of connection with the Metco kids from Boston. It might have been good if someone had explained how it all fit together, but everyone was too busy trying to make things ok and successful and happy and productive and respectable and normal. I always had a sense, though, that something was wrong. I remember not understanding why someone had to ask for money in the city. Whatever the reason, that should not have been how it ended up for him. What was going on and how did it get that way and why didn’t we fix it? That naïve sense has since been complicated by my understanding, and being part of, the all the problems we all live with in the real world. I am no more innocent than most other people. We all have fallen. Something, though, remains of the naïve idealism in me as I think it does in all of us. We know who and how we should be. However, we have to live in the real world. And there are a lot of bad people out there. Thank goodness for our friends and family.
What remains of that old idealism, though? It is still there. Whatever the reason, no one should have to ask for money. I have read of Buddhist societies where all the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, education and health care are provided to everyone and anyone by the State (The Great Awakening, Loy, 2003). What if that could be the purpose, the main role, of the State, and culture and society would adjust to make that possible. How could that be done without making everything and everyone so regulated and controlled that there was no freedom? Would we need a new conception of freedom, instead of the globalization of capitalism, which is just a euphemism for colonialism? Freedom, in other words, would neither include nor involve colonialism or globalization or any other imposed modernization or development.
Something of the old idealism is still there in me and I think it is in others. Yvette brought that out in me one day as we were waiting to cross the street. We were talking about whether I was really concerned about racism. Of course I was, no doubt, I insisted. Then Yvette sort of sighed and rolled her eyes. I wondered what she was on about. She asked me if I would spend my life fighting racism. I recoiled from that. Spend my life? My whole life trying to fight racism? I am concerned about racism, truly concerned, so does that mean I should spend my whole life fighting one problem? There was so much I wanted to do. I wanted to change things, like we all did, but I felt like we were going to change everything, rather than one thing at a time. By the time we had arrived at the other side of the street, there was a new question, a new orientation, stuck in my mind. Since then, I have never fully processed or conceptualized the change from thinking about how I felt like I was truly concerned about racism on one hand to what it would mean to spend my whole life fighting racism on the other hand.
Seems now, though, that by getting into exposing, understanding and fighting racism, especially the most subtle forms that are hard to notice and explain (see Racism Without Racists, Bonilla-Silva, 2003; The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, Loury, 2002; Color-Blind Racism, Carr, 1997; Playing in the Dark, Morrison, 1993; White Racism, Kovel, 1970; Shadow and Act, Ellison, 1953, The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois, 1903- wow, a hundred years!) by spending my whole life on just that one problem, I tie into everything else. Otherwise, if I try to do something broader, I miss everything. It has to be personal, intimate, part of a way of being. Then, we can go through the personal to meet beyond the personal.
I am interested in whether there is another Real World. Have you ever thought that maybe real people are as fake as TV? Maybe the Real World is not real after all. Do people actually connect in the Real World? If not, how can that world be real? Maybe the actual real world is much more the connections between us, not just what we do and think and feel and how we live.
They should make a show like, "How It's Made," but instead of showing the machines and products, they should show the people who are doing the work, rather than just their hands. Whose hands are those doing the sewing, pouring, mixing, etc? Where are they and how are they treated? Are they exploited so we can get the products cheap? How did they live before the factory was there? We all have clothes and products that have tags saying where they were made, in foreign countries because the people are poor and exploited even worse than Americans. If we could see the connection between our clothes and their plight, we could develop a broader sense of how we are living and see how we are made to be too busy to be able to do anything political because we are trying to keep up with our personal daily lives and issues.
Steal This Movie
The Great Awakening, by David Loy
anything by Jiddu Krishnamurti
WEB DuBois: The Souls of Black Folk; Dusk of Dawn; Black Reconstruction
anything by Thich Nhat Hanh
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, by Karl Marx
Black Skin White Masks; The Wretched of the Earth; by Frantz Fanon
The Fire Next Time: James Baldwin
Native Son; Black Boy; by Richard Wright
Racism Without Racists; by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
Color-Blind Racism; by Leslie Carr
White Racism; by Joel Kovel
The Anatomy of Racial Inequality; by Glenn Loury
Literacies of Power; by Donaldo Macedo
Social Linguistics and Literacies; by James Paul Gee
Mind in Society; by LS Vygotsky
1984; by George Orwell
The Norton Anthology of African American Literature: edited by Gates, Jr.
Studies in Classic American Literature; by DH Lawrence