A Minority Experience

June 24, 2020

“. . . [W]hile it is true that one must think before one acts, it is also true that if one has no chance to act, the thinking becomes impoverished; in other words, if one cannot act effectively—one cannot think productively either.”

— Erich Fromm, The Sane Society


A person is born: what could be said of the babe’s future? Looking at the infant in isolation from their environment, can any predict even the smallest contour of the person they will become? What of their own opinions and reactions to the elements of the environment itself, the acceptances and rejections of the constituencies of their culture, of their parent’s personal beliefs?

Statistically speaking, some foundation of norms will adhere, and the drift of the times will add the color of modernity to them. The newborn is a boy: he will probably like girls. He is born into an ethnic neighborhood: he will probably live in the same or a similar one when he comes of age. His parents are day laborers: he too will probably follow in that tradition.

And it’s not hard to see the unfolding of the boy’s life as one looks upon the slumbering child in his crib, the constraints of the world that may box him in, the knowledge of the tricks of stature and elevation that may never present themselves in this station of human existence meant to be lowly, in some ways designed to be riddled with ignorance.

For this child, the horizon seems to hold only the fate of limitation . . . but . . . . But here is not there: the projected then is not the present now. We think of probability and statistics but what has any of it to do with the person before us? We use the past that was involved in nothing more than coalescing the initial conditions for this boy and from there we formulate the entirety of a life for a person who has only been around for a handful of days, determining from the onset that the odds are against him, that, statistically speaking, nothing of consequence may here emerge.

But this is not the nature of a human life. The reality for this child is that no one knows what lies ahead for him. No one, that is, except perhaps the child himself, for already is he making choices even in his infancy, small ones when scaled against what humans think of as a choice, but nevertheless are they extant, at times definitive, and most of all powerful, for these conclusions were made not with the learned tools of reason and logic but with the very essence of his being and experience. He may not be able to predict the circumstances of occurrences that may manifest as he conduits through time and space, but already he is defining principles, some of which will be retained unchanged throughout his life, and in doing so he in private eliminates vast arenas of possibilities that he may reach or that may reach him. Whether such potentiations that may not be accessible are good or bad may be a matter of opinion, but ultimately this consequence of limitation is determined knowingly or not by the decider, the child himself.

Even in matters beyond his control or understanding, the child must still make choices: whether or not to trust the decisions of his caretakers, whether or not to believe what is said or implied, whether or not to go along with some course that has been set for him.

What if the statistical opinion were shared with him or otherwise intimated, what if the child were made to see himself not as one of a co-equal human plurality but as a rounding error in a socioeconomic aggregation, subject to forces antecedent to his very existence, that the bed of what he was born into was seen as a tragic web of the human condition whose threads are by and large inescapable?

And what if the child’s beholder views this statistical outcome not as a possibility but as fact, as irrevocable as the conditions into which he was born? It, perhaps, is a convenience to believe such a thing, to not look too closely at the why of his lot, to avert away from the burdens of uncertainty that are inherent to all moments of each person’s existence, not to settle things in the child but to satisfy the adult. But should this be inferred by the boy, should he see this belief inlaid in the eyes of one who looks upon him, he is presented with a choice: believe what they believe, or don’t.

If he may too find hostility or hatred in the gaze, perhaps he may more easily shrug it off, rejecting not just the opinion but the person wholesale. But what if the beholder believes themselves well intentioned? Is it not possible to offer empty platitudes, vague acknowledgements of the need for equality and equity, to perhaps cut tax-deductible checks to further the cause and yet believe in none of it within one’s heart of hearts? Indeed, is this not in some ways the true nature of the human default? In the counting of reactions to all the religious sermons delivered throughout history, how many millions upon millions of amens have been uttered out of obligation or empty fanatic enthusiasm, and instead how many times has there been quiet concern or self reflection in being confronted by a profoundness that invalidates one’s mistaken belief?

