Category Archives: racial harmony

Being Bigger Than the “Veil”

Shifting Our Perspective to Seek Solutions for Racial Equality

“I’m on my knees looking for the answer. Are we human, or are we dancer*?”

-from the song Human/The Killers

I saw a moving, one-man play written by Alexa Kelly, and performed by Brian Richardson, at my local library about the life of W.E. DuBois. It was called A Man for All Times .

Poet, author, editor, activist, Dr. W.E. Du Bois believed that literacy and education were tools to help us lift the veil. The “veil” was what he called the racial divide in our country. W.E. DuBois helped found the NAACP and his newspaper, The Crisis, was a vital catalyst, support and contributor, as well as critic, of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a complicated man who quested for world peace, convinced it was the key to equal rights for all people.

He strived to bring his fellow countrymen and those around the world, their basic inalienable human rights. He was a civil rights leader who died the night before Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream speech.”

Hearing this fact about the timing of his death, I started to cry. There is a torch that is passed in clear daylight that remains invisible to the eye that is “veiled.”

Watching the documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on James Baldwin’s writings, it became apparent that what Mr. Baldwin, an eloquent, beautiful and courageously observant author had to say in 1965 is just as pertinent today. Essentially, the veil over our eyes prevents us from really looking at the inequality that is perpetuated consistently on a vital portion of our population.

When we look at the human condition, greed and privilege are too tempting for those who already have what they perceive as power. It is hard to resist and, unless we shift perspective, we won’t be willing to give our “privilege” up, even if it means moral bankruptcy.

In the documentary, James Baldwin also suggests that there is a gap between what we want to be seen as and what we are. This causes problems in the home, which spurns us to create scapegoats outside of ourselves, to blame our unhappiness on, to put someone else down in order to build ourselves up to where we think we ought to be.

The problem comes from the belief in a “me”. My ego will never be appeased, it will always think it should have more. Ironically, what we are is actually more than what we conceive ourselves to be.

“We look at life from a viewpoint of seventy or eighty years. But if the reference point were seventy or eighty billion light years, what would our reference point be then?”

- Sailor Bob Adams/author/teacher of non-dualistic perception

What if the question to the answer we are seeking is, “Who are we beyond the veil?”

What if we woke up, not just to realize that the world isn’t white, or black, but that we are, “DANCER”*? It is an investigation.

Are we just these temporal bodies or are we something that dances within everything? What if the awareness inside of us in this present moment is something that is looking out from everyone’s eyes simultaneously? Our seeming separation from one another and the planet we live on, causes us to strike out, to attempt to dominate everything. But if we are everything, we do not need to go to all that trouble or to make that much trouble for everyone else.

Martin Luther King understood that retaliation escalates hostility. What may have woken America up, momentarily, during the Civil Rights Movement was seeing people, men, women and children being attacked and not striking back. There was an alignment with a love that is vaster than ignorance and hatred.

I remember a friend telling me about being in a restaurant where a huge, tattooed biker stood outside the window watching him with venomous hatred. He had gone outside and said something like, “I know you hate my guts and that you probably wish I was dead. I am not challenging your beliefs.  I just want to know how you came to have them.”  The man had been braced for a fight but found himself telling my friend his story.  At one point, he said the man’s eyes went out of focus and, when they came back, he seemed to be in shock.  Here he was getting to talk about his pain. He was talking to my friend, oblivious or despite the color of his skin color, telling him something he may never have gotten to share with anyone, even himself.  After he finished, he actually said, “Thank you.”  This was a form of empathetic martial arts.  My friend said he doesn’t know if it changed that man’s life but it changed his. He had grown up with violence and had been all about conflict up until that point.  Now, he realized that being able to shift the conflict, staying centered in peace was a path he could take.

The mind tends to divide. The heart can unify.  What we are goes beyond the veil.  By each of us meditating on being bigger than a body confined to a timeline, we can connect to solutions that will allow us to see one another clearly, finding a way to prosperity that does not require someone else to pay a price that we would never be willing to pay.

