by Jeffrey Murrell

Chapter 4 (part 2 of 2)

It is so easy to fall prey to the lure of narrow-mindedness - that way of thinking which usually is born from ignorance (intellectual deprivation). For that poor black man or woman, or that rich white man or woman - for all of us, indeed - it is so comfortable and convenient to slip into logical fallacies and notions of "common sense." So, too, is it extremely difficult for the human being to resist the temptations of biased inferences and quick conclusions or opinions which all of us have come to at one time or another in our lives that only seem to reinforce or even crystalize other previous, fallacy-infested thoughts and biases. And in the case of that man or woman who begs for spare change from strangers out in the streets, it seems likely that one could say that he or she has reached a stage, a point of no return, in his or her way of thinking and perceiving things and other people in his or her world, that that man or woman will always be prone to regarding the white passer-by who says and gives nothing as a cold-hearted bigot. In such a case, the ignorance has festered into stupidity. Even those among the privileged white middle and upper-classes (especially those among privileged majority-classes) reach that point of biased thinking where stupidity replaces ignorance. It is scary when it is revealed just how many in government and private enterprise are, in fact, stupefied by prejudice, bigotry and all other forms of thought and judgment which are so often predisposed to incorrect assumptions, a lack of attention to detail in understanding, and outright tradition. (All this is otherwise known as a lack of critical thinking!)

Fortunately, there are those who are able to see through the fog of fallacious thinking. It is their responsibility to ensure that truth prevails, and that justice - as it is intended to be carried out in a rational, democratic sense - is adhered to. Isn't it a shame, incidentally, that these people seem to comprise the truest minority of all? It is often difficult, if not impossible, to discover who they are and where they are. Undoubtedly, even some of them don't realize that they are within that number. But so great is their advantage of being able to logically, fairly and efficiently see things as they are or ought really to be that their just influence over our social works inevitably triumphs again and again. They are everything from presidents to dishwashers, some great and some not. And they all work together within an invisible network of understanding to steer things right when the great ship of our society is negligently piloted towards the icebergs of inveracity.

Selfishness plays an important role in creating biased thinking. It is a magnified reflection of the human being's primordial instinct to survive. It is what preserves the animal in a person when a person is reduced to nothing else by societal or other conditions, and it serves to separate the human in a person from the otherwise animal as it grows dominant over traits that differentiate mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom. Once a person loses contact with those traits that make him or her human, once a person disregards rational decision-making, that person becomes essentially sub-human, and the perfect target for racist biases.

It has always been considered bad to regard the human race in animalistic terms or classifications. We don't like to think of ourselves as animals, because that lowers us in the grand scheme of things as we tend to see them (animals other than humans always being referred to as "lower animals" in science, art and religion). Charles Darwin was scoffed at, and his system of classifying living creatures is still forbidden to be taught or even contemplated in certain places in the world by certain types of people in governing power structures who are insecure and too selfish to allow anybody or thing to open their minds at all.

Louisiana tried as recently as the early 1980s to ban Darwinistic teachings in its public schools, and to teach only biblical creation. But that was expediently done away with by the state's judicial system. Then the state's educative leadership, with a lot of help from some very loud, biblically-opinionated legislators, attempted to mandate the obligatory teaching of creationism alongside the teaching of all Darwinistic theories of evolution in public schools; this small-minded hustle was rightly shot down by the United States Supreme Court.

It seems that when a human is referred to as an animal, it means that person is low in terms of compassion and/or intellect, and that person exists in a reflexive state, going by instinct rather than any kind of thought process. It means, basically, that person is stupid and self-centered; it may mean something more or less to a few others, but that is the bottom-line interpretation as it is understood by most average-thinking people. From this, some may equate selfishness and/or self-centeredness with stupidity. This equation may be true, but it's probably more accurate to view the relationship between the two conditions in terms of sets, one being the subset of the other. For me anyway, both are so closely interrelated that it's difficult to say which one is the subset and which the greater part (selfishness being a part of stupidity, or vice-versa).

