by Jacob Holdt
This represents the teaching part of the workshop which is usually
followed by an emotional, healing part by Tony Harris.
The un-edited text from one of Jacob Holdt's workshops transcribed from a videotape. The workshop followed the day after his presentation of the show and will later be edited and illustrated with the drawings he did on a blackboard in the room.
So, I will try to give a description of how we become racists by starting with making a drawing of our mind here in this society. It could be your mind here right after having seen the show. You see, it is empty. J
But basically this is the mind we have at birth when we are ready to be filled up with all kinds of information from whatever society we grow up in, the human intelligence or whatever. And all this information flows in here in a steady stream from the outside through eyes, ears, perceptions and so on. First from our parents, later from the whole environment we live in. And then we try to sort it out and understand it in here. And once we understand it as children we then store it out here in our memory boxes, in those boxes where we feels that this bit of information belongs in. Almost like a computer in bits of information. So in the future when we have similar new events happening to us we can immediately go out here and find the bits and pieces we need to solve the new problems with in a wise way, in a logical way, in a way that make sense. This is what is so beautiful about our human mind: our enormous capacity for flexible thinking…..unlike a computer which can only work in certain programmed ways. But the problem we have is that most of us can’t do this very well because so early in our childhood we get hurt.
The first hurt - let me give a description of a hurt – we were two or three years old, sitting in the living room with our mother – or father, not to be sexist here – and there was a beautiful play or game between mother or child and it seemed like this could go on for ever. But all of a sudden the telephone rang and there was a disturbing message for the mother – maybe about illness or death in the family or she might have been fired from her job – something the child doesn’t understand. And a few minutes after when the mother comes back deeply distressed, in pain, in anger maybe, totally upset and angry and so on. And out of her own anger she might now slap the child who expected this play to continue. So what happened to us at that time? We started crying, we got hurt. But crying was a very good reaction to this hurt. For when we cry we somehow make sure that the information we get from such a distress experience doesn’t jam up in here. When we cry we can discharge our pain and still eventually sort it out - out here in our memory boxes. But what I very soon found – especially in poor white homes – was the tendency to slap the children or to further hurt them once the start crying, saying "Don’t cry, don’t be sissy, grow up and be a man". Here we see some of the roots of sexism and also how we can eventually hardly cry as men when we grow older. This is where the worst damage comes in: when we are punished in the process of getting rid of our pain, then all kinds of damage happens to us. The whole thinking machinery shuts down, we can’t process this information, it gets stuck in here in a big tied up knot of unprocessed information. Later in life when we have similar experiences that sort of relate to that earlier hurtful experience we can’t now find the bits and pieces of information out here which we need to understand the new problems with. No, it comes up in a big tied up knot of this unprocessed angry and emotional information. Some of us – if we have just lost our girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever, we all know - if you have to write a paper right after, you just can’t think clearly. This is this whole tied up knot of hurt and pain which sort of runs our mind there. We simply can’t think very well. And this is what happens to everybody who has been hurt. And this is what happens to everybody who has been hurt. The more hurt and abuse we go through, the less well can we think in clear ways.
Talking about racism here. All whites have been deeply hurt by racism. And when they see the show for instance, it is not actually what is being said in the show that is most important, but the show sort of forces of you to think back of memories you had from childhood and messages you got from your parents. and suddenly – something like this – a deep hurt from childhood might come up and run your mind and therefore I see people who are otherwise very rational and well adjusted, that sometimes they come running out from the show, screaming and yelling and acting weird, you know. And this is actually because they can’t think clearly, they can’t find the pieces out here, this whole thing in here comes up and runs their minds.
I think all of you who have some intuitive understanding of psychology basically knows what is going on. Here I am just trying to tie together everything from psychology, psychiatry and whatever.
Anyway, as we get older we get more and more hurt by all kinds of experiences in life. And finally we become a walking, chronic distress patterns, we can only act out in ways defined by all this hurt here. We can’t think very well about things around us.
Americans for instance have been deeply hurt by living in a violent society. So they end up voting for capital punishment which other societies would never even think of. We become rigid in our thinking. You know it from old people, your grandparents for example when you come to their homes and every pot plant and nip thing has to be standing exactly there. If you move them just one inch, they get deeply upset. We loose flexibility – a flexible mind – as we grow older when we become weird and rigid in our ways. Young people are not so rigid so they say to their parents or grand parents: "Look, so ridiculous and difficult you are!" And they will defend themselves and say: "That’s the way I am." No way. That is not the way they ARE. That is the way they have become oppressed to BECOME.
So, anyway, this model here we now sort of understand intuitively. Let us translate it now to the issue of racism and when I now talk about racism, try in your own mind to connect it to homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and all the other cousins we have. It is very similar. So when we talk about how we become racists, I find it easiest to start with those racists who seem worse than ourselves. For as you know, you don’t even think of yourself as being racists, right?
So let’s start with the old-fashioned bigots in the south. Have you seen "Mississippi burning?" Good, then you know the type. How did they become that way? Well, we know that nobody was born that way. A child in any society is born with an open, loving mind - until we hurt it. How did they get hurt?
Well, probably very early in their upbringing they heard these messages or statements from their parents like "Niggers are dirty" or "Don’t play with those children down the road. They will stab you!" This is totally irrational and insane information for the open-minded, loving, zestful child we have in all societies to begin with. They don’t understand it. Children don’t see in color or sex or sexual preferential groups, ethnic groups or religious groups or whatever until we hurt them like this.