The Equal Justice Get Down

“I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.” – Bryan Stevenson

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On Labor Day, Julia and I had a gig that was cancelled. We considered ourselves fortunate to be able to sit outside and catch up on back issues of The New Yorker.  One of the articles was about Bryan Stevenson.  What caught my eye was that Bryan was helping to build a national lynching memorial museum called the Memorial to Peace and Justice.  Bryan is a lawyer from Delaware who moved down to Alabama without family, friends or any support.  Recognizing the correlation between the lynching mentality that was established in the South and the mass incarceration and excessive use of the death penalty for citizens of color, Bryan founded the Equal Justice Initiative .  This organization guarantees legal representation to each of Alabama’s death row inmates. Bryan points out in his TED talk that the US is the only country in the world that will jail children for life.  Some of Bryan’s clients are thirteen and fourteen years old.  He believes that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law.” Bryan’s desire to build the museum in Montgomery, Alabama is to challenge each county where lynching took place to own up to it. This is not to shame them but to urge them to acknowledge the wound so that it can begin to heal.

memorial-memory-bank-3_0national-lynching-memorial-2_1

Later in the day, Julia and I binged through the rest of season one of Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down. This, highly addictive and amazing show, was a natural extension to reading about the Equal Justice Initiative.  Set in the South Bronx in 1977, The Get Down shows how racism and poverty create a boiling pot of crime that is a necropolis for many but which cannot extinguish the creative spirit that must express itself.  With hues of a superhero genre, the show emphasizes that the real success that is achieved stems from love, friendship and the synchronicity of bonded effort across community lines.

The show illustrates how we have demonized creativity that arises out of poverty such as graphitti and hip-hop.  One of hip hop’s pioneers, Grand Master Flash is a character on the show. When interviewed he said that Hip hop’s message was simple, “We matter. We stand for something.”  His character on the show instructs a talented aspiring DJ who is slipping into graft, “It’s about music. It will move you forward and open up doors that everybody says are shut. It will give you the whole world for free if you just hold back nothing. Ah… do you hear that? It’s life and destiny, that is the Get Down!”

The-Get-Down

“We love innovation. We love technology. We love creativity. We love entertainment. But ultimately, those realities are shadowed by suffering, abuse, degradation, marginalization. And for me, it becomes necessary to integrate the two. Because ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world. And for me that means spending time thinking and talking about the poor, the disadvantaged…thinking about them in a way that is integrated in our own lives.”- Bryan Stevenson

There are those who inspire tirelessly and selflessly like Bryan.  They are superheroes.  They are here to reflect the spark in the rest of us. For me, there is a difference between identifying ourselves as victims and committing in whatever way we can to being the expression of love that helps us rise up to a greater freedom within and without. Thank you for what you do and who you are.  You are that expression.

 

Goodnight Sweet Gene

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to eye.”

Gene Wilder as the Fox in Antoine de-Saint-Exupery’s The Little PrinceGene as fox

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Gene Wilder.  So often life is a cavalcade and we are riding through with all of our baggage, chores, hopes and dreams jostling us as we try and keep an eye on the terrain. When a celebrity dies, we may feel bad but rarely want to pull over and stoke up the campfire to sit and reflect on what they offered us.

Yesterday I read something by Mooji that said, “The way is not really a way. It is a depth. It is not a distance. It is a deepening into… the bliss of the unknowable.”*  Gene’s work had that depth. You could feel it right from the start when he appeared in Bonnie and Clyde.

The first word that comes right up to the top when I think of Gene is ‘sweet’.   He showed generations what being a sweet human being looked like.  He was able to display the full gambit of being human from our neurotic angst and furious madness to our capacity for playful romance and pure loving kindness.

At the end of Willy Wonka when the chocolatier becomes a monster to test Charlie and Charlie returns the gobstopper that he might have sold for untold wealth, all we see is Gene’s hand slowly close around the candy.  His voice, off screen has made me cry every time. “So shines a good deed, in a weary world.” I feel that Gene’s dedication and the work he gave us personifies this line.  When the camera showed us Gene’s face as he called after Charlie, the love and benevolence beaming out of his eyes seemed to redeem all of humanity.Gene as WIlly

We watched Blazing Saddles the other night and it struck me that his work with Cleavon Little and Richard Pryor, in movies like Silver Streak, was a movement in itself.  The natural ease and delight of these larger than life friendships were heroic. The comedy was perhaps the intention and certainly was the result but there is a lingering bolstered hope imprinted on our hearts after watching these films. While society is still trying to sweat itself up the mountain of equality, Gene and Cleavon and then Gene and Richard, (who helped write Blazing Saddles) were “deepening into the bliss of the unknowable.”

Gene and CleavonGene and Richard

I heard that Gene didn’t want to tell the public that he was struggling with Alzheimer’s, because kids would say, “Look, there’s Willy Wonka!” It gave them such joy; he didn’t want to take that away from them. He couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.

Gene was singing, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” when he was taken from us.

May we all be capable of such sweetness and be remembered as fondly as Jerome Silberman, who, being inspired by Tomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, became our Gene Wilder.

Gene Wilder

Gene as Willy Wonka

 

*- White Fire/Mooji © 2014