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Even The Rat Was White
Is anger necessary in politics?
When someone very close to me committed suicide in 1991, I was asleep at my girlfriend’s house in West LA. Since she was a clear and present genius she had already convinced me to attend couples therapy. You see I cheated on her for the woman I eventually married and I told the truth about that. So the both of us went to see Dr K over at the UCLA health complex. In our conversations it was patiently explained to me that at that moment, almost no black Americans ever had any psychological treatment, large or small. This was part of a thesis of the book most every black psychologist cited, or so I am told, Even the Rat Was White by Robert V. Guthrie. My genius girl and I got our proper doctoring done, were back on an even keel and sleeping peacefully when the universe decided I needed another boot to the head. So at the tender age of 30, I had reasons to have regular psychological counseling.
The book I am reading begins “Like most forms of corruption, it began with men in suits.” This morning’s news from Baltimore has something to do with hookers and cops. Nothing about Baltimore surprises me. Nothing about corruption surprises me. From the Tao, before the boot to the head, I learned to think comprehensively about my place in the balance of the environment. From the doctoring, I learned that good personal advice doesn’t have to come from intimates to whom you owe responsibilities in kind. From the career I learned that every city with a P.F. Chang’s seeks to comfort the bourgeois traveler. From the Stoics I learned that there is a rational path for the self because the universe is not capricious. These, among other lessons have taught me not to be surprised about human behavior. So it is not surprising that others have taken seriously the lessons of Woke Murphy’s Law that tells us whatever can go wrong for black people will go wrong and ultimately whitey is to blame.
It’s difficult for me, and I suppose for others like me who have purposefully exposed themselves to world literature and music, to presume that human psychology is determined by race. It’s certainly easy enough for those who have become fluent in more than one language to put the lie to any collection of racial prejudices even if they themselves are the sole exception they know. As I like to put it for my American friends, every white person has a black friend who’s not like the dude or chick on TV. Although it’s statistically unlikely that every white American actually has a black friend, it is likely that those who do know them uniquely. That’s between them. What is also likely in fact is that TV watchers who sat through The Wire believe that its portrayal of Baltimore was in every sense authentic. Except Idris Elba is not even an American.
The Personal Gets Political
I have been wondering about the appeal of badness. How much badness are we willing to accommodate and accept as appropriate to our personality? Some time ago I wrote about bastards and other disagreeable types. Whichever ‘authentic’ tribe you associate or identify with, there is a well-understood kind of sportsmanship that goes along with your antagonisms for other tribes.
So what level of bad can you be? How maladjusted can you behave? What level of hostility can you get away with? Most of us news junkies remember the story of Freddie Gray. Some skinny black dude whose head got slammed against the inside of a paddy wagon in Baltimore. His death cued an open season for cracking open the floodgates of ‘racial reckoning’ in that town. According to the script, the black city authorities made the call not to deploy police forces to suppress the violent panic in the streets.
If you call yourself a feminist, what kind of shrieking, shaming or slapping is appropriate against misogynist speech? When is it ok to punch a Nazi? In general, how do we reconcile our social restraint with our desire for justice? Given that none, or very few of us want a panoptic police state, it is interesting to watch the amount of vigilantism that falls under the general category of ‘social justice’. My view is that a great deal of mental madness sneaks into the armory of our low intensity tribal warfare just under the radar and care of government authorities. When losing your shit is deemed legitimate social currency, we’re just asking for a cray-cray bull market.
It’s not just political ideology and religious philosophy that angle us against each other factionally. It’s mental instability parading under those flags. We seem always to be on the lookout for a mad genius. Most of the the time we only encounter the madness without the genius. Remember that 85% of us are peasants. It’s not entirely reasonable for us to expect genius to be hanging out with us in the cheap seats. More than likely there’s a bit of mental instability.
It has become politically correct to never say ‘retarded’ or even ‘crazy’ but the clever folks in the various Dunning and Kruger tribes often like to speak about ‘the spectrum’ which is an allusion to autism. Well some people are fat but not morbidly obese. I panic when I get to 199 pounds. So let’s be a bit non-binary for a moment with mental health and be a bit more rainbow-blendy with our vocab. It’s something we can do even though we are told what language to use. Defy that.
