Examining My Assumptions About Money, Wealth, Possessions

I have come to understand that how mainstream U.S. culture has taught me to think about money, wealth and possessions (that is, to highly value those things and to desire them increasingly more and more) as something that is likely to promote violence. The reason that I say this, is because of how I ‘heard’ a Native American view, which was the expressed opposition to overvaluing money. Specifically, Aleck Paul, a Chippewa, explained in Our Stock of  Food and Clothes (Nabokov, 1999, pp. 85-87.)

When the white people came, they commenced killing all the game. They left nothing on purpose to breed and keep up the supply, because the white man don’t care about the animals. They are after the money. After the white man kills all of the game in one place he can take the train and go three hundred miles or more to another and do the same there (Nabokov, 1999, p. 86.).

What Mr. Paul was expressing was that when the European immigrants came into Chippewa territory, they would exploit the resources without regard for maintaining environmental sustainability. Their only concern was to make as much profit as possible from their exploitations of the environment, and then move on to do the same elsewhere once the resources were depleted. This was different than the Chippewa way.

In contrast to this sort of environmentally devastating behavior, Mr. Paul explained that the Chippewa act differently. They do not need government regulation concerning hunting. This is because the Chippewa “must protect the game or starve,” Paul said (Nabokov, 1999, p. 87.).  In other words, the Chippewa people do not need governmental regulation because they act with self-regulation.

After gaining this Native American perspective on resource management, I question the assumptions that I have learned about the capitalistic ideals of competition and profit and consumption. I now see that if a person’s priority is to ‘get ahead’, and get wealthy, that person may be too focused on those goals in order to be able to see that such actions are detrimental in the long term. Therefore, when a society is culturally taught to overvalue wealth, competition and consumption – and especially acquiring beyond one’s need, it is likely that resources will be depleted in such a way that others are unable to have their needs met. Then, unmet needs increase competition such that conflict is likely to result – thus the need for governance.

In essence, what I have concluded from Mr. Paul’s story is that when people act with self-regulation there is likely to be less conflict and less need for other-governance. Yet, if some people are competing in order to get ahead, those who self-regulate will be ‘left behind’. This too can cause conflicts. Therefore, self-regulation promotes peace only when everyone self-regulates. The two different life-ways are incompatible.

References:

Nabokov, P. (1999). Native American testimony: a chronicle of Indian-white relations from prophecy to the present, 1492-2000. Penguin Group USA.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Stereotyping Native Americans

The view of native people by the mainstream and dominating culture of the U.S. has changed over time.  The composers of early images and descriptions of native people in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkley, for example, tended to overtly objectify the subjects of their compositions, presumably with full support from mainstream society.  One way that the native people were objectified in this way is that they were not necessarily represented in an accurate way, but rather they were represented as an exotic novelty, and their way of life and their image (accurate or not) was something which could be consumed as a form of interesting entertainment by the dominating mainstream culture.  Sometimes this consumption took the form of education as in the example of the Lantern Slides Relating to Ishi, ca. 1911-1916 (n.d.).  Ishi was the last surviving member of the Yano (Yahi) group of Native Americans.  The caption that described this image of Ishi explained that he was posed and that the many photographs designed in this way “may tell us more about the photographers than they do about the subject” (Lantern Slides, n.d.).  Other times this sort of cultural consumption took the form of stereotypical notions of native people as a means to sell products, as evident in the image on the advertising labels for “Mountain Chief”, which offered a romanticized and noble depiction of North American natives as a positive image for selling oranges (Schmidt Lithograph, n.d.).

These are only two examples of the many ways in which native cultures have been historically ‘consumed’ by a dominating culture that wishes to capitalize on their uniqueness. More recently, the mainstream and dominating culture in the U.S. has become more aware of the harmful nature of this sort of attitude and actions toward native people.   This is evidenced in the recent negative attention given to team mascots that represent native people in unwanted fashion.  No longer does mainstream society so readily embrace the overt exploitation of ‘others’.  In response to this new understanding, there is effort to represent native people “simply as people” and “like any other people” with “strengths and weaknesses as well as valuable contributions” to society (Sutton, 2012, p.17.).  Even though many of the stereotypical notions and exploitation of native people still exist in contemporary society, awareness and change toward a more accurate representation, a greater equality and social justice for all is finally beginning to take shape.