So, to be an animal is lower than being a human, the insecure notion goes. And being aware of this supposed state of being of ours has been the definition of evil for so many in the past and present. Those who are heavily swayed by certain biblical interpretations in Louisiana and elsewhere quote scripture, saying how evil it is that mankind is intelligent, the human race having been led to conscious awareness and intelligence by Eve's indiscretion and subsequent misguiding of innocent Adam. So, it's back to ignorant bliss that they try to lead those who'll be naive enough to follow.

And what a perfect position a state of numb ignorance is to try to get everybody else in. Once you have everyone dumb and happy, it's no work at all to take what you can from them. But I suppose that's a bit beside the point - what I wonder, concerning the preaching of ignorance by those like some of Louisiana's Bible-wielding legislators, is why they then view the comparison of humans with animals as immoral, evil or otherwise low? They basically say that God originally made us as stupid as animals, and that it would please Him if we were to go back that way. But then, to them, any other equation with animals is not right. How can one be as stupid as an animal without being one? Take away that which sets a man or woman apart from other animals (his or her ability to reason), and you more or less have just another earth-bound mammal!

Hypocrisy, it seems, is mankind's single most salient trait. "You animal!" is either an insult (to those who think they're of high moral stature), or a funny kind of comment denoting virility or success, depending on the situational context.

Blacks have been called animals by whites and others since the first days of African-American slavery. Greed-fueled selfishness on the part of some whites has served to try to force blacks out of the human race. It has only been in relatively recent times that blacks in America have been afforded the opportunity to rise out of the ignorance that has been forced on them for so long in places like the U.S. and South Africa. And in both of these places, the black selfishness borne of deprivation, extinguished by strides in black equality, has been replaced by the same kind of greed-inspired selfishness by which blacks were stolen off to America in the first place. This is only serving to lower those who are selfish in this way back down into the abyss of ignorance and "animalism" that they're trying to escape from.

In the U.S., some black rap-singers (like some white rock stars) let the animal in them take over in order to earn the big money, writing sexually explicit lyrics which continuously ride a heavily policed line between that which is tolerable and that which is distastefully pornographic by anybody's standard. They remain unrestricted in what they can and cannot put into their lyrics, as they well should, but they refuse to exercise their own discretion when creating their rhymes, policing themselves for what is considered indecent; they instead choose to prostitute their talents, trashing the human in themselves, and exploiting the animal in their fans. They could use their skills to foster goodwill between blacks and whites, but that wouldn't command the earnings that songs about raping women and shooting other blacks over bad drug deals would!

In other parts of America's business environment, black selfishness has resulted in the shutting out of other blacks from job opportunities - opportunities that could make the difference between a life of satisfaction or a life of much of the same for so many in America's black work sector. Right now, some areas of the country, like New Orleans, could be enjoying a happy, integrated population. However, because so many African-Americans and other minority members made so many accusations of prejudicial hiring practices in the 1970s and 1980s when big companies understandably were passing on hiring unqualified minority members and whites alike, those companies, after having seen other companies heavily fined for unfair hiring practices (whether they may or may not have been justified), became afraid to move into areas which are populated mostly by minorities (which happen to be the areas where those big-company jobs are needed the most!). Unfortunately, this is a sad fact and not another fallacy. This was a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't situation. By not bringing unfair hiring practices to light, blacks and other minority members would certainly have suffered from such racist policies. But bringing them to light was like shooting themselves in the foot! This may not look like it's fair to say that anybody was being selfish back then, but, knowing how people will act under certain circumstances, it's not unreasonable at all to maintain that a great many unfounded charges were probably raised by some who were seeking to take advantage of those situations as they inevitably nose-dived into uncontrollable, legal free-for-alls. So, what do all those minority men and women have who jumped the band-wagon, thinking that they had been unfairly excluded from being hired a decade or so ago, and sued some big company which has since pulled out of their area? Not a job with that company, I dare say! Nor do any of those who were discriminated against and might have had a chance of getting a job there. And how about their children? Even if they're qualified, they won't get a job with that company in that area. Everybody loses out!

