Friday, October 31, 2008

The Inner Sanctuary, Part 3: Decide to Beat the Curve

Helplessness kills.

Learned helplessness means that people die unnecessarily. "Learned helplessness" is a well-established psychological principle offered as a model to explain depression and apathy. Basically, it's when people conclude that they are powerless, and that their life choices have no bearing on the outcomes in their lives. This leads to people choosing to submit to apathy and external circumstances.

This attitude leads to having a stunted, diminished life. It also leads to death.

In his book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber describes a lab experiment on rats that demonstrates the way helplessness can influence the course of cancer:

. . . rats were grafted with the exact quantity of cancer cells known to induce a fatal tumor in 50% of them. In this experiment, the rats were divided into three groups. In the first group, the control group, the animals received the graft but were not manipulated in any other way. In the second group, the rats were given small electric shocks, which they could learn to evade by pushing on a lever in their cage. The animals in the third group were also given electric shocks but were not provided with an escape mechanism.

The results, published in Science, were very clear: One month after the graft, 63% of the rats that had received shocks but had learned to avoid some of them by pressing a lever had rejected the tumor. The rejection rate in this group was higher than in the control group (which had not undergone shocks), in which only 54% of the animals had rejected the cancerous cells. On the other hand, only 23% of those animals subjected to the electric shock with no means of escape managed to overcome their cancer. . . The lesson of this study is crucial: It isn't stress itself---the 'electric shocks' life inevitably gives---that promotes cancer development; it is the persistent perception of helplessness the individual has that affects the body's reaction to the disease." Anticancer: A New Way of Life, pgs. 136-137.

If we are honest, we must admit that there is a LOT of learned helplessness among Black people. If we are honest, we must admit that much of what passes for Black political thought encourages learned helplessness. If we are honest, we must admit that much of our "common wisdom" reflects learned helplessness.

How many times have you heard Black women say things like, "all men cheat"? Or, "ain't no use in getting upset about it"? Or, "it's never going to change"? Or, "there's nothing I can do about it"? So many Black women have openly resigned themselves to defeat. In so many ways. No matter what particular topic is the "it" that is being discussed.

Some of you in the silent audience are resisting opening your hearts and minds to new possibilities because you don't want to expend the necessary effort to change your lives. That's fine. God respects free will; and so do I.

However, some of you are resisting opening your hearts and minds to new possibilities because you don't believe that there ARE any other possibilities for your lives. I respectfully submit to you that this belief is the result of learned helplessness. Helplessness that is not required or binding, unless you submit to it. Helplessness that can be unlearned. I believe that it's worthwhile to unlearn helplessness. In addition to diminishing one's quality of life, helplessness kills. Learned helplessness kills people unnecessarily. Survival curves often reflect this reality.

In medicine, a survival curve is a statistical picture of the survival experience of some group of patients in the form of a graph. The graph shows the percentage of patients surviving over time. Medical literature often refers to survival curves. Doctors also use survival curves to estimate a patient's prognosis; by comparing the experiences of other patients in a similar situation who received similar treatments.

There is an example of a survival curve at the beginning of this post. All survival curves have the same asymmetrical shape. Half of the patients' cases are concentrated on the left-hand side of the median. The other half of the patients are on the right side. The median survival time in the above survival curve is 2 years. That means that half the patients lived less than 2 years. The other half lived more than 2 years. Notice that some of the patients on the right side survived SIGNIFICANTLY LONGER than 2 years. Some of the patients were still going strong 12 years later. This is an extremely important life lesson! Especially when thinking about your own chances for victory in life when confronted with negative statistics, negative advice, and negative examples.

In the book, Dr. Servan-Schreiber makes a very important point about these survival curves:

"[These curves] don't distinguish between people who are satisfied with passively accepting the medical verdict and those who mobilize their own natural defenses. In the same 'median' are found those who go on smoking, who continue to expose themselves to other carcinogenic substances. . . who continue to sabotage their immune defenses with too much stress and poor management of their emotions, or who abandon their bodies by depriving them of physical activity. And within this 'median' are those who LIVE MUCH LONGER. This is most likely because, along with the benefits of the conventional treatments they receive, they have somehow galvanized their natural defenses." Anticancer: A New Way of Life, pg. 15 (emphasis added).

In other words, the people who live much longer tend to be those who decide to actively resist having the "average" and "median" outcome. People who decide to do whatever they can to BEAT THE CURVE.

Have you decided to beat the curve? Whatever the "curve" happens to be?

When you hear negative statistics (for example, such as 70% of Black women being unmarried), do you resign yourself to being among the "average" or the "median"? Have you learned to be helpless in the face of negative statistics? And negative advice? And negative examples?

Or do you decide that there's NO good reason why YOU can't be on the victorious side of the curve, too?

Are you willing to find out what the people on the winning side of the curve have in common?

Are you willing to find out what the people on the winning side of the curve did?

Wishful thinking will NOT enable you to beat the curve. You're going to have to work at it. Are you willing to work to beat the curve?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Inner Sanctuary, Part 2: Life Instead of Death

During the Inner Slum/Inner Sanctuary series we've talked about inner, mental slums filled with dirt, noise, and chaos. We've also talked about the polar opposite of the inner slum: the inner sanctuary. We've described many of the qualities of an inner sanctuary. We've noted that an inner sanctuary is a place of peace, renewal, and excellence. It has calm instead of chaos. Renewal instead of stagnation. Excellence instead of mental squalor.

But we haven't yet discussed the most important aspect of an inner sanctuary:

An inner sanctuary is a place that literally promotes LIFE instead of DEATH.

I've been reading a fascinating book entitled Anticancer: A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. Dr. Servan-Schreiber is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and cofounder of the Center for Integrative Medicine. He is also a survivor of brain cancer. I've read several books and articles that discuss the mind-body connection. There is a consensus that emotional states can affect physiological processes such as the immune system (the body's defense against infection and disease). These physiological processes then affect one's health. A factsheet prepared by the U.S. National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute states that:

"The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones, such as epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and cortisol (also called hydrocortisone). The body produces these stress hormones to help a person react to a situation with more speed and strength. Stress hormones increase blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Small amounts of stress are believed to be beneficial, but chronic (persisting or progressing over a long period of time) high levels of stress are thought to be harmful." Psychological Stress and Cancer: Questions and Answers, pg. 1.