My acquaintance with the DSM-IV was born of a necessity I may or may not discuss in the future. But I did more than dip my toe in that water. Given my proximity to disturbing behavior I know the rabbit hole goes hella deep. More than most horror films even bother to consider. So between surprised, freaked out and stunned into submission there’s plenty of ground to look at what is or is not traumatizing in terms of observing insanity. My point is that developing a finer grain of perception helps us all start to understand when and where we may have one wheel in the sand. In other words if you can see that you’re overweight and can accept that, there’s a good chance you are also a little bit cuckoo and can accept that too. You don’t necessarily need liposuction and you don’t need to be bound and gagged in a straitjacket. But you do need to get professional help.
You don’t think twice when your engine light comes on. Something needs fixing and you probably can’t do it yourself or ask your best friend. A counseling session with an MFT certified pro doesn’t take any longer than an oil change at Jiffy Lube. At least with the pro, you can get an appointment. You can’t walk around mean mugging and feeling you’ve got a right to be hostile any more than you can drive around with blue smoke coming out your tailpipe. How many times have you heard people excusing their callous behavior with ‘just keeping it real’?
It’s Your Psyche
So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting that an unexamined amount of frustration, anger and pain is psychological in origin and cannot be placed at the feet of racial animus. This reiterates and emphasizes my assertion that psychology is a science. For all of its unexplored areas and incompleteness, it is the discipline that should be applied to what we are calling racial. What I expect can immediately be demonstrated is that both perpetrators and victims of racial offense have diverse sensitivities to those offenses. Those sensitivities are psychological and therefore cannot be altered or remedied by political means. What I know for myself are two additional things which are:
The change from Negro to Black was partly the result of cultural and intellectual work that created a praxis in some that reoriented their sense of self from victim to agent.
Ralph Ellison, for one excellent example, demonstrates this capacity could be accomplished by the individual without any necessity for a cultural movement.
There remains some distance from black as in Black Nationalist to a fully self-actualized individual in WEIRD nations. The greatest fiction writers, like Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare, are masters of understanding the psychology of people and thus can imbue their characters with truthful traits with which we identify. Pardon me if I use the term ‘affect’ out of line with its most proper psychological definition, but this is what I mean by ‘identify’. It is not a matter of identity in either of the two above cases, but the work done on a personal level that helps people, either on their own or with a professional, manage their psyche. Done right this aids the individual in dealing more realistically with people around them in a healthy manner.
This is the mountaintop that I perceive is still distant from many Americans black and white we have no proper King to lead us towards. We are blaming abstract manufactured visions of ‘America’ for which to blame our dysfunctional circumstances. The fault is not in our state but in ourselves.
Not to belabor an anti-woke point but whenever I hear the terms ‘black self-esteem’ or ‘black bodies’ I immediately think the person uttering those phrases is making assumptions about the entire living African American population suffering from the ‘legacy of slavery’. As if none of us ever get up that pyramid. Some of us do. Some of us don’t.
You know the racial conversations you have. Where do you presume black Americans to be? You hear the chatter. What does it presume? Surely somebody will even suggest Maslow, as a ‘white male’, has no business talking about what mental health is for ‘people of color’. Seriously?
A favorite aphorism of mine is “If the poor and oppressed knew how to work the System they wouldn’t be poor and oppressed.” I hardly say it but it has been playing in my mind for a long time. It’s time for me to disabuse that perspective, because I am now convinced that the real possibility for redemption and liberation is not to be found in the sorts of cultural and political discourse we are experiencing in our public life. To borrow the term ‘gaze’, too many Americans are using the gaze of social science to abstract black Americans specifically and all ‘minorities’ by extension into their formulae and calculations. I say that is anti-humanist, anti-individualist and does nothing for the healing many have yet to experience.
On the other side of that mountaintop is the destruction of the need for ‘races’ to be reformed. As I mentioned in my discussion with Marc Danziger a few years back, you are a racist if you use the construction “I can’t do what I need to do or be who I need to be until that racial group over there does X.”
If the news of the world is getting you down or driving you crazy, you should start putting a finer point on exactly how crazy you are and start doing the work to correct your psyche. If Guthrie’s point stands, this is a more pointed need for black Americans who are buying into the narratives of victimhood. I do not second-guess black Americans, but I do know that a backpack of racial stereotypes substitute for serious thinking about their emotional stability and health. I expect that you will get away from that racial traffic. We all have a common baseline and common ailments. Get healthy.