"Niggers are dirty." What does that statement really mean? Something I noticed in all the homes I lived in was that blacks certainly wash as much as whites do. You saw all the black homes I lived in in the South, but whenever I got diseases like flees, craps, lice and whatever you could catch in those days, I always got it in white homes – in certain hippie homes they did not always wash so well J And as for the other statement: children don’t stab. So both of these statements are totally irrational. The child doesn’t understand them. So when it doesn’t understand the information it receives, the thinking machinery shuts down momentarily while it is being hurt. And all this misinformation then jams up in here. They can’t sort it out in here. And later as they grow older, they are now oppressed with new hurtful information from their parents and the whole apartheid-like society they grow up in. So gradually it ties down more and more of their minds like you see it here. And one day when they grow up, they end up maybe looking, sounding like and acting like the – well, you remember this pick-up truck driver I had an interview with in the show, who was talking about "niggers" here and "niggers there all the time? How did he become this way? He had of course been deeply hurt in his upbringing by being oppressed with all that information. When he picked me up, I was standing out there on the Alabama back roads with my sign saying: "Touring USA from Denmark." He had no idea what I was doing in America. Well, I didn’t know myself what I was doing in America at that time J Yet, the first question he asked when I got into the car, was: "Are there any niggers in Denmark?" And without even waiting for an answer, he started rambling off these sentences about nigger, nigger, nigger…. I immediately got my tape recorder up, because I knew that that was the voice of history, I heard there. The sentences that had been oppressed upon generation after generation of innocent white children growing up in the South totally tying up their minds so they couldn’t think independently any more. He had lost his mind to racism. There was nothing there that had with blacks to do - I mean, me, a white person standing out there? But any little thing could trigger this whole hurt there from his childhood to come up and run him just like a record in a jukebox that comes up and runs your mind with these programmed messages or statements you have heard all your life. He couldn’t think freely any longer. Such a person has been deeply hurt.
And if such people have been hurt not only by racist oppression, but also by "classist" oppression, then they are in danger. If you are growing up as poor whites and are being told from main stream whites such as most of you here for instance, that you are "poor white trash", you are good for nothing, your are "bigots", you are "rednecks" and "crackers" – all these terrible things we call poor whites whose children of course pick it up - then they end up having so much unhealed anger, that one day they will take their anger out on some people in society in a more violent way by and maybe join the Ku Klux Klan or Nazi-groups.
And what do we do then, us who are more liberal? We FURTHER oppress them. It is obvious that they are sick people and sick people we shouldn’t oppress or kick around. They need help. Of course when we see them burn crosses or shout "nigger, nigger, nigger…," we get offended. But we don’t need to isolate them and further reject them, because it was out of that rejection their anger grew in the first place.
So we need to make them our allies. What does that mean? It means to constantly in our behavior and relationship with them reach in to that human being in here (pointing), which has not yet been destroyed. There is such a human being in all of us. No matter how hurt we have been, even the most violent junkie I have found that I could always on some level reach in to.
By giving them the attention, the love, the affection, Christian love – whatever you will call it – which they did not receive in their upbringing, it is so easy to help them to feel good about themselves or to feel better about themselves. And people who feel good about themselves have no need to go out and trash other people out there. Only people in deep pain are able to trash other people, victimize other people. If we can help them feel better about themselves – and that was so easy for me as a vagabond, because I had all the time in the world to listen to their pain and frustration and to just help them feel that they were something by giving them recognition and asking them questions about their childhood and so on – an interest maybe nobody had ever shown in them before – it is so easy to help steer them away from an otherwise destructive course. And thus we help make society less oppressive for the target groups of their anger – the blacks, the Jews, the women, the homosexuals and other vulnerable groups in society. But most of us forget it and tend to further oppress them and make them feel even worse about themselves.
Who is the greatest oppressor in the world? Who can we think of? Hitler, yes. If we can understand Hitler I think we can understand anybody in this world. How did Hitler become this way? Well, Alice Miller – have any of you read her books, the Austrian psychologist who is very famous right now? – she has done a great study on the oppression of children and in one of her books she writes about the oppression of Hitler in his childhood. When you see her account of how he was beaten up and hurt and neglected and abused by his parents – especially his father, everybody around him – and then what happened later to him in life – you clearly see how he was forced from being this oppressed child up here into the role of ultimate oppressor. Any oppressor has always gone through a severe form of oppression first and is then manipulated into the oppressor role. But Alice Miller also says something very interesting. If Hitler had had just one person in his childhood he could turn to - such as a loving aunt, grandmother, a loving stranger who would give him some love and attention – that whole process would have been interrupted. This is what she calls "a saving angel." Most abused children do have one such person, they can turn to. Any of us, she says, can reach out and become saving angels toward hurt and abused children. Right now we see a tremendous growth in America of hurt and abused children around us and if you want to fight oppression, you don’t wait until these people have become Ku Klux Klan members or gangsters or criminals in the ghettos. No you reach out to them right now and fight oppression. You do your homework by becoming "saving angels" for those children to avoid that one day they will end up in prison. That is in your own self-interest obviously. But most of us, when we think of fighting oppression, we think of going out there and shooting at the Klan or somebody like that. We simply end up in such situations because we did not do our homework. Anyway, this is sort of the idea of oppression – or the worst aspects of oppression, the Ku Klux Klan, the Hitler types and so on. Most of us, however, do not look that bad.
So let me now talk about the more liberal form of racists and how we became that way. Because, as I said yesterday, it was not the Ku Klux Klan who had the great impact on blacks in America. They were shaped by the more liberal whites. We are the ones who hold the blacks out of good jobs, who discriminate them in health, education, housing, forcing them into ghettos etc. The Ku Klux Klan never had that kind of power. So it is clear that we have to work on our racism and first of all we have to understand it. How did we become racists? Well, probably our parents did not tell us overtly hurtful stuff like "Niggers are dirty". They were more liberal. They would bombard us with lofty ideals of American Creed, American liberty, equality and land of opportunity – all these beautiful slogans all societies have up here with the emphasis being on liberty, dignity and equality for everyone. But whenever the topic came to inner city, slums, blacks, homosexuals – or hitchhikers to go a step further – they would change their tone a little bit, lift their eye brows without even knowing it, and thereby give the hidden message to their child that some people are not so equal as others. And this information was completely as damaging for us and causing our thinking machinery – as we saw it before – to shut down. When you are being told in so many words that everybody is equal and we are all the same and so on and then you see your own parents in so many ways send the message out to you that some people are not so equal, you don’t understand this information. Your whole thinking machinery shuts down, you can’t process it. This is how we all end up racists in America.
Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish anthropologist who was invited over here in the 1940’s to do a big study on American race relations, came to the conclusion that all Americans – black or white for that matter – had these double standards: they hold on to these lofty ideals, but deep down in their guts they have developed the feelings that some people are not so equal as others. And they have never been able to reconcile this gap. So whenever we are around those people whom we basically feel are not as equal as others, we can only act out in guilt patterns towards them. And guilt, as blacks will tell you, is the worst form of racism. They can’t stand patronizing attitudes. And us, who are more liberal racists, we constantly act out in guilt patterns without even knowing it when we are around blacks.
One example of such a liberal racist was one white woman I had in a workshop in Smith College. She was talking about her childhood in Washington D.C. where there are a lot of blacks and some times her father would drive her through the city. When she saw all those crack dealers and winos and street people stand out there on the street corners, she would sometimes burst out in some racist slurs. And her father – a good liberal – would then immediately hit the brakes, turn around with a stern face and not drive on until she had apologized. Because this was not good tone in a liberal family to come with that kind of racist slurs. However, years later, when she grew up and one day brought home a black boyfriend the whole message from her father was a different one. So all the time she had been drilled with these hidden messages that some people are not as equal as others. And she never understood that information. Her thinking machinery shut down and therefore she was trying to act out her pain. All children everywhere in the world are being oppressed. And therefore they act out their pain in so many irrational ways in the eyes of their parents. Children are always impossible in the eyes of their parents and they act out their pain in so many ways. And for her it came out – at least on a racial level – in these racist slurs.
Well, how many of you have been blasted drunk? I am sure most of you have. Then you also know - if you were really blasted drunk - how many of you then had racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, sexist slurs on your lips at least. You are very good liberals. So you have probably learned very well how to control that unhealed anger and never let it come out in the open - certainly not in a university atmosphere – but you know that you have such slurs on your lips. And that basically shows how close we are to the Ku Klux Klan. It is completely the same unhealed anger we are trying to get out of our system.
Most campuses I go to these days have had recent racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic attacks. Most of us who see those things such as written on toilet doors, we get a little offended and we tend to isolate such people. But here again, as I said earlier, don’t ever isolate such people who are victimizing others. For sure, it is not very nice to see, but they are not very different from you. Reach out. Give them your friendship, your help. Don’t necessarily talk about the issues which are burdening them, but give them all the love you can and thereby help them to feel better about themselves. Because, as I said before, people who feel good about themselves have no need to go out and victimize and trash others. So it is something I feel we should never forget on any campus; that you can help make campus a less oppressive place to be for the minorities if you end up reaching out to the racists, the sexists, the homophobes or whatever we have around. We are all in deep pain. And this pain has been growing in society the last ten years I have noticed. And therefore we now see a tremendous rise in racist attacks all over the place.
Anyway, I will now get to the oppression of black children. But let us for a minute sum it all up. Whether we grow up old-fashioned bigots or we go through the liberal racism which most of us went through, the damage is pretty much the same. And some people who work on these issues have come to the conclusion that maybe as a result of all this oppression we only have 10% left of our original intelligence to operate with on a functional way. The rest is tied down in these hurt- and anger patterns. We can’t think very well as a result. And this is for the successful adult whites in America. That might include many of you in here. You might not have more than 10% left to operate with. We know that a lot of poor whites are in deep pain. We see them constantly end up in fights where – in the same situation – we can walk in and never get into any fights. Such people have a hard time making it into fine schools like Kenyon College. They are in deep pain. We are talking here about hurt intellect.
So let me now talk about the oppression of black children in this society. Here the damage is far worse, of course. For they go through a double form of racism. The first one they get is the easiest one to understand, the overt racism. We now understand what that is. That is the unhealed anger from us they constantly perceive and feel around wherever they go, the guilt and fear patterns they feel from you on campuses such as this, the statements they hear and see written around and so on. All black children very early perceive that from society. They grow up on the wrong side of the tracks in the south. From day one they know that everything about them is wrong when they see themselves growing up in dilapidated housing and see whites living over there in nice homes and see the hostile glares of whites when they walk into the downtown sections of town and so on. Or they grow up on the south side of Chicago and see millions of blacks around them – never a white face – until they turn on the TV and they realize whites are all over in power in this society here. This is deeply damaging for the self-esteem of a black child growing up.
But that more overt racism is not necessarily the worst nowadays. No, there is another more vicious aspect to it called "internalized racism." What is that? Let me try to illustrate it: wherever in the world we have a group being oppressed, the members of that group will then further internalize the views of their oppressors and help to further drag each other down in oppression, hurt each other and instill these values in each other. Women know it all very well. As a result of sexist oppression women everywhere in the world are the best examples of people telling each other that the woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen and don’t take male power in society. We have millions of Phyllis Schlafly’s anywhere in the world, further dragging women down in sexist oppression. Let me give some similar examples from internalized racism. One thing I noticed everywhere in the underclass homes when I saw fights among adults was that they would scream things like "You ain’t shit, nigger!" which immediately is perceived by the black child. In other words they constantly hear from early childhood "You are worse than dirt" – reverberating white society’s low opinions of them.
Or for black students who go to elite schools like this on here, it is very painful and difficult to adjust to all this white power all of a sudden if you have been shaped by a ghetto environment or black culture. And a lot of black students are not capable of adjusting to it – especially since they don’t get your help. So the black attrition rate in these integrated schools is enormous. But if they are capable of adjusting to these white institutions here, they are often - when they come home to their homes such as in the ghettos – ridiculed for now acting white, thinking whites and being called "oreo cookies." I don’t know if you saw Spike Lee’s "School days"? That is a classic example of internalized racism showing how blacks end up hurting fellow blacks who go to these schools. A very sad example I had in Baltimore recently when a black student was telling me how his girlfriend had just been accepted into an elite school. She had been given a big scholarship. When time came to start school, she now found out that her mother had now spent all the money on herself. When she confronted her mother since she now felt her whole future was denied her, the mother snapped back at her and said "You shouldn’t go to that white school anyway. You should be proud of your own people. You should stay close to home and your roots." A very sad example of how you end up hurting fellow blacks and dragging yourself down in further racist oppression.