How many of us are living with chronic, prolonged stress? Are you living with chronic, prolonged stress? If so, for how long?

If so, how much longer are you willing to live like this? For the rest of your life?

Are you willing to learn to think differently to reduce the amount of stress in your life? Are you willing to learn to act differently to reduce the amount of stress in your life? Are you willing to learn to live differently to reduce the amount of stress in your life?

The factsheet goes on to note that, "Stress that is chronic can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, and various other illnesses." In the context of cancer, Dr. Servan-Schreiber states that:

"It usually takes anywhere from five to forty years for the 'seed' of cancer in the form of a cellular anomaly to become a detectable cancerous tumor. This seed is born in a healthy cell due to abnormal genes, or much more commonly, exposure to radiation, environmental toxins, or other carcinogens . . . No psychological factor by itself has ever been identified as being capable of creating that cancer seed. However, certain reactions to psychological stress can profoundly influence the soil in which the seed develops. . . These situations don't spark cancer, but, as an article published in Nature Reviews Cancer in 2006 observes, we know today that they can give it an opportunity to grow faster. . . . The factors contributing to cancer are so numerous and varied that no one should ever blame themselves or feel guilty for developing this disease." Anticancer: A New Way of Life, pg. 132.

I'm really happy that Dr. Servan-Schreiber emphasized that last part about not blaming ourselves for illnesses. I think that's an extremely important point. We can learn how to live differently, and learn how to treat ourselves better without blaming ourselves.

About 6 years ago, I decided to learn how to live differently, and treat myself better. I was having chest pains. I went in for a series of cardiac stress tests. Including the one where they inject a nuclear isotope into you so that it can travel around inside your body, and scan the inside of your heart. Praise God, it turned out that stress is all it was. I spent some time going to work with nitroglycerin pills dangling from a medical necklace. My doctor insisted that I keep them with me like that, "just in case." Just in case I had any further sudden chest pains while waiting to take my scheduled tests. I barely resisted the urge to sarcastically ask her if I should look into getting my own cardiac defibrillator.

My cousin was dying of cancer. Many of my relatives were displaying the same sort of inappropriate behavior surrounding her illness that they did with my aunt. [I described this during Part 1 of True Fellowship.] There were some spectacularly unpleasant things going on at work. That was a point in my life when I realized that I needed to make some changes. No, I haven't achieved a Dalai Lama state of mental chill. But, I've made some changes and have gotten better at handling certain types of things.

Are you willing to make some changes?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Postscript on Ladies, We are on our Own Post, or Charity Begins at Home, Part 3

I plan to return to the Inner Sanctuary series soon. But before doing so, I'd like to make some final observations about the blog discussion I referenced in the most recent post.

Well . . . as of today (10/29/08), the immigrant Muslim has returned to the blog A Singular Voice to tell us complaining, ungrateful Black folks the following:

"The 'immigrant' community cares a lot for the African-American brothers and sisters and has given millions of dollars for the spread of Islam in your community. I don't think African-Americans have a better friend than 'immigrant' Muslims and I don't think that you can find a single Muslim leader that would disagree with that notion. We want to protect your communities and make sure they flourish, but it is complainers like yourself [referring to the blog host, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad] that hold things back. The anger shown by people like you make you look very ungrateful for all the help provided to your community and it makes the relationship worse."

A few final thoughts about this episode:

The fact that this individual feels comfortable coming to a Black Muslim blog with this message demonstrates the servile nature of many orthodox Black Muslim men. Very, very few Muslim Black men responded to this individual's original insulting comment. Their cringing silence is what emboldened him to return to say the above. In a way, I'm happy that he said this out loud. It brings several things out into the open.

First, it's very important to note that this immigrant Muslim carefully avoided responding to the points raised by several REAL MEN like Victor "Ensayn" Amenta, blog host of Ensayn Reality - Journal (which is listed on my sidebar). The immigrant Muslim scurried away from Mr. Amenta's comment. This is what happens when human roaches encounter a REAL MAN. A real man is a quality man who protects and provides for his family.

What the Muslim-named, Black eunuchs don't understand (or never knew) is that there is POWER inherent in righteous masculinity. There is POWER in a REAL MAN firmly speaking the truth. He doesn't have to raise his voice, or get physical, etc. Human roaches know that it's best for them not to confront a real man firmly speaking the truth. It's really that simple. I've seen this fact demonstrated many times over by the real men that I've been blessed to have in my life.

This is why it's so important for Black women to start choosing REAL, QUALITY MEN, and stop grading Black men on a curve. Even the "passive" benefits that accrue from choosing a Quality Man to be one's husband and the father of one's children are priceless.

Second, this illustrates that as a people, African-Americans must learn to do a better job of screening so-called allies. We are much too quick to let other people (especially other so-called people of color) latch on to our civil right infrastructure for their own benefit. This episode illustrates the point I hoped to make with the Charity Begins at Home series.

We better wake up and start looking our for our own interests.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ladies, We are on our Own: Help is NOT on the Way

From the Department of Help is NOT on the Way:

Here's the link to an exchange I (and a handful of others) recently had with an immigrant Muslim. Basically, this individual feels free to come to a Black Orthodox Muslim site to tell us that immigrant Muslims' problems are more worthy of Black people's attention than our own.

I'm posting this to emphasize a point that ALL Black women need to understand, in order to LITERALLY save our own lives and our children's lives:

We are on our own. Help is NOT on the way from the vast majority of Black men. No matter what the problem consists of. Be it disrespect from outsiders (like the above example), violent crime, or anything else that might affect us and our children.
The vast majority of Black men are slaves. By definition, a slave cannot protect anything or anyone other than his master. By definition, a slave knows better than to even try to protect anything or anyone other than his master's interests.

All across this planet, whenever a Black man encounters any other type of man, the Black man will almost always submit to the other man's will. Sadly, this includes Muslim Black men. Don't believe the hype about Muslim Black men. They are as servile as the rest. Ironically, the Muslim Black men with the highest probability of standing up are the ones that we "orthodox" Muslims often denounce as "cult" members: the men of the Nation of Islam.