Sometimes, different historical views may conflict with one another, perhaps one may be considered more ‘accurate’ while another has been proven to be a less-than-accurate depiction of past events such as the above mentioned stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans.  Yet, thinking in terms of accurate or inaccurate depictions of history may be a stumbling block in an effort to gain a deep understanding of the past.  What I mean by this is that when looking at historical artifacts, it would be good to think of them not so much as truth or untruth, but rather as perspectives of a larger historical record (only a small part of a more complete story).  For example, the paintings by George Catlin of romanticized and idealized Native America and Native Americans, which are displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Campfire Stories, n.d.), are an example of the perspective and purpose of the specific man, George Catlin. We can learn from those paintings about one perspective that can then be compared and contrasted to other perspectives of both then and now.  Perhaps Catlin’s work can be compared to other ‘American’ artists or other male artists, and likewise they can be contrasted to Native-American or feminine depictions of the past and/or of the present, this, in order to discover similarities and differences in the many historical perspectives.  Compiling and combining information in this way, and comparing and contrasting the many perspectives or stories over time, allows for a more complete picture of a very complex social reality.  Therefore, it may at first seem logical to disregard historical views that have proven to be less-than-accurate, but to do so would limit our ability to learn about and learn from the past.  Instead of disregarding certain aspects of the historical record, we can understand that there are many historical views of history and when these differing views are combined, a more complete understanding of both the past and the present may then emerge.

Reference:

Campfire Stories with George Catlin.  (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/catlinclassroom/cl.html

Lantern Slides Relating to Ishi, ca. 1911-1916. (n.d.). The Bancroft Library:  Portraits of Native Americans – Early Ethnography. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/Exhibits/nativeamericans/23.html

Schmidt Lithograph Company Records. Advertising Labels, Volume VI., ca. 1950.. (n.d.). The Bancroft Library:  Portraits of Native Americans – “ Mass Market Appeal. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/Exhibits/nativeamericans/35.html

Sutton, M. Q. (2012). An introduction to native North America (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Understanding Artistic Representations of Native Americans

George Catlin and other non-native painters offered viewers of their works of art a glimpse of their own perspectives concerning native people. Catlin’s works of art, which are displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Campfire Stories, n.d.), for example, were designed for multiple purposes. Catlin stated that he wished to capture the life and culture of Native-Americans before they (as he supposed they would) disappeared altogether as a result of displacement and genocide.  It appears that Catlin attempted to portray natives as close to what he presumed they were like before the disruption of Western European invasion.  Most of the paintings show idealized images of the landscape and of native people and very few of his paintings offer images that show the negative impact of colonization on these people. One of the few paintings by Catlin that offers a depiction of a Native-American impacted by the colonizer is of Wi-jn-jon, Pigeon’s Egg Head (The Light) Going to and Returning from Washington (n.d.).

Wi-jún-jon, Pigeon’s Egg Head (The Light) Going To and Returning From Washington

In a less than flattering fashion, Catlin described Wi-jn-jon’s appearance on his return trip from Washington, as dressed in what Catlin supposed were garments of a fine military costume, given to him by the President.  Interestingly though, as evidenced in his painting, Theodore Burr Catlin, in Indian Costume, (n.d.) he sees nothing perverse with people of European descent dressed in Native-American costume and engaged in native themed ‘reenactments’, as it was his custom to put on such ‘Wild West’ performances (he called them “tableaux vivants”) in order to capitalize on the events (Theodore Burr Catlin, n.d.).

Theodore Burr Catlin, in Indian Costume

 

Catlin’s other and unstated purpose for painting the life and culture of Native-Americans before they were gone, then, was to capitalize on their unique culture as his own means for economic survival in a competitive, capitalistic society.  In this way, the representations of Native-Americans were truer than what might first appear on the surface.  The representations of Native-Americans by painters such as Catlin are a record of how European-Americans imagined everything (including people) in The New World to be objects for their own exploitation and capitalistic gain, and they made their imaginations become reality.