I hope you now see the model here. We have thousands of examples and we see them similar in every oppressed group in the world. One classical example of it among blacks is the game called "playing the dozens." Have you ever heard about this? Some of you have. They call it different things in different cities in America. I was just in New York where they call in "snapping." It is a game where young blacks – and they still do it all over this country – will stand for hours insulting each other, hurting each other, humiliating each other, attacking family members. That is where the term "motherfucker" comes from. And then the game is to "stay cool" – not to get upset or angry – or you would immediately loose the game. Why basically are they trying to hurt each other like that? Well, this is something sociologists have traced back to slavery, in the need of black mothers at that time to hurt and humiliate especially their male children to prepare them for a life in slavery, to make sure that they would never make rebellion against the slave master because that could get them instantly killed or punished. In other words, it was a survival measure at the time. But it doesn’t serve that function any longer. It has been deeply internalized among blacks. And the fact that these traits of internalized racism continues 127 years after slavery ended is the best proof we have that slavery never ended in this society. Because these traits we do not see to nearly that extent in other ex-slave-societies. I will get back to that in a second and you will see it clearly.
Let me now put an estimate on the loss of black intelligence in this society. And while I talk about this, don’t forget for one minute, that this is not scientific stuff. It is just one way to let you understand something most of you never really understood. How shall I phrase this? Well, you’re all very liberal here, right? Some of you will have doubts about me saying this, but basically you’re fairly liberal compared to the rest of society. Yet, deep down you have developed many of the same gut feelings about blacks – that somehow because of some inherent deficiency they can’t make it in the school system. And that’s why you see so few blacks around you in this school etc. You are fighting these feelings through guilt, but you have them nevertheless. You have heard from many of your grandparents all these stories such as "my ancestors came over here dirt poor from this or that country, Poland, Ireland etc, and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. So why can’t they?" – talking about the people in the ghettos. And you were more liberal, so you got angry when you heard that kind of stuff. You started defending blacks and said that that was because of something in slavery and so on. But basically you didn’t have a good answer at the time. So again it added to your anger and guilt around this whole issue. But I will give you some good explanation now which you can use the next time you meet your grandfather. Because let us now put an estimate on the loss of the black intelligence in this society in relationship to the loss of the white one. As I said, blacks have gone through a much more severe form of oppression, totally being stripped of self-esteem and hope for their own futures. So I will say that maybe as a result of all this oppression – overt racism as well as internalized racism – the blacks growing up in this society might only have 5% left to operate with in a functional way of the vast intelligence we are all given at birth. The rest is tied down in all these anger patterns (pointing) ….similar to those I hope you left with at the end of the show yesterday.
Why am I saying 5% here? Because – and it is only one way of measuring it - it reflects the overall success rate of blacks in this society for centuries. Look at this here. This is the white median family income in America. Here we just put it at 100%. How much are blacks now making in relationship to that? Do any of you know?
- Around 55%.
- Yes, it is probably close to that now. This here is what the census bureau says, 56%. And this is the only reason I say half over here on the diagram. There is not necessarily any correlation. This was much higher when I first came to America. It was 63%. Blacks are now rapidly falling behind with about one percentage point a year. Basically this was the same share they had during slavery. At that time they didn’t receive money, but food, clothes, housing and so on and since most whites were poor then, economists have concluded that blacks pretty much had half the living standard of whites. In other words: for centuries there has been no progress for blacks in this society here – economically speaking. We know politically there has been tremendous progress. We now see black mayors all over the place, but economically speaking we see no progress. So what does that do to our thinking? Century after century? When you hear about all these other immigrant groups, who come over here and immediately make it, you think back on your grandfather’s talk. And deep down therefore you can only come to one conclusion: that somehow for some inherent deficiency in blacks they can’t make it. Right?
You are going to be very quiet right now because you know you all feel all this deep down. I have been traveling enough in America to know that whites think that way. And it gives you tremendous quilt because you want so badly to hold on to all these lofty ideals up here about how we are all equal and so on. So this makes you despair because we want to see that we are all equal, we want that. We are not bad racists, we do not want to hold blacks back. Some older generations might have wanted that, but basically we want them to BE like Bill Cossby. It is a dream world we would to come true. So we despair when we see this relationship (pointing) between blacks and whites century after century.
And therefore I will now try to give you some hope. And the hope we get when we start looking at those blacks who are making it. Who could that be?
- Well, yes, like Bill Cosby. They are making it, but basically they belong to the same group here making an average of 56% of white income – the average of Bill Cosby way up here and the underclass deep down here. Bill Cosby is so rich that he could donate 20 million dollars to Spellman College.
So let me now ask the question in a different way. Who are those blacks who are making it because they have not been shaped by our racism? Who could they be?
Well, we are in Ohio so you may not know…..now I gave you a hint.
- People coming from other societies…..?
- Right! If they have not been shaped by our racism, they have to come from other societies, because all blacks in this society have been deeply shaped by our racism. All women in this society have been deeply shaped by our sexism. There is no way they could avoid it.
So I am especially talking about those blacks who came from the Caribbean, West Indian blacks. How well are they doing economically in relationship to this whole thing here on the blackboard? You don’t know? Well, they make up 94% of white median family income. Now, when we look at this here, don’t forget that 1% of whites – the Rockefellers, Bill Gates and that type of people – own and control 30-40% of the wealth in this society. Most of those people did not work their own way up in these high positions. They inherited their wealth. So if we allow ourselves to take away for a minute that 1% of whites, who did not work their own way up, you will find that West Indian blacks are completely on the level of whites in this society. And they all worked their own way up from poverty. Nothing was given to them.
And this figure here of 94% includes the recent boat refugees from Haiti coming here from one of the poorest, most illiterate and oppressive societies on earth. The minute they are in America – or at least a generation after – they are up in the middle class….to the astonishment of native American blacks in say Miami and Liberty City. They don’t understand "how can they do it when we can’t?"
This is what we have to try to understand here: why is it so easy for foreign blacks who come here to "make it up the latter" and not for American blacks?