I'm pulling the cover off of this situation because I know that many Black women are still under the mistaken belief that Muslim Black men can be counted upon to defend Black women and children. This is one example of how "orthodox" African-American Muslims are riding the coattails of the Nation of Islam's good works among Black folks.

I will admit that in responding to the immigrant Muslim, I broke my own vow to NOT carry the burden of Black folks' collective fate on my back. It's NOT my job as a woman to do that. Carrying all of the burdens for the so-called Black community is killing Black women. We need to stop doing this. For the most part, I have stopped doing this.

In this case, I made an exception and responded because: (1) the immigrant's statement was intolerable; (2) I know that others may not have the facts at their fingertips that I sometimes have; and (3) I knew that very few, if any, Muslim Black men (other than the blog host) would stand up to this Arab/Pakistani. So far, it looks like a "grand" total of 4 men (including the blog host) stood up to this arrogant immigrant Muslim. Despite the fact that I politely called them out about their cringing silence.

I am not surprised.

I am not calling attention to this to stoke anger against Black men. The situation is what it is. I am emphasizing this point to make it clear that we are on our own. I'm saying this to encourage all of us to assume full responsibility for saving our own lives.

Currently, Black women are on our own. It does NOT have to remain that way. The first step to a better life for ourselves is to stop hitching our fate to Black men! Black men have long since disconnected from Black women and Black children. If you look at the A Singular Voice site, you'll find a post where the host is trying to tell other Black men that purchasing mail order Arab wives from Morocco is not the answer. Black men are not waiting for us. We should stop waiting for them, and move on.

There are many other loving and lovable men in this country, and on this planet. There are other types of men who are able and willing to be honorable husbands, protectors, and providers for us. Spread the word to the rest of our sisters that they need to: (1) STOP socializing in all-Black settings; and (2) STOP limiting themselves to only considering Black men as potential husbands. The sooner more Black women take these two steps, the sooner our lives will drastically improve.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dance Concert: "African Flower" by the Savage Jazz Dance Company

Reginald Ray-Savage is the founder of the Savage Jazz Dance Company.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

True Fellowship, Part 2: Breaking Bread

This essay is contained in my new book. I'm delighted to announce that The Sojourner's Passport site has launched! You can visit it at

Everyone, I can't thank you enough for your ongoing encouragement and support; I truly appreciate it. Your support is what made this possible. And here's a special shout-out to my web designers at Educo Web Design. They're nice people to deal with, and they do outstanding work!

Peace and blessings,
Khadija Nassif

Saturday, October 18, 2008

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month -- Get Your Yearly Mammogram!

The colleague that I mentioned in a guest post that Hagar's Daughter was gracious enough to publish in June died this week.

Get your yearly mammogram and do the monthly self-exams.

It has taken me several days to get my head together (sort-of, kind-of) about her passing. She was in her early 40s. So many Black folks are dropping like flies. So many of us never get the chance to get old, as was the norm for our parents' generation. There has been an outpouring of grief at the court building where she was last assigned. My colleague was a prosecutor. I first met her over 10 years ago while we were on opposing sides in a case. She was one of the sweetest people I've ever known. You were (temporarily-LOL!) a better person while in her presence. Somehow, you just didn't feel comfortable talking about people when she was around. Even talking about individuals who deserved it. Like the individuals who were screwing her over in her office. Get your yearly mammogram and do the monthly self-exams.

At work, we've had numerous conversations about looking after our health after each gesture of support we've organized over the last 6 months (video messages from colleagues, a journal that we passed around and wrote letters to her in, etc.). I've heard many, many female colleagues say, "Yeah . . . I really should schedule my yearly mammogram. I haven't had one in years." As of this week (after her passing), these women STILL haven't had their mammograms, nor have they scheduled them; and they're not doing the monthly self-examinations.

Get your yearly mammogram and do the monthly self-exams.

It's important to note that men can also get breast cancer. "Shaft" star Richard Roundtree survived a battle with male breast cancer. Breast cancer in men most commonly appears as a lump, like the one that Mr. Roundtree promptly had examined by a doctor. Gentlemen, pay attention to your bodies and have any mysterious changes or lumps checked out by your doctor.

Get your yearly mammogram and do the monthly self-exams.

Find out what you can do to reduce your odds of developing cancer. I'm reading a book titled "Anticancer: A New Way of Life" by David Servan-Schreiber. I'll do a book review post after I've finished reading it.

Get your yearly mammogram and do the monthly self-exams.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dance Concert: Solo From The Long Road, by the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre

Protect Your Stake in the Process: Vote Early

Several people that I greatly respect and admire have asked me (and many others) to participate in "get out the vote" efforts. After much thought and prayer, I decided to comply with these requests.

My initial reluctance comes from the ill-advised manner in which Black folks have made a fetish of voting. We have made the idea of voting an object of unreasonably excessive reverence. We are as deluded as the Iraqis proudly holding up their purple fingers after voting under an occupation-imposed puppet government. Their purple-stained fingers did not magically convert occupied Iraq into a functioning democracy. Millions of people around the planet have voted while still living under the heels of brutal tyrants.

Black folks need to grow up politically, and face the following realities: MUCH more than simply voting is required in order to have a functioning democracy. A functioning democracy needs to have a combination of practices in place. These practices are often referred to as "the rule of law."

Some concepts associated with "the rule of law" include: The principle that governmental authority is exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws. The principle that these laws are adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedural steps. The idea that everyone is equal before the law. The idea that nobody is above the law. The idea that people who have been arrested have the right to be told what crimes they are accused of, and to request that their custody be reviewed by independent, judicial authority.

Keep in mind that none of this guarantees that the laws will be just. This only guarantees that there will be a PROCESS other than following the whims of a tyrant, or following mob rule. Having a process is extremely important. Having a real process in place makes it possible for people to work toward having just laws.

Other reasons for my initial resistance to engaging in "get out the vote" efforts are the emotional trickbags that are often used during these efforts.

I'm really weary of hearing people claim that "people died so we could vote." Black people didn't "die so we could vote." They died because racist White people murdered them. This "died so we could vote" phrase makes their murderers invisible. This phrase makes the fact that they were brutally murdered invisible. This phrase makes it sound as if our martyrs were killed by some impersonal process---almost as if they were plague victims.

