Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why We Compete

(Edit: I began this post with one purpose in mind, but over time I began to ramble into another. My apologies...)

Since the completion of my last post, I have been thinking about the experience I had from a broader perspective. Taking me and my feelings out of the picture and addressing the overarching issue that I believe exists. And in doing so, I've come to some conclusions. 

Last semester, I had the opportunity to take a class titled Foundations of Human Dignity. Initially the name of the course may frighten you. It sounds too broad, too boring. But it turned out to be everything but. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that this class shifted my perspective on life and myself in SO many ways. My professor was an excellent instructor (and still is) and I believe that's why I came to enjoy the class so much. I'm an introvert with a hint of social anxiety so I never spoke up. Like, ever. But no doubt were the wheels turning in my head every second I was there. 

The purpose of the course was to explore the concept of human dignity, or value--to define what that means exactly and what that means to different people. We explored the philosophy of several different Western philosophers (Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, etc.) but we also took a look at some African traditions as well. We dissected how we as African-Americans have come to believe the things that we do and what caused that to happen. (Research the "two-cradle theory" if you're interested in it a little more.)

My professor introduced to us this idea of an epic memory. For African-Americans, it's a subconscious, spiritual connection to our ancestors and the experiences that they had both before and after the institution of slavery. Think of it as an invisible link. We may not be able to directly sense that it's there but no doubt does it exist. You just have to be willing to look out for it and accept it. 

With this epic memory, we have strong ties to the psychological bondage and brutality that our forefathers and foremothers experience. It would be foolish to believe that we live our lives in isolation of the oppression and degradation that they were to forced to live under every day of their lives. We are free but we are still connected, I believe. Because of the institution of slavery, African-Americans developed a culture of survival. Being able to simply make it to the end of the day without the threat of being sold or having one's loved ones sold became a sole concern. This same spirit of survival still lives and breathes within our culture today. It exists in different manners but no doubt does it exist. 

Because survival has been a staple of the Black experience in America for so long, some of us have begun to compete with one another. It's much like the "survival of the fittest" theory proposed by Charles Darwin that I'm sure you've learned about in middle or high school. Those who are best able to adapt to their environment are more likely to survive and pass on their genetic material. In many cases, this theory is used in reference to animals or bacteria, but we are very much the same way. When survival is the end goal, everyone else (excluding our family and loved ones) becomes competition, an obstacle in our path. And that significantly impacts how we view and treat others, even if they look just like us. 

I have witnessed this a great deal between African-American women, since I am one. Sometimes it's obvious, direct, in your face. And sometimes it's sly, underhanded. The latter is actually the most hurtful in my opinion. In some cases I don't believe that we mean to compete with one another; it's subconscious. In others, it's very well intentional. Survival equates to success, recognition, and popularity in our minds. Those are the things we're striving to achieve because we have been socialized to believe that those things give us value. We only have value if we subscribe to the Western ideology of success. We only have value if a certain number of people know our names. We only have value if we exist within certain social circles. It's all bullshit honestly. That's not what survival is about. We all know that. But we have been socialized to believe this way so the competition continues. And it is mighty ugly, as exemplified in my experience in the last post. 

I believe a great number of the reality T.V. shows produced today perpetuate this need to compete. There is this glorification of Black women bickering and fighting, gossiping about one another, and competing for the silliest things. Many view it as entertainment but I believe it's entertainment that reflects something we should not be proud of. I don't want to be entertained by seeing 30-40 year old women fight. Particularly, African-American women. I would much rather see them embrace one another in a spirit of sisterhood and empower one another. Those images are much more powerful and productive. To glorify the negativity is to perpetuate the competitive nature that we need to do away with. 

Although we are no longer physically enslaved, many in the African-American community are still mentally in bondage. You may have heard it referred to as the "slave mentality." I believe it to be true. In order to shift our perspectives, we need to examine where these perspectives came from in the first place. Critique them, dissect them, and determine if we want to accept them as our Truth. If not, it is not too late to change them and make change for the better. 

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