Examples of this can be seen in other parts of the world, like South Africa. If one kept up with the news regularly in the l990s, it would have been apparent just how much progress toward civil rights legislation was lost in that country because of the bickering that went on between that country's two major black factions: the Zulu Nation, which was the largest black movement in South Africa at the time, and the African National Congress. Because of selfish interests on both sides, ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, and Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, managed to stifle any progress between the country's black leadership and the white-run government for years. If only the Zulus and the ANC could have dropped their one-sided goals and focused on cooperating together when the white government began to weaken, they could have had the country back in the hands of black Africans within a fraction of the time that it may have otherwise ever taken. For shame! Of course, I've greatly oversimplified a very complex situation, but it was a crucial period in their history then, and crucial measures should have been taken to ensure a smooth flow of progress; neither the leadership of the ANC, nor that of the Zulus had the vision to get through the turbulence involved, and that doesn't speak well of black leadership in South Africa. (Perhaps that's their Judas!) A logical fallacy would associate the leadership abilities of African blacks with those of American blacks. Let's hope that black American leadership can avoid such guilt by association.

In New Orleans, especially, black American leadership fumbles the ball so regularly, that avoiding fallacious associations with inferior minority leadership in other parts of the world could end up being quite a task. In late August of 1991, Cory Horton, a 16-year-old who was wanted for a crime that he and his brother, Anthony, committed (a shooting-related incident) was apprehended by police and shot to death when an officer reacted to the boy trying to seize his weapon. (Just a day or so earlier, Anthony Horton had turned himself in to the police.) Upon hearing news of Cory Horton's death, local black politicians and other leaders in the black community gathered up demonstrators in front of the St. Bernard public housing project, the place near where young Cory met his doom. The demonstrations lasted for two days. Residents of the project and neighboring areas listened patiently as black leaders stood in front of them and loudly advocated going out and killing a few white people as retribution for Cory's death. Although the circumstances of the shooting had not been clearly determined, they considered it an act of racist disregard nonetheless. Here was a juvenile delinquent, wanted on felony charges, who was shot while being arrested. Anywhere else, the tenants of the housing project or neighborhood would most probably have been relieved to know that a dangerous criminal with a long police record was out of their midst. But in New Orleans, the residents of the St. Bernard housing project took up banners at a rally to protest against the police, though the officers involved with the incident were doing their job at great personal risk!

And just before that occurrence at the St. Bernard project, the brand-new June bride of a Loyola/New Orleans law student was cruelly gunned down by a member of a marauding band of black teenagers while she and her groom were in the middle of moving things into their uptown apartment from their car which was parked on Carondelet Street. About three hours afterwards, the police picked up a group of three black juveniles who were wanted in the area for other offenses. A fourth was later picked up. One of them confessed to the shooting. But the confession wasn't true, and that group wasn't responsible for the shooting (two other black males, one twenty and the other twenty-three, were later arrested and charged for the murder).

So, where was black leadership in New Orleans then? Why weren't they out with their banners protesting against the arrest of four juveniles who were actually innocent of the crime to which one was made to confess? Better still, why weren't they out long before then advocating that black youngsters be policed by the black community in order to prevent them from falling prey to crime and punishment in the first place? They were and still are far too concerned with the atrocities of prejudice and racism carried out against them by the white establishment to worry about keeping the children of their families, friends and neighbors out of trouble and out of the reach of destitution. They would rather have preferred to highlight the unfortunate, yet accidental, shooting of a wanted criminal in front of the St. Bernard housing project. They preferred to appear on area news casts to call the mayor and chief of police "Uncle Toms" for "doing nothing" about it. Instead of praising Anthony Horton for doing the right thing and turning himself in, they praised his brother for trying to wrestle a police officer's gun away from him, and they condemned the officer for shooting the young reprobate and averting possible other criminal mischief which might have later occurred at his hands. They preferred to bury themselves deeper in the hole of apathy which their hypocrisy and one-sightedness have been digging for them for so long. They are never listened to by anyone who can make a difference because they have made themselves not worth listening to by always taking the desperate stand, crying fallacy-riddled wolf. They are destroying themselves and "their" people. They are not good.