I'm also weary of our inability to see that our martyrs intended for voting to be a tool of liberation and empowerment. They did NOT intend for voting to be an end in itself, which is how we currently view it. Instead of using our votes as simply one tool among others, we make hysterical appeals to register and vote during every election season. After the election is over, we promptly slip back into our collective coma until the next election.

So, I am not encouraging you to vote early if possible, because "Black people died so you could vote." I am not encouraging you to vote early so that you can vote for any particular candidate. I have no confidence whatsoever in the so-called "mainstream" candidates. I am not encouraging you to vote early because, "We're going back to slavery if you don't vote." [Which is the emotional undercurrent to many Black folks' "get out the vote" appeals.]

I am encouraging you to vote early in order to protect our collective stake in having a process in place. If you look at the concepts associated with "the rule of law," you can see that the very idea of a real process in this country has been nearly destroyed during the Bush reign. "The process" is on life support right now. I think that it's in everyone's interests to do what we can to nurse it back to health. One step is to support candidates who are most likely to enact laws in support of having a real process. Another step is to support organizations and initiatives that resist efforts to destroy the process. I believe that the "Steal Back Your Vote" campaign is an initiative that deserves our support. You can find out more at You can visit to find out if your state allows early voting.

Suggested Reading: Consider the similarities between Black folks' concept of voting and cargo cults; specifically the Pacific Island cargo cults formed during WWII.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Art of Majesty, Part 2: The Imploding Black Middle Class

For the past 30 years, those of us born and bred (B & B) into the Black middle class have done everything we can to systematically lower ourselves in dignity, significance, and finally, economic rank.

And it has worked!

A story from the Washington Post dated November 13, 2007 ("Middle-Class Dream Eludes African American Families") describes the situation. Let's consider some quotes from the article. [My responses are in blue.]

"Nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults, according to a new study -- a perplexing finding that analysts say highlights the fragile nature of middle-class life for many African Americans."

It's "fragile" because of our own incompetence and foolishness. Others do much better at maintaining their station in life.

"Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 -- a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars -- grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners, with a median family income of $23,100. Only 16 percent of whites experienced similar downward mobility. . . [The researchers were startled] that so many Blacks fell out of the middle class to the bottom of the income distribution in one generation."

A fool and his money are soon parted.

"Ronald B. Mincy, a Columbia University economist and professor of social welfare policy who has focused on the growing economic peril confronted by black men and who served as an adviser on the Pew project, said skeptical researchers repeatedly reviewed the findings before concluding they were statistically accurate."

Denial is a "b." Especially when simply looking around would confirm the findings.

"'There is a lot of downward mobility among African Americans,' Mincy said. 'We don't have an explanation.'"

Wait for it. . . You know it's coming. Somebody's going to (at least partially) blame racism.

"Mincy and others speculated that the increase in the number of single-parent black households, continued educational gaps between blacks and whites and even racial isolation that remains common for many middle-income African Americans could be factors. 'That's a stunner,' said Orlando Patterson, a Harvard University sociologist, when told about the Pew finding. 'These kids were middle class, but apparently their parents did not have the cultural capital and connections to pass along to them.'"

Yeah. . . It's hard to maintain anything when people are emulating the attitudes and lifestyles of the Black underclass. But I'll get to that later in this post.

Social Climbing With One Foot in a Ditch

I could excessively lace this post with qualifying words like "many"," some", "often," etc. but I won't. At some point, we need to be able to stop walking on eggshells and talk shop with each other. We all understand at the outset that I'm speaking in generalities and that not everything applies to everybody within a group. However, there is a big picture that we need to consider. So, with this in mind, let's continue.

I mentioned in Part 1 of this series that B & Bs have issues with material things, just not the same ones as dysfunctional strivers. Dysfunctional strivers try to use material things as magic totems that will grant them entry, and make them belong, to the Black middle class. They're hung up on "status marker" items because they don't feel like they truly belong to the middle class. In many cases, they DON'T. I've heard such people referred to as "ghetto." A more listener-friendly version of this put-down is to describe someone as "inappropriate." When the person is extremely out of place (like the striver Black lawyers I've seen use Ebonics in court), they're often called "totally inappropriate."

By contrast, B & Bs' hang-ups about material things mostly revolve around herd-like conformity, fear of "slipping" in perceived rank within the middle class, and fear of damaging one's (hoped for) chances of climbing into the social elite. All of this is based on several misapprehensions of reality. Ironically, the behaviors caused by these hang-ups undermine B & Bs' chances of remaining middle class (much less the notion of being accepted into the elite).

The first failure is the refusal to understand that class is a generational project. Therefore, climbing into the elite is a generational project. Since the entry requirements are less stringent, a poor or working class person can make the leap into the Black middle class. However (for those who care about such matters), a striver who successfully transitions into the middle class will never be considered part of the upper social ranks within this class. The upper social ranks are reserved for born members (B & Bs). This is a bitter pill to swallow for Black strivers.

The entry requirements for the Black elite are more stringent. The elite won't even entertain the notion of accepting someone unless they were born to serious affluence. This is a bitter pill to swallow for social-climbing B & Bs. Most B & Bs refuse to accept that so-called elite social status is closed to us, and something that is only possible for our children. Even in terms of B & Bs' children this possibility only exists with the correct overall preparation, and the correct positioning of the children. Successfully pulling this off requires generational delayed gratification. B & Bs can't engage in this sort of delayed gratification because we're too busy assuaging our own insecurities. While doing so, we damage our own fortunes and diminish (if not outright lose) whatever we have. This is one underlying reason why we're involved in downward mobility.

Because we are focused on trying to gate-crash our way into the Black elite, B & Bs can't even think straight. There are many echoes of dysfunctional striver behaviors. Most B & Bs are so focused on mimicking the elite's surface attributes (and buying similar baubles), that we don't look to see what lies beneath. We don't see that real affluence is based on having GENERATIONS of financial freedom. Financial freedom is several levels above and beyond financial security. Instead of financial freedom, what most B & Bs have is a "good job." B & Bs have to actively work for the money that sustains our lives and lifestyles. The money stops coming in the moment the B & B stops working the job, stops generating billable hours, and stops performing dental/medical procedures. This is a grave problem on several levels.

