Legacy and Destiny

I've been up since around 4:30 this morning. obsessively listening to "Map of the Problematique" by Muse, admiring the full moon hanging so majestically over Los Angeles, and writing a reply to a quite thought-provoking comment left yesterday on my last post. My response to this comment turned into quite the lengthy essay, so I decided to post my reply here instead of in the comment box. Go check out the original comment for more context, but in the meantime, here's my two cents:
Dear Anonymous (and anyone else who might be interested),

Your viewpoints absolutely do not offend and they are clearly offered with true sincerity. In fact, thank you wholeheartedly for taking the risk of offering your perspective. Your thoughts have also made me think about a couple of things.

What you said about your living in the UK and perceiving the US as being like a soap opera reminds me of the time I spent living in Guangzhou, China. I lived in China the entire time the OJ Simpson trial was going on, returning shortly before the verdict was given. To be so outside the situation, it did seem like some sort of sick and twisted soap opera. It made me wonder how I'd perceive the US if I hadn't grown up here, if I hadn't been trained to think about skin color and people in the way I have, in the way I have to constantly struggle against.

One of the other American teachers at the school I worked at disliked me excessively because he said I thought about race too much. He didn't believe that the problems America has with race are a big deal at all and could not understand what I was going through as a person of color who'd been suddenly taken out of the racial mire of America. This is not to say that China was any racial utopia. But there, the beliefs about race, specifically, the beliefs about black people, were not so ingrained, not steeped in a painful history of chattel slavery, and they were easier to overcome.

This guy disliked how I'd constantly talk to the my Chinese students about the oneness of the human family and the beauty and nobility of people of all skin colors. To me, the unity of the human family is the only thing that will cure our social ills so it was natural to do so. For example, one of the first things I did was show my students pictures of my parents, my sister, my cousins. These third and fourth grade students, like some folks here in America, seemed very surprised that my mother is black and that my father is white. They kept asking over and over if my mom was really black. I understood what that was about, clearly having experienced such a reaction before. The Chinese teachers at the school were more honest and direct in their explanations that to them, being black meant being a criminal, stupid, lazy, ugly, thugs and HIV positive. They got all of this from watching American shows on Star TV. Their favorite show was "COPS".

It was at that point that I really understood what a huge role the media has around the world in spreading racism and I understood even more what a huge responsibility we have in the US to solve our racial problems and come together united as one human family. We model so much for the rest of the world that desires to emulate our materialism, our consumerism...and our racial ideologies. .

I remember the day I taught the words beautiful and ugly. I decided to do an experiment with the students. I asked them to say one of the words in English when I held up individual pictures I'd ripped out from some magazines I'd brought from the States. Every single time I held up a picture of someone who was not white, they said "Ugly". I held up a picture of a Chinese woman and a white woman side by side. I asked them which one was more beautiful. It's a mean question, I know, but I was curious. Every single student picked the white woman.

This kind of thing is the same in the States, as evidenced in last year's documentary by Kiri Davis, "A Girl Like Me". We are taught in this racial system that to be white is to be beautiful, intelligent, superior, capable, good, hard-working. If I go to the store right now and look at every single magazine cover, chances are I'm not going to see a black face unless I'm looking at Essence, Ebony, Jet or O Magazine.

You bring up how black people are having plastic surgery to change their noses, and ask why skin lighteners are such a big business. Well, it's because our whole society screams this negativity. We're buffoons, fat mammies, hair weave wearing rump shakers...Hottentot's indeed. And black people are marginalized in the most seemingly inocuous ways. For example, I can't just walk into any hair salon and expect to find a stylist that knows how to do my hair. In fact, I used to walk into random salons just to mess with the staff. I'd request to have my hair cut or styled. They'd freak out at Super Cuts and Fantastic Sams as they stammered that they didn't have a stylist that did black hair...because our hair is supposedly so difficult that everyone isn't trained to do it.

You said, "I, like a lot of "black" Britons look to "black" Americans for social, psychological, political and spiritual guidance."

I found that so interesting because it made me think about a Baha'i quotation that compares black people to, "the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil you see the reflection of that which is befor it, and through it the light of the Spirit shines forth."

It's that light that keeps black people going despite everything that's happened in our history. I believe we do have an innate spiritual legacy, born from the blood of our ancestors. It's a legacy that's soaked into the soil of this country, shaped by the countless prayers surely said for deliverance from horrors I hesitate to imagine, all while offering thanks for all that they had. To me, tapping into that legacy and leaving behind all the materialism and consumerism is the ultimate revolution.