Most West Indian blacks are living in the area from Washington DC, New York, Hartford and up to Boston. Almost all of the top black positions you see in that area – or a great majority - are held by West Indian blacks. Some of them you also know nationwide such as Shirley Chisholm, Harry Belafonte, Colin Powell – the chief of our armed forces right now, are West Indian blacks. Republicans have no problems getting along with West Indian blacks. They don’t get along very well with American/native blacks.
Well, a lot of the West Indian blacks live in Brooklyn I New York and if you as a white person walk in there, you immediately feel that – even though everybody is blacks it seems like you are in some Italian, Polish or Irish neighborhood: you see clean streets, thriving business, hardly anybody on welfare, prod home ownership – West Indians are staunchly opposed to welfare – and more young people in college than are in prison. But then you walk into the native American black areas in Harlem, Bronx or other parts of New York. Then you immediately see the stereotypical white racist ghetto image we have in our white mind….of dirty streets, broken glass and litter in the streets, burned out stores. In many ghettos I go to these days, like Detroit, almost the only stores left in the ghetto are owned by outsiders. Up to 40% are on welfare and more young people are in prison than are in college. Now we start understanding the tremendous damage we are inflicting on American blacks.
So you see now that what we are talking about has nothing to do with race. For those blacks from the West Indies came from the same tribes in Africa as American blacks, they went through the same type of slavery - namely the Anglo-Saxon form of slavery which was vicious. But there was one important difference. And what was that difference? That their slavery ended 120 years ago, it never ended in America!
What happened after slavery ended in the West Indies was that most of the whites left the islands. So from now on the blacks could start recoup all that which was stripped from them in slavery, dignity, self-reliance, pride and so on which the American black has never been allowed to recoup again. Plus they started seeing black role models all over in their societies and that is extremely important for the motivation of black children. So when - a century later - they come into this very racist society in America you can say that they come here as recovered human beings. And even though this is a very racist society they somehow can now use it as a vehicle for success. It doesn’t seem to hold them back. Talking about the Haitians for instance, you have heard all this rhetoric from your parents about the "white protestant work ethic", right? It is almost a slogan in this country. Well, then you have apparently never heard about "the black catholic work ethic" – that of Haitians coming here and holding two or three jobs at the same time while going to school at night. That is of course the way they make it.
- I don’t ask this to be skeptical…
- Well, you are supposed to be skeptical. We are in a university….
- Why do you suppose then that Haiti and the Dominican Republic and stuff like that with the absence of white people are still so poor?
- Well, simply because they belong to the Third World. Whether those countries are white or black in Latin America they are part of the whole colonial era we ended up with of poverty. So they are trapped in a totally different system of colonialism and neo-colonialism. But let us talk about that on another occasion.
Let us now look at something interesting here. One thing I have noticed is that there often is a deep division between West Indian blacks and native American blacks in the American black community or ghettos. Are there any from New York here? Or Hartford? Because then you would know a little bit about this. For of course those blacks for whom success came fairly easy for – relatively speaking – don’t understand American blacks very well. So they start thinking of American blacks often in very much the same racist way as we do, thinking of them as "lazy", "unmotivated", "criminal" etc. Therefore you see a strong clash between them in the ghettos. In Hartford any of my native black American friends call the West Indians for "go getters" or even "black Jews." Interesting, right?
How many of you are Jews here? Well, that is not many here in Ohio. But let’s just play on anti-Semitism here for a second to get a better understand of this. "Black Jews" – what does that mean? Here we are playing on the notion that Jews are successful in business because West Indians own and control most of the business in the black ghetto in Hartford. Also in New York City you see this. Whenever you walk into banks in New York and see black employees, try to go up and ask them if they are from the West Indies….and you will see that it is almost always the case. They are very successful in the financial world. So you see we are here really playing on anti-Semitism, the notion we all have in our thinking that "Jews are successful in business".
So what happened to the Jews over the last 2000 years? Well, during that time they were forced to flee into foreign countries. Often they were invited by the kings, the rulers or whatever dictators we had in those societies to make up an entering wedge between the rulers up here (showing on graph) and the masses down here. A low level anti-Semitic propaganda was kept alive all the time so if rebellion suddenly broke out in the masses against the rulers up here, they could manipulate the anger of the masses out against the Jews instead of against the real oppressors in society. And thus the Jews were forced into pogroms or Holocaust or forced to flee into new countries. We know the whole sad and vicious history they went through. Then the rulers in the new countries often invited them in order to recycle and abuse them the same way as entering wedges. Often the only jobs they were allowed to hold in those days were in the financial world. That is why that whole anti-Semitic notion came from.
But throughout the whole oppression the Jews were somehow capable of escaping the worst aspects of gentile oppression. They came from a strong cultural background, so they could somehow tell their children that "you are better than your gentile oppressors, but this is a vicious anti-Semitic society. So you must work twice as hard as everybody else to make it" all the time. They were able to do that by pushing their children with all kinds of techniques such as "Jewish guilt" and whatever. Some of you who are Jewish knows exactly what that means, right!"
And this is very similar to what happens to West Indian blacks. They come in here to a very racist society and almost use racism as a vehicle for success. They tell their children that "you can do it, but you must work twice as hard as everybody else." And therefore they can do it and continually make it. One way they especially do it is through education.
And now you are
going to see something very interesting here. How many blacks are
there in America? You should know that....well, you are waiting for
the census statistics to come out any day now. Well, the answer is
30 million this year. Last year it was 29 million. How many of those
are West Indian blacks? That I am sure you don't know. Approximately
600.000. So in other words, what is their percentage of the total
blacks?.....(calculating) I was thrown out of high school, I am not
good at math....
So that raises the question: what are we whites doing to our native American blacks to so effectively screen them away from a good education in this society and thus from high paying jobs and positions? Why can't average American blacks easily make it into Harvard, Yale, Stanford etc when it is so easy for blacks from other countries to do it? This is the damage racism is inflicting on American blacks. And until this minute most of you had learned very effectively to blame the victim for failing in this process. You all knew this was happening, but somehow you just found all these rationalizations for it - that this was due to some inherent inferiority in blacks and so on. But this is entirely the result of OUR oppression. You now understand that this has nothing to do with race or skin color, for West Indians are even blacker than American blacks since they were not so mixed up with your white forefathers.