First, by depending on a single "good job," B & Bs are undermining our own financial security. This behavior violates one of Baltasar Gracian's maxims:

"Double Your Resources. You thereby double your life. One must not depend on one thing or trust to only one resource, however preeminent. Everything should be kept double, especially the causes of success, of favor, or of esteem. . . Thus as nature gives us in duplicate the most important of our limbs and those most exposed to risk, so art should deal with the qualities on which we depend for success." The Art of Worldly Wisdom, pg. 54.

So, not only do we undermine our own financial security, but we ignore one important attribute of the elite: They have assets generating enough passive income to sustain their lifestyles. Having passive income means that you are making money even while you're not working. You're making money while you're asleep or vacationing. Strivers who make it into the Black middle class rarely have any assets that generate passive income. They usually don't own things like stocks, rental properties, or the sorts of businesses that you don't have to personally work at, etc. B & Bs are more likely to have these sorts of things, but we use them as fashion accessories. Or we have them as hobbies. We don't develop these assets to the point where they are able to sustain our lifestyles.

The combined effect of this foolishness makes it impossible to transmit wealth to the next generation. You can't bequeath a "good job" to your children.

We are mostly squandering what we have on looking, dressing, and driving like the Black elite. We are not seriously building passive income, which means that we are not building any serious wealth. We are not building anything to pass on to the next generation.

Imitating the Poor Leads to --- Surprise! Being Poor! Who Knew?!!

Our "good jobs" can't be passed on to our children. It almost doesn't matter. Many of our children can't get or maintain a "good job" because they are emulating the Black underclass. I first found out about this article from Evia's blog. It's entitled "Black Culture Beyond Hip-Hop," and it's from the May 28, 2007 issue of the Washington Post. Here are some quotes. [My reactions are in blue.]

"Despite 40 years of progress since the civil rights movement, in the hip-hop era -- from the late 1970s onward -- black America, uniquely, began receiving its values, aesthetic sensibility and self-image almost entirely from the street up."

I was a teenager at the start of this mess. Many of us knew better. We hated the "music" and its message of self-degradation. We allowed ourselves to be silenced by accusations of being "bourgie. " I will NEVER make this mistake again.

"The historian Paul Fussell notes that for most Americans, it is difficult to 'class sink.' Try to imagine the Chinese American son of oncologists -- living in, say, a New York suburb such as Westchester, attending private school -- who feels subconsciously compelled to model his life, even if only superficially, on that of a Chinese mafioso dealing heroin on the Lower East Side. The cultural pressure for a middle-class Chinese American to walk, talk and act like a lower-class thug from Chinatown is nil. The same can be said of Jews, or of any other ethnic group."

Does anybody else notice how we adopt behavior patterns that are contrary to any known, surviving (much less THRIVING) group of people?

"But in black America the folly is so commonplace it fails to attract serious attention. Like neurotics obsessed with amputating their own healthy limbs, middle-class blacks concerned with 'keeping it real' are engaging in gratuitously self-destructive and violently masochistic behavior."

And then we act surprised to see that we're dropping out of the middle class and into poverty.

"A 2005 study by Roland G. Fryer of Harvard University crystallizes the point: While there is scarce dissimilarity in popularity levels among low-achieving students, black or white, Fryer finds that 'when a student achieves a 2.5 GPA, clear differences start to emerge.' At 3.5 and above, black students 'tend to have fewer and fewer friends,' even as their high-achieving white peers are at the top of the popularity pyramid.' With such pressures to be real, to not 'act white,' is it any wonder that the African American high school graduation rate has stagnated at 70 percent for the past three decades?" (emphasis added)

Sounds like White folks like winners. And we like losers. Maybe we need to get our children away from those who prefer losers, and into another environment? Do ya think?

This isn't the art of majesty. It's the art of debasement.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some Class-Related Reading Materials for The Art of Majesty

Lisa (our visiting correspondent from the Black elite *Smile*) brought up several excellent points that I feel deserve amplification while we discuss the class issues raised by the Art of Majesty series.

One point is the exclusion that is inherent in any elite group. I believe that Black folks often forget that this is a human phenomenon. We often act as if this is some peculiar, distasteful behavior that only rich Black folks engage in. What we're forgetting is that an "elite" is not an elite if anybody can join! Since I've never been a social-climbing sort of "B & B" member of the Black middle class, it has never bothered me that the Black elite practice social exclusion. I've always said, "Let them have their little clubs and cliques unto themselves." Exclusion is an ancient and eternal human practice that often serves a valid purpose. Barbara W. Tuchman wrote a fascinating book about life in 14th century France called A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Wealthy merchants trying to buy their way into the existing nobility, and the nobles' efforts to keep them out is an eternal game:

"Definition increasingly concerned the born nobles in proportion as their status was diluted by the ennoblement of outsiders." pg. 17.

"The upper level of the Third Estate, made up of merchants, manufacturers, lawyers, office-holders, and purveyors to the crown, had nothing left in common with its working-class base except the fact of being non-noble. To overcome that barrier was every bourgeois magnate's aim. While climbing toward ennoblement and a country estate, he emulated the clothes, customs, and values of the nobles and on arriving shared their tax exemption---no small benefit. . . . Nobles and clergy resented the royal favor shown and the opulence allowed to officials chosen from outside their ranks." pg. 157.

Many of us whine about the Black elite's exclusion of, and frequent disdain for, others. I question why people are seeking to cuddle up to such persons in the first place. From my perspective, the problem isn't the Black elite's attitudes toward others. The problem is weak-minded, insecure middle class or nouveau riche people seeking validation and "strokes" from them. Seek validation from God, from true family, and from true friends. NOT from the Black elite.

Another point is a person's relationship with material things. One tell-tale sign of striver-dysfunction (strivers who haven't made the smooth transition into the middle class) is their lack of ease regarding material things. Material things are emotionally charged items for them in a way that most "B & Bs" (born members of the middle class) don't experience. As I've heard it put, a lot of strivers "just aren't 'cool' about stuff." I've heard them described as "frantic" about material things, particularly things that they consider to be status markers. Don't get me wrong, B & Bs have issues when it comes to material things. Just not quite the same issues (or the same motivations behind the issues) as dysfunctional strivers.