This problem isn't limited to New Orleans. Black leaders in other parts of the country have fumbled just as much, especially where inter-racial harmony is involved. Blacks continuously find themselves more and more of a minority in America as other minorities, especially Hispanics, gain demographic territory in some regions over African-Americans. Despite the fact that blacks will comprise an increasingly smaller minority power-base in the U.S., some black leaders continue to aggravate situations where African-Americans live and work in close relation to other minorities such as Jews and Hispanics. In Miami, for example, blacks wage racial riots against an ever-increasing Hispanic presence in the community for reasons as uncertain as those which were involved in the Cory Horton case in New Orleans. In New York, blacks find difficulties in coexisting with major Jewish communities for reasons which are no less as shaky.

It is my impression that there has evolved an unstable hypersensitivity in black communities towards anything that can possibly be construed by blacks as being racist. I don't believe that it is necessarily good or bad, but rather that it is simply a result of social repression. It looks to me as if it may be leading some to a sort of racist paranoia which gravely lacks sensibility. If this is indeed a bona fide development, I think it is reasonable to say that it must be subdued, or it may eventually tear down any black power structures which may have already been founded within the sphere of minority-rights progression. It was already apparent in the 1970s that the monopoly held by African-Americans in minority advocacy was steadily dwindling as Hispanics, Jews and other minorities continually broke away to found more and more of their own minority-rights organizations. It won't be long at all before these other minorities start to represent the largest minority block in the United States, and African-Americans will be making increasingly more and more compromises until, finally, they find themselves on the losing end of practically every minority advancement made. They would have to give way to more progress for other minorities because of a seeming unwillingness to advance together with them, putting their causes next to others instead of ahead of them as they have tended to do. This is an ineffective way to even come to a draw in the representative-power game that is played in America.

Like everything else, that game is played differently in Louisiana. The hotel where Zach and I worked served as a good model of the New Orleans numerical and power majorities game. It seemed as if most of the hotel's employees were black, except for the management which was all white with one black manager. And concerning the hotel's executive corps, it seemed as if nearly every one of them were Yankee transplants from the North (in New Orleans, that's any place north of Memphis!). So, everybody despised them, black and white alike. I didn't dislike any of them because they were from the North, being a Northern transplant of sorts myself, but I was Southern enough to be able tell the difference between their obnoxious, hustle-bustle attitudes and our gentler way of approaching things. It seemed as if they planned to remain there only long enough to reap the spoils of our local servitude and to carry them off home where none of our people would ever share in any symbiotic fall-off which might be had otherwise. Indeed, they reeked of carpet-bags!

Zach and I had a little remedy for our frustrations. It involved the guests of the hotel, mostly white Northerners, and it had to do with their things. They would sometimes arrive by the bus-load (literally), so Zach, Tanner and the other bellmen would get overwhelmed by heavy bags and barrages of questions and requests. When it got really bad for them, I would go and give them a hand with the bags if I didn't have much business at the concierge desk. Now, the brilliant management team at this hotel found, some time before I had arrived there, that it was worth sacrificing a baggage storeroom to turn it into yet another managerial office. In lieu of the storage area, a stairwell leading to a long abandoned, gutted bar-room downstairs was used to store the guests' luggage. This made for very difficult and physically demanding labor for the bellmen, having to carry heavily packed suitcases, trunks and garment bags up and down this steep and winding staircase at any guest's whim. At times, people would come back again and again to have the bellmen bring up bags in which they had forgotten something that they needed in their rooms. And, not surprisingly, it was usually this type of person who would forget to tip the bellman for his work. Zach would come to my desk and curse and swear about it each time. One time, I showed him how to gain satisfaction from these incidents, having told him to come and get me the next time it happened. That wasn't very long thereafter, and I took Zach back to the storeroom and asked him to show me the bag or bags he had to lug up the stairs for that ingrate. He pointed out a couple of over-stuffed, heavy looking soft-sided suitcases which I promptly gave a swift kick to and caused to plummet all the way down the cramped stairs, banging into and rolling over other bags, and causing a luggage avalanche. We heard metal snap and glass break, cloth rip and plastic crack! We couldn't stop laughing! It felt good - damned good. And were there any complaints from guests? A few, but they were probably nothing compared to when they all got home with their things (hundreds of miles away), and started to open their souvenir-stuffed bags! (As Louis Armstrong used to sing, "Ha! Ha! Ha! Who's got the last laugh now?") Old Tanner used to love to watch me and Zach take it out on those bags, but he could never bring himself to do it with us.