 

References:

Campfire Stories with George Catlin.  (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/catlinclassroom/cl.html

Theodore Burr Catlin, in Indian Costume. (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/catlinclassroom/cl.html

Wi-jn-jon, Pigeon’s Egg Head (The Light) Going to and Returning. (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/catlinclassroom/cl.html

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Storytelling: a Method to Heal from Historical Trauma

My friend, Tom DeWolf has been interviewed for a “Cities Tour” C-Span segment that is to air today, Saturday, 4/5/2014 @ 4:30 pm. EDT.  In this segment, Coming to the Table, an organization that “provides leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery,” is is prominently featured in this segment.  Tom discussed the book that he co-authored with Sharon Leslie Morgan, Gather at the Table:  The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade, in which they wrote of their exploration into the “deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice.”  It is their hope that their work inspires “a national dialogue about the legacies of slavery and racism” and that it offers “practical guidance for individuals and groups who want to heal themselves and America” from our traumatic past.

The Connection Between Privilege and Disadvantage

Situations of privilege and disadvantage are connected in that one situation cannot exist without the other, and they lie on opposite ends of a spectrum. Privilege happens only in relation to disadvantage, and likewise disadvantage happens only in relation to privilege. This does not mean that social dynamics cannot change, because they certainly do change not only for individuals, but also for groups and even societies.

Systems of privilege/disadvantage (which is a very different social dynamic than individual acts of discrimination) have been historically created in such a way that certain members of society automatically receive benefit for the simple reason that they were born into the membership of a privileged group. What this means is that in the U.S. (as in other countries) we, as a society, have historically created social systems that automatically privilege certain groups of people – those groups being the group of men  (male privilege) the group of white-skinned people (white-skin privilege) the group of non-disabled people (able-ism), and the group of heterosexual people (heterosexism), for example. Being born into these groups automatically entitles members to certain privileges:

  • higher paying jobs for men (translates to less poverty for men).
  • less likelihood of incarceration for white-skinned folks (translates to less poverty for white-skinned folks).
  • ease in mobility for non-disabled people (translates into greater work opportunity and less chance of poverty for nondisabled folks).
  • tax and insurance benefits, plus the ability to make medical decisions for heterosexual partners (translates into less poverty for heterosexual couples).

Non-privileged group members do not have the same opportunity to enjoy these benefits to the same degree as members of privileged groups do. This inequality can be seen in socioeconomic status statistics, for example.

In other words, members of marginalized and stigmatized groups (women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community, for example) are generally excluded from participating FULLY in mainstream society, sometimes by discrimination, sometimes by group dynamics that create social ‘norms’, and sometimes even by law. One cannot ‘give up’ the privilege even if the privilege is not wanted, because it is bestowed onto members of certain groups by society in general. The group of white-skinned, non-disabled heterosexual men is the most privileged group in U.S. society.

It is important to understand, though, that a person can be privileged in one area of their life and simultaneously also be disadvantaged in another. Additionally, one can be a member of an advantaged group and NOT FEEL privileged. Likewise, there can be folks who are members of disadvantaged groups who DO realize areas and degrees of privilege. These few exceptions do not negate the reality of the systemic violence that is embedded into the domination systems that we know as sexism, racism, able-ism, heterosexism, and classism, for example. Although we cannot escape the privileges that society bestows on us, those who do enjoy privilege can use their privilege to empower others. Indeed, it is the folks who do have privilege who have the greatest ability (power) and opportunity to change the unjust systems.

A good resource for understanding these social dynamics is Privilege, Power and Difference by Allen G. Johnson.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Theorizing the Nature of Forgiveness

The idea of forgiveness is complex because it has several dimensions.  For many, forgiveness is considered a human virtue that can act as a path toward healing for victims, transgressors and relationships alike.  In addition to viewing forgiveness in this way, it may also be thought of as an alternate choice to a human inclination of a fight or flight response toward a transgression.  It can also be understood that there are different types of forgiveness in addition to different theories on the purpose of forgiveness.

First, different types of forgiveness may be thought of as having different characteristics.  This way of thinking about forgiveness has been explored by Michael E. McCullough & Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, in The Psychology of Forgiveness (2002).  They have categorized the notion of forgiveness as a psychological construct consisting of several dimensions.  They identify the application of forgiveness as: 1) a characteristic of social units, 2) as a personality disposition, and 3) as a response.