It's important to note that there are many poor and working class Black folks who don't have emotionally charged relationships with material things. My grandparents (who were "officially" poor) were examples of this. They would have liked to have been able to provide more for their children, but they didn't have "hang ups" about material things.

This point about people's relationship with material things was mentioned in a book by A'Lelia Bundles called On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker. The author is the great-great-granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker. She talks about what Madam Walker's daughter Lelia found appealing about a man named Wiley Wilson:

"But Lelia's primary focus was her new beau, Wiley Wilson, a pharmacist who was completing his medical studies at Howard University. . . Wiley impressed Lelia, at least in part, because he was not in the least intimidated by her status or her money. Two years her senior, he was the youngest of three dashing, well-educated sons of a successful Arkansas farmer and cattle rancher. His elder brothers, John and Ed, had attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in the 1890s. Then, while Ed was enrolled at Union Theological Seminary, John returned to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and became a sheriff. But after arresting a prominent white man, he was prohibited from apprehending whites. Incensed, he quit the force, purchased a saloon and openly operated two whorehouses. With some of his considerable earnings, he sent Wiley to Howard University's School of Pharmacy, then bankrolled a drugstore for his brother." pg. 245.

"Lelia, however, was so smitten with a man as accustomed to the trappings of wealth as she that she was oblivious to his inadequate attentiveness." pg. 246. (emphasis added)

It's difficult to interact with people who have issues about material things when you don't. Even if you do have issues about material things, it's hard to interact with people who don't have the same sorts of issues.

Another thing that this passage points out is the true origin of any elite family: From ancient times to today, every elite person is descended from either a successful merchant (legal or illegal) or a successful warlord. Over generations, their money "ages," and the family becomes "respectable" to the point that they can then exclude other successful merchants or warlords from their social circles. And so the human cycle continues.

*Readers' Note: Please post comments for this on the Art of Majesty, Part 1 thread. Thank you!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Art of Majesty, Part 1: Avoid the Head Negro in Charge Syndrome

The "mirror for princes" genre was a type of political writing that was very popular during the European Renaissance of the 14th through 17th centuries. These books taught rulers how to behave in order to avoid having reigns that were violent, tragic, and most of all, short. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli is the most famous example of this genre.

Currently, these books are mostly read as a form of self-help literature. Most Blacks have never heard of them. This is a pity. This lack of knowledge is almost always reflected in how many Black folks handle whatever authority they have. Instead of managing our affairs (and those under our command) with the greatness and dignity of a sovereign, we are typically small, tacky, and therefore not respected. I've heard this referred to as the Head Negro in Charge (HNIC) syndrome. My former supervisor is just one unfortunate example of this. I can think of many others. You can too.

I'm reminded of all of this by a point raised by a commenter to an earlier post. She brought up the world of work, and the many negative things that women do to each other in the workplace. Before we go any further, let's consider a few quotes from some mirrors for princes:

"Nothing reveals the quality of a man more than to give him authority and responsibility." Maxims and Reflections, by Francesco Guicciardini, pg. 82.

"Do Not Parade Your Position. To boast about your position is more offensive than personal vanity. . . The more you seek esteem the less you obtain it, for it depends on the opinion of others. You cannot take it, but must earn and receive it from others. . . Those who insist on the dignity of their office, show they have not deserved it, and that it is too much for them. . . If you wish to be valued, be valued for your talents, not for anything obtained by chance. Even kings prefer to be honored for their personal qualifications rather than for their station." The Art of Worldly Wisdom, by Baltasar Gracian, pg. 43.

The HNIC syndrome is an example of what often happens when previously powerless people are given even a smidgen of authority over others. They go buck wild. That's how others can tell that such people have never had anything before. They use their job titles to try to lash out at people that, in their hearts, they secretly believe are their superiors. This behavior makes them appear small, tacky, and therefore they are not respected. This behavior makes them stand out from others who are secure in their positions. In the Black context, this is what often happens when poor Blacks work their way into the Black middle class and the professions. Instead of internalizing the self-perceptions and behaviors that are part of that class, such people often bring their insecurities and resentments with them.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying that all Black people who work their way into the middle class and professions do this. I'm saying that many of them do this. I'm also not saying that those who were born into the Black middle class are immune to this syndrome. The HNIC infection has slightly different visible symptoms among those who were born into the middle class.

People who do this don't understand that true power can afford to be gracious. This is why they never develop true power at work. All they have is the force of their job titles. Being respected is a component of having true power. They are not respected. This makes their hold on their job titles tenuous.

My former (Black) supervisor was a textbook example of all of this. In addition to manifesting slum habits (shouted conversations with people standing three feet away, etc.), she spent most of her time being negatively obsessed with women she perceived as being born into the Black middle class. After several coworkers repeated the questions she would ask about me, I realized that this person actually saw herself as competing with me. With all of the reports coming back to me from colleagues, I found the situation fascinating in a bizarre sort of way. [Although it was quite unpleasant to be the subject of hostile surveillance.]

Apparently, this one-sided competition was quite frustrating for her. It was frustrating that I never broadcast information about what I had or what I was doing. She never quite understood that she lowered herself in other people's eyes by doing this. Whatever tidbits of information that she could find out only reinforced her insecurities. For example, she busied herself with trying to keep up with what I did on my vacations. When, as a result of her probing, she found out that I had gone on a cruise one year, she assumed that I must have gone to the Caribbean. [I guess going to the Caribbean is as far as her comfort zone extends.] Several people who were present during the conversation mentioned how upset she looked when she found out that I had gone to Europe. {long sigh}

The obsession with titles is one tell-tale sign of the HNIC syndrome. I've heard of a Black judge that paid her personal bills with envelopes that had "The Honorable Judge So & So" listed over her personal return address.

Another tell-tale sign of the HNIC syndrome is that such people always leave the things they have authority over noticeably worse off than they found them. This is inevitable because they are preoccupied with using their jobs to work through their insecurities. Of course, the person who wants to be a sovereign in their field should strive for excellence. However, the least we can do to protect our livelihoods is to not leave things obviously worse off because of our participation. If one is going to be incompetent, lazy, or distracted one should at least be subtle about it.