Well, this story is good for emphasizing an observation that I've been able to make concerning numerical majorities (which are really the minorities in cases like this) and power majorities. The observation deals with the question of control - what I perceive to be a sort of anti-power. It may be that an established few hold the reins to all the formal power in a situation like at that hotel (and like in a city like New Orleans, too), but in a situation like that in which we find ourselves in the U.S., it is the masses who are supposed to have formal control, yet they do not. They do have another kind of control, however - a kind of power that evolves in every situation where there is repression and neglect. It is a power of control centered around numerical strength, and it is spontaneously activated by the intensity of the repression and neglect. Usually, the threshold of the degree of abuse required to trigger the activation of this spontaneous power is very high indeed, and when it happens, it is usually uncoordinated. As a result, it burns out fairly quickly. But if it is intense enough, it will culminate in disaster for the power majority. The American Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and even the 1992 riots in Los Angeles are all pretty good examples of this.

But it doesn't take the large-scale conditions necessary to ferment a national revolution or a city-wide riot to bring on this anti-power. It happens at all levels of society. In the hotel example, the managers wanted to pamper themselves with another office at the expense of the bellmen. But, in the long run, their guests - the people upon whom their very existence depended - paid the immediate price for the bellmen's frustration. Of course, everyone working at the hotel depended on them, but, unlike those in pursuit of high careers in management, the bellmen could always find other jobs carrying people's bags or washing dishes. Would a manager be able to gain another managerial position elsewhere after losing such a position due to circumstances appearing to be the result of his or her lack of managerial skill, such as the failure to ensure that guests' property, which had been entrusted to that manager's reliability, was properly cared for? Maybe, but it would certainly be a lot harder for that manager-type to find another managerial job, and there would be much greater damage done to his or her ego and sense of self-worth if he or she was to run into such a problem. In contrast, the damage done to the ego of a menial laborer, like a bellman, who realistically looks forward to much of the same routine in his or her life, and who is able to find satisfaction in life without having to center it around his or her professional identity, is negligible at worst.

So, there is a destructive counter-power which can be and is latently evoked by those who serve under the powers that be. In New Orleans, as well as in nearly every other major metropolitan area in America, this counter-power has been fully proven by the acts of crime and destruction which are carried out in a retributive manner against society-at-large and its established norms by those who have always been treated without respect or equity. Prisons and jails are filled to above capacity, forcing leniency for those who are grossly undeserving of it, and effectively crippling American society's one major way of enforcing control and, thusly, ensuring that what equality does exist is preserved. It is, in this way, very counter-productive. This counter-power needs to be harvested and incorporated by the leadership of the groups from which it wells for the betterment of the quality of life in this country for everyone. It is the solar energy of society, and now we must find a way to build social solar-panels to collect it. It is the power of social lightening with which we have to experiment with conductive social properties to harness it and to be able to use it for our mutual advantage.

Among those who have the greatest opportunity for harvesting this power are those in American minority leadership, from elected officials, all the way down to the de facto heads of grass-roots movements. It is this group of people upon whose shoulders falls the responsibility of realizing this and doing something positive about it. And it is they who have neglected it. If not for the neglect of black and other minority leaders to assert their collective influence constructively, our inner-cities would not be looking like shell-shocked combat zones! They've had no constructive or otherwise beneficial answers, it seems, since the bitterness of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, and the end of his words of hope for everyone. What a shame that his brilliantly logical vision of what action needed to be taken has not been replicated since. He was our social Ben Franklin who hoisted the key to realizing the solution to these problems up on a philosophical kite in the midst of all that social lightening. He discovered something very useful and was on to a way of containing it, but no one has bothered to follow up on his progress. Minority-rights leadership has been too wrapped up with obtaining short-term relief for self-centered grievances. For a lot of them, hostile accusations seem better to make than cooperative proposals on how everybody can get along. This is a sad statement for minority rights. And for Americans in general, it is the crown of thorns brought into place on our collective head as a result of selfishness, like that of the African-American Judas.

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