“We have men among us,
Like the whites
Who pretend to know the right path
But will not consent
To show it without pay!
I have no faith In their paths
But believe that every man must make his own path!”
Black Hawk, Sauk
I believe that everybody has the right to choose their own path through life. I also believe that everybody should have all the information about the socialization process, social justice and anti-social justice beliefs that is possible before leaving on the journey. I believe that everybody needs to know and learn the honest history of America before embarking on any path. I believe that everybody should spend time talking to people who are the same as them and people who are different than them to be open to all viewpoints and possible false paths that entice and promise rewards for conformity as the define it. My path was to social justice. I have much to learn and much to change in myself and this journey will be a lifetime path complete with exits and detours. I have lost “friends”, family and sometimes acceptance for my beliefs while on my path.
The path that you choose is based on your own current and past knowledge and beliefs. If you choose not to associate with people different based on skin color from you then you will choose a path away from the rewards of knowing another culture with beliefs, knowledge, hopes and aspirations, and spirituality that adds to mankind’s growth. If whites and persons of color never get the opportunity to talk, really talk, then neither group will ever get to the “AHA” stage of enlightenment. Talk leads to understanding, understanding leads to action and action leads to change and building community.
If you choose a path that excludes everyone who is not a Christian then you have turned your back on eighty percent of the world’s population. If we never take the time to learn about all religions then we will only stunt our spiritual growth. If Christians and Muslims would just sit and talk for awhile then maybe the stereotypes and prejudices would begin to fall like the Roman Empire – gradually with some solid remnants still standing to build upon. Talk leads to understanding, understanding leads to action and action leads to change and building communities.
If you chose a path away from those who are not able bodied then the path is littered with the broken spokes of commitments and promises. This path will lead you to an avoidance of knowledge gained from being considered different and useless based on the able bodied continuum. You will miss learning how non able bodied people have made it through the racism of physicality. You would have learned, in talking with them, that life has more challenges, discrimination, prejudice, and hope than you ever dreamed. In talking you would have learned how to work together to change the perceptions of non able bodied people. Talk leads to understanding, understanding leads to change and community building.
If you chose the path leading away from economically poor folks then the journey will take you to the top of wealth mountain. You will learn that society values the collection of things, gadgets, wealth and status. Your path will teach you that having more than someone else is better than being poor. You will measure success in terms of money, things, and comfort. Your path will lead you to the blind alley of excess. You will miss the discussion with poor people about hopes, desires, beliefs, stereotypes, and prejudice. But if you spend time with them then talk leads to understanding, understanding leads to change and building community.
If you choose the path fleeing gays, lesbians, transgendered then your journey is one of hate and bitterness towards people you chose not to understand and talk to about different life perspectives. You lose the chance to understand their humanity and compassion about life and people. Gays, lesbians, transgendered folks have a wealth of knowledge about hate crimes, lost jobs, the loss of family and friends, the sorrow of never being understood by most Americans and the chance to mend wounds and grievances. By talking to them you will begin to understand and act leading to change and building community.
If you choose the path of a male then you do not speak for or with over half of the world. Your maleness, especially white males, will afford you opportunities that are both hidden and open. As a white male you will more than likely have a leadership role, tenure, seniority, make more money for the same job others might have, see yourself reflected in the white male dominated American society- your image will be plastered everywhere and held up as the pinnacle to strive for as a person. Your path will frequently be diverted based on ego, vanity, greed and the supposition that you are better than the rest. We do talk as males and females but do we speak and listen straight?
If you choose the path the leads to the Fountain of Youth then your journey will be steeped in the now, the rage, and the electronic jungle. You will associate only with young people or like minded people. You will be too busy looking at waterfalls and flowers and miss the meandering creek, the slow to bloom yucca, the great knowledge a very old oak has lived to witness. You will miss the lesson that can be learned from old folks, you will miss the history of their lives, and you will miss their importance because you will not acknowledge them as having importance in the world. If you choose to ignore them you will never learn what the world was like when they grew up, got married and had children, what retirement/social security/Medicare is really all about. You may never know that they were heroes in war, fought for civil rights, tried to change American society for good purposes and beliefs. If you block out the older generation then you will never understand, never act and never change and build better communities.
Paths are made for journeys; some meander and absorb what is around them, some straighten with knowledge, some rush right past without seeing the meaning of humanness, some fall over cliffs and smack on the rocks of bigotry and hate but regroup and move forward in a new stream at the bottom of the cliff, some paths encircle obstacles with water eroding the stability of a tradition and some paths lead to dead ends because we choose to not talk to others who have different knowledge and experiences.
Finding your true path will require that you do “a searching and fearless moral inventory” (AA) It will require you to look deeply into your past, present and future hopes. You must take an honest look at your past and how you grew to believe as you do about issues of social justice. You must look at your socialization into the racialized American society, the whispered lies you heard about race in America.. You must know and understand where you came from to be equipped to choose your path. You must understand the spiritual part of yourself and how that pushes you away or nearer to social justice3.
You must gather knowledge about those folks who are the same as you and those folks who are different from you. Ideally it occurs through talking with all peoples. You can gain knowledge from reading books, attending unlearning racism workshops, take a class or watch a movie/documentary to more understand different cultures. Or you can talk leading to understanding and action for change and building community.
If you have authentic knowledge of where you came from, who you are, who you hope to be, and some planned steps to continuously analyze and change then you are close to ready to select your path and commence a journey of a lifetime of change, growth, and justice.
Timothy A. Bess
August 17, 2011