My former supervisor isn't the only one infected with the HNIC syndrome. I've seen many Black professionals take great pleasure in "bossing" over the support staff. I've heard reports of lawyers literally tossing papers onto the secretaries' desks. They know not to do these things in front of me. I would react poorly. I've always been disappointed at how surprised some of the support staff are when they discover that I'm not invested in being a "boss" over anybody. I just want the things I delegate done correctly. No more. No less.

Are you doing things at work that demonstrate the Head Negro in Charge syndrome?
Are you leaving the things under your authority noticeably worse off than how you found them?
Are you using your job as a forum to work through insecurities and other personal problems?

*Note to Readers: While contemplating this post and flipping through my various "mirrors for princes" books, I noted numerous (and grave) flaws that are prevalent among those Black folks who were born middle class. The Black middle class is contracting and imploding due to these flaws. I'll discuss this angle in Part 2 of this series.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

True Fellowship is The Best Quality of Life Insurance, Part 1

Rev. Lisa Vazquez, the blog host of Black Women, Blow the Trumpet! (listed on the sidebar), is hosting an extremely important conversation in her latest post entitled "Tomorrow Is Not Promised." I strongly urge everyone to check it out and consider the questions she raises. The extreme isolation of so many Black women's lives is a recurring theme and underlying factor in so many of the problems we collectively face. It's one of the reasons I've been so agitated about Black folks' prospects in the current economic crisis. During the First Great Depression we at least had strong family and community ties for mutual support. During this current crisis, many of us have nobody to watch our backs.

Rev. Lisa asks why some Black women don't invest fully into building close relationships with other women. I believe that there are two reasons for this. One, the vast majority of us don't know how to build or (even more importantly) maintain true friendships. Two, those of us who do know how to build true friendships are often too lazy to do the work needed to maintain them.

We usually don't go beneath the surface when we talk about Black women's isolation. It's difficult because doing so dredges up many, many unpleasant realities. It's much more comfortable to keep it lightweight. Her willingness to dig deep is one the many things I appreciate about Lisa's blog. Instead of writing a book-length comment at her blog, I decided to respond at length here.

I've been been concerned about the issue of true fellowship for all of my adult life. Not because I'm such a wonderful, caring, or loving person. But because it's in my own self-interest to pay attention to this. You see, when I was 19 years old I realized certain things about my biological relatives. I realized that, with the exception of my parents and a few other mostly now-deceased people, I can't count on my biological relatives for ANYTHING. Anything at all. Certainly not anything in a time of need. At 19, I realized that I would have to consciously and deliberately build a network of close friends if I wanted support.

My mother doesn't understand what went wrong with my generation of our extended family. She doesn't understand what went wrong between me and my brother. She was blessed to have a loving and supportive extended family. Her sisters are her friends (in addition to her non-relative friends). I can't find the words that would make any of this comprehensible to her. Anything I could say would sound like recriminations about how her generation parented my generation. So, I say nothing to her about this. On the other hand, my father understands perfectly because his family was never close-knit.

I have many, many cousins. Most of them are 5-10 years older than me. A few of the men look good on paper, but I wouldn't wish being involved with many of them on any woman. There are only a few solid family men in the bunch. The women are mostly never-married or divorced mothers. Over the years, I've watched my cousins repeatedly confirm the conclusion I drew when I was 19.

One confirmation was when my aunt was sent home from the hospital to die. She had cancer. I watched while most of our "family" stayed away. Including the various male cousins who had slept on her couch when they needed help "to get back on their feet." Including unemployed adult relatives.

I was one of a grand total of four female relatives who took turns staying with my aunt during her last weeks. The four consisted of me, my mother, her other surviving sister, and a cousin. I sat with my aunt and nervously prayed that she didn't die during one of my shifts. I was too frightened to ask my aunt (who's a nurse) how to tell if someone is dead. I didn't want to burden my already-reeling mother with these sorts of questions. So, I sat. And I prayed. And I worried. And I seethed at the missing in action relatives. I sat with my aunt while she passed in and out of consciousness. I sat while she periodically moaned in pain that wasn't eased by her morphine prescription. My aunt had served as the next "Big Mama" after my grandmother passed away.

I seethed throughout the service for my aunt while the MIAs sobbed and wailed. I seethed at the burial while some of the female MIAs screamed and acted as if they were going to throw themselves into the ground with the casket. I barely resisted the urge to say, "Go ahead and jump in there."

My biological relatives love to have huge family gatherings. Only when the sun is shining and things are going well. If you're sick or having other serious problems, they'll be sure to come see about you after you are dead and buried. I've watched them repeat this pattern with many relatives that they loooove. Since they do this with relatives that they are genuinely fond of, I know I've got nothing coming from them. In my anger over the years at this repeated pattern, I've warned a couple of my male relatives that I'm NOT in training to be a "Big Mama." And there are NO spare couches for them in my home. Of course, by saying this I also offended some of the handful of relatives who behaved appropriately during family crises. I. Am. Not. Sorry. All of this is painful for my mother.

I'm saying all of this to explain why I've always been hyper aware of the issue of true fellowship. Because of my family situation, I knew that I would need true friends. Back to my answer to Lisa's original question: Unfortunately, my family situation is not rare among the current generation of Black people. There are many of us who genuinely don't know what close and supportive relationships (of any kind) look like. As a consequence, many Black women don't know how to build or maintain close, supportive relationships.

Then there are those of us who know better because we've seen better. Many of us are complacent in our lives and too lazy to make the effort that is required to maintain close friendships. We don't do it because we don't have to. We can afford not to. We're comfortable in our marriages, and within our loving and supportive extended families.

Sometimes, those of us who are blessed with certain things are totally unaware of the parallel realities that other Black women live within. For example, because I was blessed to be raised in material comfort I was totally unaware of the world of payday loans and rent-to-own stores. I had never heard of such things until I was exposed to them while working with poor clients. It's a similar thing with this issue. Sometimes when I hear sisters ask why so many Black women cling to unworthy men, I can hear from their voices that they've never caught a glimpse of the parallel universe that some women are living in. They've never witnessed the mental pressure that is caused by knowing that nobody has your back.