So therefore what we see in this society is generally this: black and white children enter pretty much on the same level in first grade in the school system. On the average whites make it in such a straight line (drawing on blackboard) up to college. But black America children start getting affected by internalized racism - believing our negative thinking of them - very early. And after 4th grade it starts showing - they start distrusting themselves, doubt their own futures and gradually loose their motivation - and therefore they start falling behind in the school system. They turn inattentive, turn off and often become hostile the more they loose hope. That lack of hope is so devastating. If you have no hope, there is no way you are ever going to make it. So after 4th grade they fall behind whites. And then this become a self-increasing process, they fall further and further behind the whites and immigrants. And by the time they should make it into college - not to speak of Ivy League schools - they are so far behind that there is no way the great majority of them can get accepted. They have long ago learned to live with the street and therefore end up in greater numbers in prison than in college. And this is a worsening oppressive pattern these years. When I first came to America in the 70'es there were more blacks in college than in prison. Now it is just the reverse!
West Indian blacks
apparently follow this white line all the way up. They have no problems.
What you see here is the curve of oppression we have in all societies.
Wherever we have segregation between races or groups combined with
oppression, you will find that the group being oppressed tend to fall
behind in the educational system. In Israel we see it between Sephardic
and European Jews or between Jews and Palestinians - even though Palestinians
make up much of the academic elite in the Arab world, in Malaysia
between Chinese and bumiputhras. In Denmark where I am from you see
it between the Danes and the Muslim immigrant children etc. Everywhere
where we see oppression this tends to be the case. Yet, all Americans
have somehow learned to see and think of this in a purely blame-the-victim
light - never ever to see it as a result of their own oppressive sides!
- Do you have any information from your personal experience about those 2% of blacks whom you mentioned are in intermarriages, whether the majority of those marrying whites are Caribbean blacks or native American blacks?
- Absolutely, yes. The intermarriage rate is much higher among West Indian blacks - mainly because they seem much more similar to white culture. When you are shaped by a different society it is much easier to fit in on the white side of the apartheid system in America. So again this has nothing to do with race. Actually I will get back to this later. Because now I will take you on a little foreign journey to show you how damaged we really have become in this society. We are deeply damaged. Whether we grew up white or black, all of us were crippled to various degrees. It is easier to see yourself when you see yourself from the outside.
So what I am going to do now is to take you to a country where blacks are making it and whites are falling behind. Have you any idea what that country could be? You have heard a lot about affirmative action and so-called "reverse discrimination" in this country, but have you ever seen any examples of reverse discrimination? Well, if this had been a lesser competitive school with a lot of poorer whites in it, I would have seen an army of hands now.....for they can always come up with some examples of some whites who have been discriminated against in order to hire a less qualified black....
No, of course,
you can't have reverse discrimination in a country where whites are
solidly on top everywhere. It is impossible to reversely discriminate
against whites here. But we do have such a situation down in Costa
Rica. I have to ask you if you know where that is since Americans
have so little knowledge of geography. Well, in this school you probably
do know. In the 1870'es - after slavery ended in the West Indies,
Trinidad and Barbados - the freed slaves came over to work for the
United Fruit on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica. Little by little
they started buying up small plots of land and by the 1930'es many
of them had become fairly affluent landowners. At that time we saw
a migration of poor whites up from the highlands of Costa Rica to
look for work out there in the Limon province. So suddenly we see
a reverse situation in which black employers are giving work to poor
whites. That is something you almost never see in the USA. And once
such a system of oppression has been set up it tends to get worse
just like we have seen it in America between blacks and whites. So
what you see there now today is something which has really astonished
anthropologists. I went down there myself. When you sit around with
these affluent, cultured and extremely conservative blacks and listen
to what they are saying - well, listen to what they are saying about
those poor whites, they have to hire: "When I meet two whites
at night, I immediately cross over to the other side of the street."
or "Whites are prone to violence, whites carry knives, whites
will backstab you. Don't ever trust whites." or the best one
is "Whites are oversexed. Whites have got too much sexual drive."
Well, if you ask black parents in Costa Rica "What do you hope for your children?" they will usually answer something like "I hope my son will become a lawyer, a doctor etc." If you ask white parents, they will usually say something like "I hope they will survive." This, you see, is the complete reverse of parent expectation in America. So this is a system of reverse oppression and it is so important that we understand this is also possible because I want you to never think of this in racial terms any longer. Only in terms of oppression.
So let us look at ourselves for a minute. Until now we did the same mistake as the frog sitting in the bottom of the well here (showing a ring). We looked up at the sky up there and concluded: "The sky is no bigger than the opening of the well." We had no better information in this society, so we came to the conclusion that "this is the way blacks are, this is the way whites are and so on." But what I just did here was to show you a little bit of the sky which was denied you in your upbringing. That is why I can never blame any American for being racist. For they had no better information. How could they avoid becoming racist?
Anyway, this reverse model is of course just as unhealthy a society as the American model of racism. So let me now show you another Caribbean society where blacks and whites tend to come out more evenly. Has any of you any idea where that is?
Yes, but it has nothing to do with communism. And I need to say this since for you Americans Cuba always stands for only communism. What I am talking about here started long before Castro. Namely in the Latin form of slavery experience blacks went through there. Just like in Brazil. What happened in the Latin form of slavery was that the catholic church stood between the master and the slave and protected the slave family from being sold away and broken up, executed and so on. In other words, from the beginning there was some kind of psychological escape for the slave. They were defined as human beings. In America they were solidly defined as property, as things you could destroy and execute and sell away. In my opinion this has never completely left the American awareness. So out of that came a totally different post-slavery society in Cuba. And that we felt - my son sitting there went with me to Cuba - we felt the minute we went down the streets in Havana. Every group of persons we saw of let's say more than 5 people would be totally integrated white and black. Every neighborhood was totally integrated. There were none - or at least seemed to be none - of these guilt-fear-tangles in the white mind we know so well from all American whites and none of the anger-hostility-patterns, we know from American blacks. They got along completely like this (demonstrating with folded fingers).
In fact - two
summers ago a Cuban black was translating my show into Spanish. And
afterwards he then asked me "Shouldn't I do the narration also?"
