In the perpetuation of stereotypical articles of belief, negative images of African Americans are a mainstay on television and in movies, not to mention embedded within the substratum of institutionalized cultural interactions that comprise our daily walks thru our illusory worlds. What is the effect of these images are upon us, as a whole? More generally speaking, in the contemplation of societal roles – and the status of individuals within stereotypically inclusive categorizations based upon gender, class, ethnicity and race – to what extent are we each responsible for and to our self and societally designated groups? How black are you? How white am I? How gay or straight are we? How old do we have to be? How solid is that supposed normative construct that defines the abnormality of cultural production by peripheral groupings, also societally constructed and maintained?
My blog, The Experiential Cornucopia of Everlasting Delight touched upon qualities of Being that included aspects of this issue, in a more general statement of what it is to be consciously conscious of our consciousness, and to move through shifting interpretations of moral clarity in a world where we are constantly required to make decisions that lead us down paths wending through all three layers (Light, Twilight and Darkness) of existential morality. The little truths that we accept in lieu of the big Truths that we don’t allows us to slip out of our spiritual bodies fully into the physical and let our Ego decide, giving us the space to justify our decisions based upon the relativity of the moment and the situation. And as we live our lives continuously undergoing this parsing process, the weight of these decisions builds up and builds up until a point arrives at which it becomes impossible for us to deny the consequences of these choices. We then face the stark reality presented by the undeniable evidence before us: the lives we’ve chosen, our positions in society, our family, job and current surroundings, and we are forced to own up to those choices – both conscious and unconscious – and to finally face, head on, the subjective and biased nature of our perceptions and decision-making processes.
As Abraham Maslow described in his hierarchy of needs chart, Many things contribute to the decision-making process. From individual and collective consciousness to economic class and caste, or race and ethnicity, we highlight the connections between the individual and society and how our social consciousnesses are a conglomeration of beliefs and understandings that are externally-oriented and developed, resulting in conflicting tides of inner versus outer truths that leave us foundering as we attempt to reconcile our seemingly oppositional perceptions. Of particular import in this perceptive process is the influence of the media.
The media bombards us constantly with images from all over the world that enter into our consciousnesses, finding purchase alongside those aspects of our psyches with which they resonate. For instance, if we see a video on MTV or BET that we associate with certain things, it gives rise to memories and feelings that are related to the images that we are currently witnessing. If we see a news story on FOX or CNN about a crime of some sort, we automatically tie that image to images we’ve seen previously containing similar elements or circumstances, creating a linkage between the two, further reinforcing the validity of the original image and our judgments and interpretations of the combined imagery. Our mind’s capacity to create these ties – links in a neural network of firing synapses – between experiences past and present is a wonderful thing, one that separates us from other species, and that allows us to create and perpetuate culture and society. Our self-awareness and memories are what, some may argue, separate us from the beasts of the field and allow us to build upon experience to create lasting institutions and societies, and, like brush strokes on the canvas of the earth, our architecture and environmental modifications represent a collective yearning for material immortality as an expression of a fundamental human drive.
Since we make a conscious choice in the interpretation of what we see and experience, when we think about it, it becomes obvious that we make that choice based upon our perceptive rendering of related past experiences and the beliefs we have come to hold because of those experiences. Since our interpretations of those experiences occurs within a societal context, these interpretations are then subject to the mores of that society, and the sub-group(s) to which we belong. If I define myself as an African (Black)-American, all of my past experiences are interpreted, by me, through the lens of my experience in this world as a Black American. And for you, your lens may be through the experience of this world as a Native American, Liberian, French, and or any number of numerous national and international groups and sub-groups, be they gay, catholic, conservative, liberal, agnostic or other.
When you think about it this way, the difficulty in transcending one’s racial, cultural and social millieu is obvious. How can we get to any true representation of unity and Oneness when we each have to wade through the collected racial and cultural detritus of a lifetime in order to even see another person’s perspective? In those instances when we can slice through this lifetime of programming, they stand out against the background of memories, because they are qualitatively different. We end up returning to these instances time and time again as we go about our normal lives, hoping and yearning for a return to these singular moments, to the frame of mind and experiential acceptance that brought them into being in the first place.
We seek to transcend our programming and even the most hateful prognostications of individuals and groups the world across contain the seed of love. The white racist seeks the prosperity, purity and continuance of his or her people. The black nationalist seeks the same. The misogynist is attempting to foster a loving family under his control and guidance. The feminist or womanist, the freedom of her and her sisters and daughters. Our ability to navigate these treacherous shoals of human intention and moral ambiguity speaks to the malleability of the personality and is the very stuff of life itself, and, while, to some degree, we are slave to the thoughts and impulses that rise from our cultural and societal programming, we do indeed possess the capacity for decision-making that can free us from these imperatives, if the rewards for doing so are high enough to justify breaking through them. Often, they are not.
Why alienate family and friends, just to befriend a member of an out-group? Why should I, as a black American, befriend a white or asian American? In the biologically determinative arena of social darwinism, there is no reason at all to do so, and, in fact, it is counter-productive to one’s own self and group interest. In this viewpoint, human qualities such as altruism and love (philos, eros and agape) are incomprehensible deviations from a pure self-interest that exists more in theory than in reality, given the undeniable and pervasive human propensity toward reaching out to people of different backgrounds on the basis of shared interest, curiosity or some deeper, more nebulous feeling of connectivity.
As individuals, we are often involuntarily lumped into larger, group classifications by others, or by our own choice. To the extent that we accept the implicit reality these groups represent, we are burdened by it accordingly. If these associations are of a generally positive nature, they can, generally, buoy us up and help us to achieve our goals within the context of individuals who share that group identification. To the extent that they are of a generally negative nature, they can drag us down and keep us mired in the muck and mire of negativity and unfavorable perceptions. Since no group fully represents either extreme, we are left, again, in the Twilight realm, working our way through the layers, dipping into our experiential cornucopias in search of peace and solace from the tempest of life’s choices. Our ability, as individuals, to transcend these classifications and find our own, individuated expression of our lifetime goals, is our saving grace. Our ability to make decisions that negate the cultural and societal imperatives that we each hold are our triumphant sword thrusts into the quivering, gelatinous bodies of the Beasts of Social Convention, the echo of our triumphant cries of rebellion and freedom. The recognition that we can express our individuality and difference – even within the context of larger, cohesive group identities – in a non-hateful and embracive manner, is a shout into the Dark, a call toward the Light, and a rejection of the Twilight existence that too many of us settle for, instead of finally, and fully, making a choice. But that, too, is the very stuff of life. May we all choose accordingly.