Go back 

On the pain of adjusting
to a segregated society


Dear Jacob Holdt: 
I mean dear when I say this. I can only attempt to express to you my feelings I have for you after you have given so much of yourself, your experiences, your sadness, your understandable joy in travels through the lives of those precious people you present in American Pictures. I know what sweeps one into the communities you have accepted into your life. The fears that keep others separate from the vitality and joy and pain of the lives of the underclass is all that keeps this world from itself, separated. But for me it hasn't been the fear to enter the poor's homes and thoughts; it is the revolt against those I perceive as the cause of oppression that tears me apart. I see my own fears that keep me separate from these people. 

I was raised in an affluent community, Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. My mother raised seven children and my father spent so much of his life working to bring his children and wife the best he could offer that she was the main force remaining to raise us. Instilled in me was that all people are equal; obviously not so literally, but in the Christian tradition. My time spent in Detroit was significant, but somehow I never lost my compassion for those enslaved in the ghetto. But because we had less money than others, I noticed that I was treated differently from the very rich in my own neighborhood (not the majority but the few elite). From this I developed genuine contempt for those who I perceived as selfish, out of touch, isolated. I was rich in family and all the friends that surrounded our family, so I always felt as a part of the masses, and privileged to have had all that is granted from this environment. In my heart I begrudged the very rich because I never saw them entering the ghetto to help the women, as I did (though so little). My own brother was attacked on the streets of Detroit and when seeking help, the blacks didn't lift a finger, but this was his experience and I always felt very fortunate to have not experienced this myself; I understand his prejudice and where it comes from. My sheltered life (sheltered from violence from the outer world) has permitted me to retain the ideals that I was raised with, and surrounded by all the personalities and life of a large family has forced me to accept differences (though not always peaceably). 

I work for two men, both surgeons, both saving lives during crisis. Their stresses are great. One I see committed to women (breast cancer surgeon) to such a depth that I can only love him deeply -- he is a defender and teacher for me. The other is a right winged, Evangelist from Texas. Life deals such extremes when one's own life energies are extreme. It is this second surgeon who taunts my soul (or better put, I taunt my soul). I think his brilliance could surely deliver him from his prejudices. But not even the greatest mind can offset the prejudices we are conditioned with from experience. It has been a struggle for me as we do argue about religion, social governmental affairs, etc. and always are we at odds. My intent is to change him and I know through experience "words just don't shake it". The mind resists. After feelings of infuriation that develop through arguments and after my own hatred surfaces to my consciousness, I realize I must return to this man once again for my daily work; but moreso I must face myself. It is in this returning that I have come to realize that my only escape from myself (this reality that I feel these horrible emotions toward him) is to turn around and say he is my reflection. It is not easy to fully grasp or accept this. But when I accept him back into my heart I feel like a whole person who somehow has groped my way up a sheer cliff. You know what it feels like when you can overcome your own prejudices. I am yet not a master of myself, but after all is said and done, I thank God he is in my environment because I see myself grow. 
Tonight I entered your show with a man who carries with him the same nature as I. He wants to defeat those forces that oppress him. His anger is damp and strong. It is hard to be with him because he evokes those same feelings in me just by being with him; yet another mountain. So he didn't make it through the entire four hours of your show. I saw his leaving as my responsibility and I don't feel that I did, what was necessary to have him stay - guilt is one great legacy passed down to me. But I do feel responsible. I guess I feel stuck in being effective in changing other's attitude; my own are all I have power over. 

Your presentation has evoked great sadness in my heart. I feel for you and your friends greatly. I feel for me greatly. I wasn't free from the anxiety toward the end of sitting through four hours of pain. But I know one thing for sure, when I want to run away this is the critical time to stay. This is the time that there is something right smack in my face that my mind knows is contrary to my thinking. I realize that I behave as the oppressor toward my boss, or anyone who behaves outside of my acceptable limits. I want to stop them and shake them and more. So I am far from above than as I sometimes would like to think. 

So thanks for illuminating that so well. I know that when you operate from your true self, and continue to push for the truth, a momentum builds. You must realize that you have strengthened my sense of commitment. 

I am now just beginning a relationship with a man who is very wealthy. It scares the hell out of me because of my attitudes that make me want to run in the other direction. I am afraid that I will blow it and expose him to the critical side of me. I am afraid that I will be distracted from my life's direction and get too comfortable. He told me to think of him as poor and his is my best crutch for now. Hopefully this will stay our relationship before I run off, away from myself. 

Somehow I feel that even though these are a lot of words, you appreciate hearing from me. Sure it is a struggle to move toward loving ourselves, but I want you to know that your strength has added to my strength. 

Thank you so much and I love you too, 

Copyright © 1997 AMERICAN PICTURES; All rights reserved.
American Pictures - reviews