And then I - with all my American racism - said: "No, you can't
do that, because I have made my show for whites and I say "we
whites" all the time in the show. And people can of course hear
that you have a black accent."
You know, in America, as racism lessened up until 1975, the gap between inner city black and suburban white speech was gradually reduced. But after 1975, when racism started get worse in America again, black speech now became more different from white speech, studies show. So we grew more and more different from each other again. So in other words, the more oppression you have in society, the more the people you oppress become different from yourself. This is something we know from anti-Semitism also. Back in old Russia and Eastern Europe the Jews were extremely different from the gentile population. Anybody could tell a Jew on a miles' distance. In this country here we can hardly tell the difference from a Jew and a gentile any longer. Anti-Semitism is so much less here and therefore we become so much more alike each other. And this is also answering your question earlier: once you have not so much oppression, then we of course become all "mainstream". I hate to say "white", so let's say mainstream in whatever society we are living in.
So are the implications of this? Well, I went to the hospitals in Cuba and checked with doctors and nurses and found this out. That blacks do not have a higher incidence of high blood pressure rates in Cuba than whites do. You know, this is the case in America due to stress, tension, anger, racism, self-destructive eating habits among blacks, they suffer a tremendously high incidence of high blood pressure rate which kills them much faster than whites. But that was not the case in Cuba.
So with this knowledge I went to the universities and found out that blacks and whites enter in the same proportion in the first grade as they come out on the university level. There was nobody falling behind like we see it in America. There were no affirmative action programs, test were written so that you cannot tell who is black and who is white.
Wow, that was choking news to me! Why? Well, one thing I have noticed. When I get letters from many of my poor black friends in America I am astonished to how bad they often write. The oppressed mind cannot verbalize itself very well in written form. Again something we noticed if we went to integrated school.......and we blamed the victim for that. But why was I choked? Shouldn't I have known all this? Of course I should. I have learned a lot about oppression in this society, but no matter how much you know about oppression, no matter how liberal you are in your thinking - I could explain all of this to anybody in my travels at least here in more recent years - after all it took me some years to understand all this. But if you live as long as I have in a society like America where all you see around you - on the average - is this black defeat, black failure rate, then deep down in your guts you do the same as all other white and black Americans do. You start developing these lingering fears or feelings, that somehow because of some inherent deficiency in blacks they can't make it - no matter how much you intellectually understand about oppression. And suddenly when I came to a society which at least on that level was free I realized how racist I had become in America.....by seeing my own chock when I was told that the blacks are not falling behind there, have no problems writing or verbalizing themselves. Gee, that is a scary discovery, because I knew very well, that if you have that type of racism in you where you somehow deepest down expect a group to fail, well, then you can rest assured that you are going to - in your everyday behavior, your signals, the messages you send out to black children in that society - send them the crushing message "You are not going to make it in this society" And they are going to pick up those messages and therefore they internalize them and don't make it. We know it from teachers everywhere in the world: the expectations a teacher has of a child is the image the child adopts of itself and therefore becomes as a result of that oppression. Everywhere in the world we see that.
So through my racism I had helped to force millions of blacks into ghettos and therefore ultimately into prison in this society. I promised myself then never again to blame any Ku Klux Klan person for that process. It is so important that we understand our own racism and responsibility and this is not easy before you compare with other societies.
Tape change: Missing "Is there any racism left?"
We will get back and talk more generally about all this in the end, but what I am here trying to do is through a serious of arguments to come to a heightened awareness and understand of these problems and then it is easier to talk about it in the end.
will now just go to another Caribbean country for a second. Two years
ago I went to Jamaica and what very soon interested me there was not
so much the Jamaicans - they were certainly beautiful people - but
how we as whites react to them. What I very soon found in Jamaica
is that it is a very popular tourist spot - especially for racist
whites. How many of you have been to Jamaica, for instance? :-) ......Ok,
now you don't dare to say it. (laughter).
But actually this shows us some hope. What is the hope? Any foreigner who comes into America and sees blacks solidly locked up in ghettos almost everywhere in the country would come to the conclusion: "White Americans must be evil or bad people. Why else do they lock blacks up like this?" No way, we are not bad people and we don't really dislike blacks. The hope we get here lies in the fact that we want to go to Jamaica to make friends with blacks. So we don't really dislike blacks. What we dislike are the people we have hurt with our racism. Nobody said it better than Tacitus: "It is human nature to hate the one you have hurt." We have hurt the American black intensely and therefore we end up disliking so many aspects in black Americans. At the same time we want to hold on to our liberal ideas up here (pointing) and out of our guilt we then go to societies where we can somehow get along with blacks because we have not shaped them with our racism to alleviate our guilt. Very important.
The fear patterns I also observed in white Americans going to Jamaica. Remember that we earlier talked about the guilt-fear tangle in the white mind defining modern racism. I talked to quite a few white American women who traveled all over in this black island of Jamaica - even hitchhiking around. But when I asked them: "Would you ever walk down the streets in New York or Los Angeles at night?" No way would they. We fear those we have hurt. And the fear is so intense that we can't separate valid fears from invalid fears.
And therefore I will just talk a bit about those fears, because we can't talk about racism in America without addressing the white fear of crime, the white fear of blacks. It is very hard to talk about this since we have all in so many ways been hurt by crime. So what I will do here for a little while - without taking questions on this - is to describe a white woman I had in a workshop. And then through her reaction try all of you to test your own reaction to see how racist you are, when I talk about her now. She had grown up in Iowa in a place where she had hardly ever met in blacks and therefore she didn't think she was racist. Well, as we now have learned, you grow up racist no matter where you grow up in America. The media and everything around you will make sure that you end up giving into racism. One day she went to New York and did the classical mistake of people coming from the Midwest. She got on the subway and off at the so-called wrong stop. So all of a sudden she was in Harlem of all places. And I think it was even in broad daylight. She then described the feeling she had when she walked out there in a totally black environment. She was totally paralyzed with fear - all kinds of weird emotions came up in her - and she kept using the word sickness about how she felt and even started vomiting. Here we see just how sick the white mind is......just from being in a slightly different place in America an otherwise totally healthy, bright student start reacting like this. Did she have any valid reason to feel like this? No, no, basically not. What whites have never realized is that whites are far safer in black areas than whites are. Everywhere in the world we see that the oppressed people take their anger out more readily on each other than on their perceived oppressor. I very soon realized that in my travels and therefore felt safe in black areas for the most part.
