Preparing the People for Self-help

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By Robert Lilly | February 1, 2009

“In Nazi Germany…first they put the Communists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in concentration camps, but I was not a Communist or a Jehovah’s Witness so I did nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing…Then they arrested the trade unionists, but I did nothing because I was not one. Then they arrested the Jews and again I did nothing because I was not Jewish. Then they came for the Catholics, but I was not a Catholic so I did nothing again…At last they came and arrested me, but by then it was too late…no one was left to speak up.” {{more}}–Pastor Martin Neimoller, 1965I want to begin this article with an explanation of the concept of ‘x-offender’ and why I choose to use it. The main reason is because it is factual. I have, as a result of my past decisions been incarcerated, and with incarceration came the stigma or brand of social rejection.. In the state of Texas parolees cannot vote until they complete their sentences, either parole or the complete prison term. The list of employment and apartment rental restrictions is lengthy. Newly released convicted drug felons are not eligible for food stamps or welfare. This is but a short list of the road blocks that we, x-offenders face to successful reintegration back into society. I am a voice for this population. God surely did not spare me from all that I have suffered to remain silent. When the Jew who suffered Auschwitz or Dachau, German concentration camps, lived she no longer could live for herself, she had to live for the cause; so too with me.Prior to being incarcerated, however, I did not have a clear and precise understanding of what it meant to be disenfranchised. Despite the fact that I was already amongst the despised of this society; I was oblivious to it. It took me going to prison to be sensitized. By the Grace of God, through reading, studying, questioning and reflecting I came to learn that, we, the Africans displaced here in America had this long history of rejection; rejection from our European captors and masters and more so, a righteous resistance to this rejection. I learned of our legacy and I became ashamed. My shame derived from my new found awareness of my prior disregard for the efforts made by many thousands of our ancestors who struggled to survive so that I might have a chance at life. And here I was in the 20th century thumbing my nose at their labors because I wanted to ‘do me’. ‘Doing me’ meant I was looking out for myself, alone, to the detriment and exclusion of anyone else – I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.This sick mind-state that I have described was at the root of my criminality. I was obsessed with attaining the American dream. I wanted to be rich and powerful. The problem with that idea was that America was not set up for someone coming from my circumstances, New York City, the South Bronx, in the 70’s, to be wealthy and powerful. Everything in my environment bespoke crime, prison, failure, drugs, hopelessness, and despair. Nevertheless, somehow, my tendency was to set my sights on what everybody else had on TV. It all started with the clothes. Clothes represented to me respect. And not any clothes, they had to be name brand, designer clothes, like the ones in the display windows. Unfortunately, by not having a legitimate means that was readily available to follow and furthermore, the negative example of the only men who seemed to matter in ‘my’ life: the hustlers, pimps, gangsters, thieves, gamblers and cons; I chose to take on the latter. I chose to run with the wolves! And for that choice I harvested the bitter fruit of my naïve and uninformed decisions. When I became a criminal and a gangster I became an offender to the society overall, and to the tradition of greatness embodied in my people’s heritage. However, today, I am no longer offensive to that tradition. I am in harmony with the great sacrificial labors of our fore parents. For that reason I am a x-offender. All that has been said thus far is to point out that the malady, which I suffered from as a result of my circumstances in New York City, is still very much alive here in Abilene, Texas. The proper diagnosis for this ‘ids-ease’, as so labeled such by Dr. Na’im Akbar, who according to what Essence magazine described as “one of the world’s preeminent African American Psychologists and pioneer in the development of an African-centered approach to modern psychology,” that label is ‘alien-self’’ disorder . When one becomes foreign to his/herself then one is a stranger to his/herself. Amos N. Wilson in his book: Black-on-Black Violence, said about this alienation, “Self-alienation devolves from having the real self degraded, impaired, associated with negative characteristics, threats of injury or annihilation should the alienated person identify with it; having its history and future possibilities distorted, diminished; or is obscured by misidentification, falsification and denial. Furthermore, it devolves from having the alienated person’s physical attributes and potentials vulgarized, associated with