We don't know who we are right now. We have absorbed all the messaging our culture has given us and so we see ourselves primarily as material beings, still to be bought and sold to the highest corporate bidder. To me, that's why we have black on black crime and the problems with addiction. Definitely read that Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome book. I wholeheartedly believe that when we recognize our true selves, then things will change. When that happens, you won't have the helicopters and neither will I. Some folks think that's so idealistic, but I think it's completely possible.

And truly, there are so many amazing and dedicated people who are doing what they can to change things in their own spheres of influence. I really believe it's less about some big charismatic "Leader" and more about how we are leaders in our own communities, with our own circle of friends, with who we decide are our friends.

Surely, if we all, no matter what color our skin is, change our own hearts, ask ourselves the tough questions, and then act on what we know to be right, surely, that can and does make a difference.


Miz JJ said…
Beautiful post. I had a friend who was Ba'hai. She went to this amazing school in Victoria, BC. Are you Ba'hai?

I am going to check out that book. It sounds really interesting.
Liz Dwyer said…
Miz JJ,

Yes, I'm a Baha'i. Did your friend go to Maxwell? Over the years, I've met a couple of folks who went there and had amazing experiences. Definitely check out the book. I have a copy I've been meaning to send to a friend and I haven't yet. I need to get myself to the post office!
Anonymous said…
This was a very wonderful and well written piece.

I thought you were a Bahai' person, I wasn't sure (not that it matters, it is just that I have a few Bahai friends here in Chicago).

I find your faith (religion) very interesting, most Bahai' I have meet have very pleasant spirits.
Most eloquent and thoughtful post I've read on this blog. There is a path out the skin-color insanity that has caused so much suffering not only in America but around the world. It is not an easy path, but it is the shortest distance between today and tomorrow. That path is a spiritual path, a path of transformation for the soul and society. The question is, how many people are willing to walk it and not just talk it?
Anonymous said…

I am inclined to agree with you. Sadly, many people in our country who are the most race obsessed and racist (of any color) claim the title "Christian" in regard to their "Spiritual" path (however, it would appear that it is more about carnality and tradition and religion than spirituality to many if not all of these types).

I often laugh when I find people who claim a faith in a Jewish Jesus, and who claim to follow a Bible written by Jews who are anti-semetic. Or even those who ignore the writtings of the Apostles and the words of Christ when it comes to accepting that in Christ, their is neither Jew nor Greek, Black or White, Male of Female, but one Spirit, in favor of embracing seperatism.

Yes, I pray that those who casually throw around the name of Jesus, truly have spirital revelation, and begin to demonstrate His message, the Gospel of the Kingdom of the God, Lord of All heaven and earth. I pray this in the name of Jesus, Yeshuyah HaMoshiach Adonai Shekinu.
Amen. I love reading your blog.
Anonymous said…
I found this post very moving and thought-provoking. Thanks, Liz.
Chas said…
We need a wholesale change. Instead we get "Hot Ghetto Mess" from the very station that should be looking out for us. With Viacom in ultimate control its just another example of us following the all mighty dollar down the road to ruin. What really makes it bad is that we're going to blast our disfunction across international airiwaves, thus adding to the sad soap opera called Black America. As my drama teacher used to say "Life is not a dress rehearsal." We only get one shot at this, we better start acting like it.
Liz Dwyer said…
Six degrees of separation! You might know some of the Baha'i folks I know from Chicago. Have they ever taken you up to the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette? I used to live really close to there and I miss going there because it's so beautiful and so peaceful.

That is the question, isn't it? Our own selfishness and ego keep us from being able to accomplish what we need to. What we need to do to change things is not always the decision we make if we are keeping materialistic priorities foremost in our hearts and minds.

Unfortunately, people put their own conceptual limits on religion, whether those are theological or ritualistic...and then we mix our own issues/justifications for the wrong thing (slavery, for example) into the mix. And that's actually not the purpose of religion. Religion, when not corrupted by people, is truly the means by which we can all develop our spiritual and moral consciousness (not a double consciousness) -- and that consciousness causes us to behave in ways that have the prosperity and true happiness of all people in mind, not just some people.

That's so kind of you to say. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

No, thank you...without inspiring people like yourself, I don't know if I'd keep blogging...well, maybe I would! ;0
Liz Dwyer said…
You were writing your comment while I was writing my comment! BET has some horrible shows on...and they show "Baby Boy" every five seconds, so they definitely get an F in my book. What may have started out as a good idea twenty years ago has been taken over by greedy, money-grubbing clowns who could care less about Black America. Someplace hot with a dude dressed up in a red suit holding a pitchfork is waiting for those folks over there.

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