Imagine stories around a campfire…
a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a digital space around a safe, cozy, yet rather eclectic virtual campfire. My hope is to render an adequate real-time sketch of history (i.e., a rough first-draft).
‘Picking-up after an Apocalypse’ is a brief mini-series of themed posts. Part nine.
The 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike [back story here]
America’s reckoning question
In an earlier a mystical möbius post I alluded to a question as a hypothetical. I paraphrase here:
What ever made us think it’s OK to hire a person for a job, expect them to give their time, talent, and effort on a full-time basis, but not pay them a living wage? From a morality standpoint, what ever made us think this could even possibly be acceptable?
How can something so absurd be totally ubiquitous?
Answers are available, never mind how difficult they may be for us to hear and accept. Never mind the destructive coping mechanisms we imaginatively create—like not teaching our real history, for instance—to avoid facing the harsh truth of what White supremacist ideology has wrought.
Covid-19 Apocalypse exposes the root
Author James Baldwin offered a clear declaration of the source of the difficulty in a speech he gave on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. This was 1964 and the context was such that public political discourse regarding race was typically framed as “the negro problem.” Into that space Baldwin spoke a prophetic word. His speech was entitled: “The White Problem.” Baldwin’s words were highly provocative and yet their freight carried veracity and profound wisdom along with their provocation; an excerpt:
The people who settled the country had a fatal flaw. They could recognize a man when they saw one. They knew he wasn’t—I mean you can tell they knew he wasn’t—anything else but a man; but since they were Christian, and since they had already decided they had come here to establish a free country, the only way to justify the role that this chattel was playing in one’s life was to say that he was not a man. For if he wasn’t a man, then no crime had been committed. This is the root of the present trouble.
Baldwin’s words help bring a rich depth of meaning to the protest signs in the cover image above. I mean, that people felt a need to bear a sign that read “I am a man” is puzzling without the context. So, I repeat Baldwin’s very penetrating (and generous) insight:
“The people who settled the country had a fatal flaw. They could recognize a man when they saw one.”
At the heart of racism is the idea ‘A man is not a man.’ We started the American project with a lie. We lied to ourselves. In violating our capacity (and obligation) to recognize another human as human we developed an evolving (fatal) warp in our outlook.
If we are able to live with our “not a man” justification for enslaving African people and negatively mythologizing the Black man, then we’re just a half-step to morally accepting the creation of an economic reality in the “free” labor market that justifies paying less than a living wage to a full time worker.
Heck, with this “free market” notion we can tell ourselves we don’t actually own people any more. Rather, our system just treats those who are poor as though they were owned by others.
Now, at this point we’re really in the sphere of classism, grounded in, and enabled by White supremacist racism.
Capitalism vs Socialism?
On this track, capitalism, per se, may not be the genesis for all of our classism/inequality problems. Rather, our original sin, and, because of it, the way our warped outlook is able to accommodate greed and misuse capitalism, may well be the real root of the trouble.
“The people who settled the country had a fatal flaw. They could recognize a man when they saw one.” I do believe that Baldwin’s words, while very provocative, and painful, do provide hope that we are redeemable. We must recover our capacity to recognize each other as human, and then, perhaps for the first time in America, begin to behave as though we genuinely appreciate and respect each other, everyone.
Next week: We’ll continue in our mini-series. Come and see.
[this post approx. 825 words (3 min. read]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say? Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics here is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).