repulsiveness as well as other negative intellectual, emotional, behavioral stereotypes. He is frightened of self-discovery and therefore cannot attain self-fulfillment despite the fact that the means to do so may be readily available to him. The anti-self disorder is characterized by active hostility towards one’s own cultural group. They have internalized the antagonism that comes from the dominant group and treat their communities or themselves as if they are the oppressors . I accept Akbar and Wilson’s analysis; furthermore, I believe that it adequately explains my past behaviors and the current reasons for our discouraged youth’s rebellion against the interests of our community. Too many of our children are overly stimulated by the barrage of media advertisements that promote a culture and lifestyle totally opposed to our need for unity. If you do not agree with this theory then what would you say is the reason for our behaviors toward one another? I urge you to write in to the West Texas Tribune and share your perspective. But make sure you identify yourself so that the people will know who you are; how and what you think about them.Who are our teachers? What is their solution for our problems? Where do we go to hear them express themselves? It seems to me we are afraid to discuss anything openly about our black community without first inviting others from outside. It is as if we are still in slavery when the only time we could gather is when the master approved. We have been painted into a corner; we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we fail to address our sufferings they get worse. And if we organize we are risking being attacked by those in and outside the race who will accuse us of being racist, as if we could even be such.Whatever the risks we must do what is in our best interest and that to me would be to secure our future for our children. We have communities that need addressing. Too much alcohol is being consumed. Drugs are used wantonly. Children are being exposed to irresponsible habits by neglectful parents. The incarceration numbers for our children are rising. We are in trouble. We need jobs. We need industry. We need to get busy! Who are we waiting for to answer these questions? We have the power in our hands but will we use it? We must organize for self-help.This notion runs contrary to the current order of things. Our “name brand” leaders would prefer that we remain essentially clueless as to how to become self-sufficient. This state of cluelessness keeps us dependent upon them to provide our every need. Mistakenly, they believe that if we learn to do for ourselves then they will be out of a job. I am inclined to believe that this rationale is rooted in the closeness that many of our so-called “name brand” leaders share with those persons and institutions that inherently are opposed to our forward and upward assent.This Black History Month will be a turning point for us. We will be offering to the public seminars to be held at the public library. These seminars will be our starting line from where we will begin our community wide conversation. Everyone is welcome. We will be offering scholarly video lectures the likes of which Abilene, Texas has never seen and along with that, commentary and group dialogue. We want this to be a psychological breakthrough for our people and this community in general. “Understanding one’s authentic identity not only resolves the issues of personal self-destruction, but also arrests the tendency of collective self-destruction manifested by the anti-self disorder” . “The key here is that people who know themselves accurately will love themselves and, if permitted, take excellent care of themselves. Preparing people for self-help is the most effective therapeutic device to remedy the consequences of oppression neurosis. This is done through reeducation at the personal level or restructuring communities as a whole to convey the realities of their self-knowledge and the inspiration for self-help” . Implicit in what Dr. Akbar has said is that when a people are taught right they will act right. And part of that acting is acting in their self-interest.Central to this entire article is the idea of someone, from amongst the people in question, speaking up for the needs of the group. It is time out for someone, outside of the community or someone lacking a real connection with the community to speak on our community’s behalf. This will only stop when we- collectively, put it to a stop. How, you ask? We do it by grooming and approving our own authentic voices; we know best how we feel and think. So let us stop sanctioning those voices, with our silence, and let us raise our own hue and cry: We will take care of our own! We do not want any hand outs, we want a hand up! In conclusion, I leave you with a poem by Lau Tsu, edited by Phil Barte, from: Tao Te Ching. Chap. 17, entitled: Go to the People. It reads as follows: Go-to the people; Live among them; Love them, Learn from them; start where they are; work with them; build on what they have, But of the Best Leaders, When the task is accomplished, the work completed, The People all remark: “We have done it ourselves.”