But I will now give you another description of this situation so you can better see that this is the case. Up in Cornell University every year I do this show for freshman orientation and usually it is the black students who are organizing it. So they put me up in the black dormitories called "Ujamaa." And one day all the black students had a big meeting there and they invited me to be an observer. I decided to take one of my white friends with me who had worked on getting rid of her racism for two years. I felt she was somewhat healthy. But she later told me that when she walked into that room of only black students there, she felt totally "frozen". She felt guilt and resentment and fear.....all kinds of weird feelings came up and controlled her - literally paralyzing her. But what struck me was that her words were almost completely similar to the words of the woman walking into Harlem. She was incapable of functioning in that totally black environment. Everywhere in America I hear from black students that if they are just three black male students in a classroom and a white student happen to walk in, that student very soon easy his way out again.
Talking about the white woman who walked into Harlem, you see that it was the same feelings these two women had when walking into these two situations. But no sane American is going to tell me that any rational white person has any reason to be afraid of black Ivy League students. It is just ridiculous. Yet it was the same feelings of fear that paralyzed both of them. So that is why I say that we can separate valid fears from invalid fears when it comes to racism. We have been so deeply hurt and mistreated in our upbringing that any black man is going to immediately strike up fear in us.
- Well, I can see your point. But just look at the statistics and the number of criminals. They are certainly biased against blacks. And that is what we hear about, the crime.
- Well, I am not blind to that fact. I was held up at gunpoint 4 times by some young blacks. Luckily it was one of my first experiences I had in America. But even more luckily I had already been through a different experience first since the first American home I lived in was a black home. The minute I came to this country I was invited in to a black home on the Southside of Chicago. And that was so important, I understand today. Most white Europeans who come to America hear these things from whites: "Don't walk two blocks this way or three blocks that way and that is how we cripple them with fear so they can never have a healthy relationship to blacks ever after.
is true that there is a disproportional rate of crime among blacks,
but don't forget that the vast majority of that is black on black
as a result of all this anger and self-hatred we looked at over here
before. It does strike fear in us, but only 5% of all crime in America
is interracial. And that includes white on black crime.
That workshop in Smith College where I
had the white woman from Iowa, whom we talked about before, I had two
Danish friends with me. And it was so funny, just the night before I had
just picked them up in JFK - I get so tired of all this driving in
America, so I often invite Danes with me to help drive. To avoid that
they would get a jet-lag I took them out bar hopping to keep them awake
as late as possible. I forgot to tell them where I was going since I
usually live in Harlem, when I am around, and therefore don't think of
it as a special place. So we went bar hopping in Harlem and later it
struck me how they had constantly burst out saying: "Wow, how wonderful
Americans are.... how open they are..... how loving, how hospitable they
It is so obviuous to see in South Africa. For years blacks wanted freedom in that society, but whites did not want to give it to them. Why? Because the crime rate is tremendous in black South Africa and therefore whites would come to the conclusion and tell each other that there is no way we can ever give those people power to run our society. Well, What they just needed to do was to look across the border to the independent black African nations in Zimbabwe etc. and they would find that the crime rate there comparatively was much lower than South African black crime. So there is a clear correlation between oppression and the level of crime you have in a society. Right now you have to lock up more people behind bars in America than any other society on earth per capita.
I think it might be fair to say that you can measure the level of oppression in a soecity through the extent you have to lock up people in that society. It is not popular these days to talk about political prisoners and it might also be too emotional a statement, but to some degree I would say that that is an expression you could use to describe the situation in America. One reason it is wrong is that it sounds like I am taking away responsibility from people. I am not trying to do that. We do have responsibilities. But when we see a whole group of people act out in such patterns consistently, instead of locking up that group more and more effectively, we must start looking at some of the causes behind that factor. And that is what you are not doing in America right now. We are ending up in more and more oppression.
Anyway, I have taken you on a journey through some foreign countries here. And I would just like to talk about one more foreign country, namely Northern Ireland, because there you see it so clearly also. When I walked around in a Catholic ghetto in Belfast, for the first time in my life I felt: "Wow, this is completely the same gut feeling I have as when I walk around in a black ghetto in the United States." What I saw was dirt and litter in the streets, higher crime rates, high unemployment rates etc. So similar to the American ghetto picture. But how do they discriminate in that society? There are all white people. There is no way you can tell the difference between them - the Protestants and the Catholics. Well, if they meet each other - and that is getting harder and harder for them to do, because they did not work on their oppression in time. Ten years there were still integrated neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. Since then they have been forced and bombed away from each other. But if they meet each other on the bus, they will listen carefully to how this or that person pronounces a "b" or an "a". And if it is pronounced this or that way he or she must be coming from that neighborhood and be a Protestant or Catholic. Well, we know that Protestants and Catholics can easily get along in other societies, but in that society they can't. The minute they hear that this person belongs to the other group, they can't get along. As a result of all the messages they got about each other from early childhood they loose their freedom to react in a healthy way to each other.
So it is so evident and clear that we are talking about oppression here - not race, not color or anything like that - a type of oppression everybody all over the world can end up in. It is just so important that we keep these things in mind when we talk about these issues. So I brought you to some foreign countries to give you a better understanding of how our system is working in America and locking us all up. Any questions now?
- Well, I see now that there are no simple solutions.....
- No, that is why I take you through several hours of this. I sometimes get the question in the intermission of my show: "So what is the solution?"
- But what can we really do?
Well, it is good that I didn't get that question before now. That means you are serious about this. You are willing to reach out for some higher awaremess before you feel you can ask that question. But it is clear that we have all been deeply mistreated in childhood and this shows itself in this Bell curve I drew here. And therefore a quarter of Americans kids are now coming out of high school functionally illiterate. So something is deffinitely wrong here.
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