I suspect that the only reason I'm not clueless and careless with my friendships is because I can't afford it. My parents and remaining aunts are elderly. Besides them, my friends are the only people who would help me in a crisis.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Reader Alert: You Might Want to Consider Taking Some of Your Cash Out of the Bank NOW

First the preamble: The following is NOT intended to serve as anything other than commentary. I am NOT engaged in rendering legal, accounting, financial, or any other professional advice. If expert assistance is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought. This post is NOT a substitute for legal or any other kind of professional advice.

Alright, now that all of that is out of the way, let me simply say that my "antennae" are buzzing even more than usual about the economy. Not in a good way. I would urge everyone to consider pulling some of their cash out of their banks within the next two days (if you haven't already done so). Don't be surprised if your local ATMs start "malfunctioning" and have to be "temporarily shut down for repairs" (like some of the ones in my area were for a few days last week).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Difference Between Legitimate Dissent and Sabotage

I've been watching (and in one case, participated in) several blog discussions that are taking place at two of the blogs listed on my sidebar. The first discussion is over at Evia's blog, Black Female Interracial Marriage Ezine. Evia's been discussing Chris Rock's defamatory tirade against Black women in his latest show. The other discussion is at Gina's blog, What About Our Daughters. She's been discussing the security video showing a Black man punching a 16-year old Black girl in the line of a Los Angeles McDonald's.

Gina makes the comment that there are people who resent the very idea of anybody calling attention to a wrong that was done to a Black woman or girl. She's right. It's disturbing that many of these people are Black women themselves. What's even worse is the confusion that these Black female collaborators cause among the ranks of Black women. People who want to excuse, minimize and enable the harm done by Damaged Beyond Repair Black Men (DBRBM) often hide behind several masks: the mask of presenting legitimate dissenting opinions, the mask of being concerned for all Black people, and the mask of being concerned for all women around the globe. The cover stories are endless. Here's a quick guide to spotting internal saboteurs who are actually opposed to saving Black women's lives:

1-Is the person minimizing the extent and severity of the attacks on Black women in this country? If so, that's a clear sign that this person doesn't care about the suffering of Black women and girls. People who don't care about the atrocities being committed against Black women and girls are enemies to Black women and girls. This includes many Black women.

2-Is the person playing the "Victim Sweepstakes Game" by weighing Black women's suffering against that of others? Saboteurs are quick to claim that Black men "have it worse." No matter what. Including those Black men who are beating, robbing, raping and killing Black women and girls. Saboteurs are also quick to claim that Black women in the US have it so much better than foreign women. I guess the victim of the Dunbar Village gang rape (who was forced to perform oral sex on her own son) should feel lucky that she's not overseas. Playing the Victim Sweepstakes Game is a clear sign of bad faith and bad intentions toward Black women and girls.

Reject the Victim Sweepstakes Game out of hand when it's presented to you! Evil is evil. ALL evil should be resisted. Priority should be given to fighting the evil that hits closest to home. After all, if you're destroyed by the demon next door (or the demon in your house), you're not in any position to help anybody else across the globe. It's really that simple. This simple concept is why airlines instruct passengers to put their own oxygen masks on first before trying to help anybody else.

3-Is the person hell-bent on trying to discourage you from protecting yourself against attacks? Is the person focused on trying to stop you from punishing those individuals who attack Black women and girls? In the context of the ongoing war against Black women and girls, legitimate dissent is when a person says "I disagree with blah-blah. Here are the reasons why I disagree with blah-blah. Therefore, I won't support blah-blah action." And leaves it at that. People who are fixated on stopping you from taking action against those who attack Black women and girls, want you to remain under attack. They want you to remain defenseless. They want you (and women like you) to suffer. By supporting the status quo, they are supporting a continuation of Black women's and girls' suffering.

This is true no matter how much (or how loudly) such a person screams that they support Black women. If they are engaged in the above-listed behaviors they are most likely a saboteur. Treat them as such.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Inner Sanctuary, Part 1: The Discipline of Good Beginnings

During the Inner Slum series, we've discussed some of the destructive habits that pollute our inner environments and our character. We've talked about the noise pollution that makes the renewing of one's mind impossible. We've talked about the micro-aggressions that many of us routinely engage in.

Now, let's turn our attention to the polar opposite of the inner slum: the inner sanctuary. The inner sanctuary is a place of peace, renewal, and excellence. The inner sanctuary has calm instead of chaos. Renewal instead of stagnation. Excellence instead of mental squalor. Inner sanctuaries don't appear by random accident. They are built, brick by brick. Habit by habit.

Discipline is the foundation of any inner sanctuary.

As a people, African-Americans run from discipline. We run from discipline in almost every conceivable area of life. We exalt musical products (such as hip-hop) that don't require the training and discipline of mastering an instrument. We exalt written products (such as "street literature") that don't require the training and discipline of mastering grammar and being well read. This mindset carries over into our spiritual life. We often denounce spiritual disciplines as "empty rituals." We exalt chaos and call it "spontaneity." There IS much that is worthy in ecstatic, spontaneous worship. However, I question the wisdom of completely removing discipline and order from our spiritual lives. Discipline is NOT a natural state. It has to be cultivated. People generally incline toward laziness and mental clutter.

Discipline is the foundation of any inner sanctuary.
The discipline to examine our habits.
The discipline to abandon habits that are unworthy of who we want to be.
The discipline to cultivate the habits that are the building blocks of an inner sanctuary.

The first building block is the discipline of good beginnings. The discipline to take care that we begin things in the best possible way. For example, how do you routinely begin your day? What is your typical first thought upon waking up? What is the first thing you usually say? What are the first things you usually listen to? Are you willing to step back and examine your habits for beginning your days?

Are you careless with how you begin your days? Or do you make the effort to train yourself to begin in the best possible way?

There are many Black people who start their mornings by listening to music with curse words. There are many Black people who start their mornings by taking in the madness and mayhem of the morning news.

There are other Black people who start their mornings the best way they can. They discipline themselves to begin their days in the way that is best for them: For example, by praising God; or practicing a moment of thankfulness; or practicing a moment of silence; or taking a moment to review their goals for day.

How do you begin your days?