by David M. Loucas, M.D.
Remember when you bought that living room set or that car, or perhaps some lovely diamond trinket... and it was only easy payments over time. Of course, you probably thought when you decided to make the commitment to pay for your object of desire that you could easily afford a venial indulgence. By the third monthly payment you're thinking that you may have to institute new economies in your life to make those 'easy' payments. Okay, so no more eating out twice a week, brown bagging it at work, cut out impulse buys, and (Ouch!) cancel cable Premium Channels and settle for basic service... Wanting something costs less than having it or doing it. And even if it is the right thing to have or to do, still, be prepared to bear the inconvenience and the annoyance of having to pay for it. And don't whine nor complain as if you are new to the human experience because, [All together now!], 'Payback-Is-A Bitch'.
This statement is nothing less than an acknowledgment that one should be prepared for some discomfort, and even inconvenience, when doing the right thing. This applies to keeping your word as much as it does to paying a debt. And if paying a debt or doing the right thing is what is required to correct an onerous wrong then the pain or inconvenience is really inconsequential to the meaning and the effect of the act in and of itself. This is similar to the ache of exercise or the rigors of intense studying. The outcome is that in the end you are stronger or smarter or better in some measurable way.
It is ironic how selective we Americans can be when it comes to paying our debts. Consider the National Debt for example. This four Trillion Dollar mushroom cloud is a national catastrophe. It was derived from the convoluted logic of a mentally incapacitated President, and it was generated at the request of a military industrial complex which sought to enrich and empower itself at the expense of the American worker and of the American family. In the wake of this frenzy is an apparition which is called the Interest on the National Debt. This virion is 17% of the National Budget, and it saps us of our strength, depreciates our lives by lowering our standard of living and is a plague upon our children. They, like us, did not cause this empty indulgence to happen; they just have to pay for it. Yet, we nod our heads austerely with the painful resolve that this Debt (irrespective of cause) must be paid off with a kind of, 'We're just going to have to bite the bullet, drop our drawers; it's the right thing to do', sort of Mea Culpa.
If payment of the National Debt is required in order to extricate ourselves from our national greed and excesses, it is eclipsed and superseded by Affirmative Action. Not to understand this is denial raised to the absurd height of delusion. In fact, Affirmative action is a slam dunk, not a soft pitch, if we choose to see it for what it is and for what it remedies.
Affirmative action is a Moral Imperative. It is an Atonement- an act of contrition to amend the effects of a wrong which had been done. And the egregious nature of the wrong, done, was so cruel, barbaric and savage that there had to be a mythology created about Blacks to buffer the horror of actually seeing and knowing it for what it really was: The enslavement of Human Beings for economic gain. I don't pretend to know much about evil, but this sounds like what I think evil is. This is an indelible mark which warps our psyche, distorts our perception, and addicts us to intolerance. Slavery was a human holocaust, not less than any other sub-human act perpetrated at times in history by other barbarians on otherwise peaceful and defenseless people. Americans are compelled to distance themselves from the bite of the savagery of human slavery in order to remain dysfunctionally self-deluded in the belief that it really wasn't that terrible, that there is no continuity to history, that there is no price to be paid. And unlike the catharsis that we as a Nation experienced when we acknowledged the depravity of the World War II 'Final Solution', that relief eludes us when it comes to reconciling the generational damage done as a result of the deliberate racial decimation brought about by the institution of slavery.
Slavery was the antithesis of being human and being alive; it was death without dying. Slavery was the annihilation of another human being- another race of human beings. Its effects rendered its victims irrecoverably damaged. Slavery debased and raped its victims, leaving them broken: morally, intellectually and spiritually. The effect of this degradation was crippling, and the injury done was irreparable and enduring. The perpetuation of the myth that slaves acted the way they did because they were Black was so convenient in blunting the reality of what was really done, that the continued debasement and discrimination of the Black race became a necessary subliminal American agenda- a buffer from reality and responsibility. And with the same intent and aplomb we stroked our National ego while propagating a reality of neglect and prejudice so as to promote and encourage a self-fulfilling prophesy of Black dysfunction. I can think of no recent example in history in which a human act of abomination was handled so deftly with such finesse and callousness.
Maybe 'Roots' the book and the TV special were an awakening for many Americans, but only a remote one, at best. We all ate popcorn and sipped sweet drinks, and had terse, polite conversations as the metalanguage of an American atrocity was acted out for our entertainment. And yes, Lavar Burton was wonderful as Kunta Kinte. But did we connect with the brutality and cruelty? Did we experience in a human and visceral way, the unbelievable pain and torture of prolonged, close, shackled confinement? Were we really in the presence of the turbid, fetid suffocation of dank air filled with the stench of urine, feces, rotting flesh and corpses... Who wants ice cream?... Say Honey, could you bring me another 'Bud'?... Dad, I have to call Rooney about my book report on the Civil War and how we fought to free all the slaves... Quiet! The commercial is over and 'Roots' is coming back on TV...
Fact is that anyone who has been in a serious accident, who has been in real fear of dying a violent death, or has been through and seen the up close the real horrors of war, knows that art doesn't remotely imitate life. Art is a page in a magazine you turn, a picture you can choose not to look at, a movie you walk out from, a TV you turn off. Life is a survivor of a concentration camp; a limb, a part or a friend you lost in a war; the sons and daughters of slaves, and their children, and their children's children who have suffered generational stigmatization and oppression.
The pseudologic of denial creates an illusion of closure on the issue of human slavery in America. The disparity between the illusion and the reality is a canyon, and the distance and the depth of that canyon is the size of our national instability, self deception and neurotic dysfunction. The illness comes through behind statements like:
1. That was then; this is now. 2. I think that enough is enough. 3. Just because they got shafted doesn't mean that I have to. 4. I think after a few more years all of this Affirmative Action business should stop. 5. I didn't own any slaves. 6. Let's send them all back to Africa.
Truth is that Affirmative action is a two or possibly three generation project. The notion that there is a short term painless solution for this highlights our National naiveté while illustrating the very mindset of the quick fix, drug addicted society we have become. Are we as a Nation so shallow, our National Ego so fragile, that we do not have the fortitude and the decency to be honest with each other and with ourselves?
Affirmative Action is not an award nor an honorarium. It is not a direct cash payment to anyone. It is not punishment nor retribution. It is not a free handout. It doesn't discriminate against anyone. It is a form of rehabilitation which is completely nondiscriminatory. It is a Moral Imperative and a National obligation for the enduring harm which was deliberately done to our fellow Human Beings. It is a price we pay for their rehabilitation and for our emergence from the mindset of greed and gain into the light of reason and truth. It is an atonement and a path to cultural, spiritual, intellectual and non-dysfunctional evolution.