The definition of the self becomes harder and harder for the boy as he must navigate not only his own beliefs and opinions, but now he must too defend against this poison of fatalism that was never even his own idea to begin with. And how many times will he see this opinion as he grows older? Once, twice may be enough to maim the mind of any. But what if everyone is saying it, what if everywhere he turns he will see it? The spirit erodes because we are a social species: we were born vulnerable and by necessity had to trust others, those who are older and supposedly wiser or at least more capable. The boy becomes a man who was already defeated by the world, by his own countrymen. Or he must become singular, he must be superhuman to rise above the way we are wired, he must reject everything from base to stem and rely only on himself however imperfect he may be because those in his socioeconomic class have been made to be distracted with their own survival and know only vaguely the hallmarks of equality and not at all the means to achieve it, and those in charge, at best, remain indifferent at their core. He is told that he is born onto a foundation of failure that he must never touch, that he must go to university to prosper, that he must not be associated with the “wrong crowd”, that there are programs that will supposedly help him succeed but that are actually architected to maybe give him a place in the margins of established institutions, a favor made available but only in times of excess. The ground is lava, but it’s not entirely impossible to climb at least a little. Good luck.

Worse still are those of the well intentioned who tell him that he must be made of tougher stuff, seeing only weakness when they look upon him, yet usually this is said by those who make sure to avoid the exits where he grew up. Prove me wrong, they say time and again, on the surface a call to action, that the door is not closed. But it’s a statement laden with meaning: not only is God in his heaven and all is right with the world, not only will no effort be undertaken to understand a life experience that was not similar to their own, but fundamentally it is they who define and decide what is right because they are the kingmakers, they are the deciders of the fate of all.

But are such established orders absolute truths, a firmament of meritocracy where the shapers of society remain objective and put aside bias, the instinct to only look for symbols of themselves when assigning merit . . . or are they the desires of mortals who are as flawed as anyone else? What is the essence of the delta between the beholder and the beheld? Well, whenever the American people get fixated on some some issue, some of the leaders who just days prior had defended some reckless or immoral policy will be trotted out as the next event in the media circus, a come-to-Jesus rallying of spirit where they have “evolved” their beliefs and understanding, perhaps not realizing just how revealing this is: the public figure should apparently never actually believe anything more than what best fits the current snapshot of the ever-evolving public mood.

It’s tough to know when they are being genuine, a mirror opposite of the low-born man: the public figure never says a truth of their person, and the man is always told lies about the truth of his person. The top of our society, and the bottom of it. And from this is born a complex of disorder since where may be found the truth along the line, within the spectrum? In this vacuum does one side blindly and forcefully impose order upon the other, but the imposition itself becomes a snare to both, binding each to the other, not with the bonds of friendship but with something much heavier. It is a maze of human life before us that we hope has meaning, that there is light at the end of this convolving tunnel, but the best that most have to offer are devices made only to alleviate the suffering, usually through tonics of forgetfulness.

The public figure may guide everyone in prayer, and while all other heads are bowed they will open one eye to read the room, hoping that this will be enough to quell the inflamed hearts of the masses.

But lately they have found that those in the BLM movement are watching back, all of them wearing McKayla’s “not impressed” face. And so the public figures’ evolution continued, and speeches were made promising mild reform. And here perhaps was another prayer made in secret and for themselves alone, begging for those poll numbers to spike in their favor.

Instead, the people stayed in the streets. This just is not how things are done, the leaders may think. After all, this isn’t the first time a minority has been killed by the cops, and it certainly won’t be the last. It’s just statistics, remember? You can’t challenge the fates. Best I can do is throw some money at commissioning a study, this isn’t really my problem. What more could they want?

It started as a movement. Now, it is momentum. Do not let it be slowed, co-opted by others who claim to support the cause yet helped architect the problem. Because that is the goal of leaders with ever-evolving beliefs: it is never to know what is right; the only lodestar to their being is survival and security of the personal variety.

Decide for yourself what to do and what is enough and when is enough. The conversation is already being had, and we must all decide for ourselves what to say and what to support. There will be elements that seek to shape the conversation, but let no other still or mute your voice. The protestor’s spirit can never be touched by the baton, but the wielder will certainly try to reshape it through fear and force; the people already see a vision of the future that is staked on fairness, but the populists will certainly try to claim a higher wisdom and authority and seek to reshape the narrative.

Listen to the truth within yourself, the beacon that lights the way when all others may seek to hide it. Its voice is at times soft and humble, and a desire for anything other than what is fair may quiet it, for such is the nature and consequence of falsehoods.

Always listen first: the truth is always there. Always listen first.