What this means is that forgiveness is socially contextual.  That is, the nature of forgiveness depends on the types of relationships in which they occur in addition to the nature of the transgression being forgiven.  Therefore, forgiveness is a characteristic of relationships or social units.

Additionally, a person with a propensity to forgive is a relatively positive and agreeable person.  There is a correlation with the advancing of age and a relatively positive and agreeable personality that has a propensity to forgive.  In this way, forgiveness correlates with a relatively agreeable and positive personality disposition.

Also, forgiveness takes place when people experience a change concerning how they think about, feel and act toward those who have hurt them.  This happens in such a way that their ideas, feelings and actions become more positive over time.  Forgiveness in this way is a response to a transgression.

Therefore, the act of forgiveness can be thought of as an intersection of the increasingly positive attitude and actions of someone who has been harmed as a result of their own personality disposition, and their response to the social relationships in which the transgression occurred, including the nature of the transgression.

Yet, there are not only different characteristics or types of forgiveness, there are also different theoretical perspectives concerning the purpose of forgiveness.  For example, forgiveness may be understood as a relationship-building tool.  As cited by Snyder and Lopez (2007, pp. 279-282.), Robert Enright, one of the earliest researchers on forgiveness, understood forgiveness as a process that may be used to build and maintain interpersonal relationships (Enright & Zell, 1989, p. 99.).  Thought of in this way, the act of forgiveness takes place when one develops a kind attitude toward a transgressor such that one has “a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly hurt us, while fostering the underserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love toward him or her” (Enright, Freedman, & Rique, 1998, pp. 46-47).   Because Enright believed that the purpose of forgiveness was to build community, he asserted that forgiveness could only be directed toward people, and not situations (Enright & Zell, 1989, p. 53.)  To Enright, the purpose of forgiveness was to build and maintain community.

Another theory on the purpose of forgiveness is that it may be understood as a way to free oneself from a role as a victim.  As cited by Snyder and Lopez (2007, pp. 279-282.), Tangney, Fee, Reinsmith, Boone, and Lee (1999) understood forgiveness as a change in one’s thought process and emotional state whereby a transformation takes place in which one gives up living the role of the victim.  This sort of transformation takes place by freely letting go of negative emotions (including anger and resentment) toward a transgressor, and freely letting go of a desire for revenge, punishment and even restitution.  This change takes place even after a realistic assessment of the harm and an acknowledgement of the transgressor’s responsibility.  To Tangey, et al., forgiveness in this way, is a cancelling of all debts, so to speak, in order to free oneself from the bonds of victimhood.

An additional way of thinking about the purpose of forgiveness is that its application may reduce interpersonal conflicts and increase the likelihood of more agreeable interpersonal relationships.  As cited by Snyder and Lopez (2007, pp. 279-282.), according to Mc Cullough and his colleagues, forgiveness has a pro-social motivation such that an avoidance of a transgressor and/or a desire for revenge toward a transgressor are both lessened, while at the same time, a desire for positive action increases.  In this way, and over time, a victim’s benevolence toward a transgressor increases (2000; McCullough et al., 1998, 2000a, 2000b).  According to Mc Cullough’s theory, the purpose of forgiveness is to reduce interpersonal conflicts.

Although there are various perspectives and theories about the different purposes of forgiveness, forgiveness may, in fact, be a means of healing from any hurtful situation or event.  As cited by Snyder and Lopez (2007) Thompson and her colleagues (Thomson et al., 2005), offered a very broad understanding of forgiveness as a “freeing from a negative attachment to the source that has transgressed against a person (pp. 279-282.).”  With this understanding, the act of forgiveness may be applied to oneself, another person, a group, or even a situation or event that is harmful or out of one’s control (Snyder & Lopez, 2007, pp. 279-282.).  This perspective or theory on the purpose of forgiveness offers inclusiveness such that forgiveness may be the way to heal from any harm.

The complexity of the subject of forgiveness includes the intersection of types of forgiveness and the purposes of forgiveness.  Forgiveness should always be understood within the context of the relationships in which it is applied, and the nature of the transgression.  Forgiveness may be a characteristic of relationships, a personality disposition, and/or a response to a transgression.  The purposes of forgiveness may include to heal oneself, others, and/or relationships from any harmful situation or event.  The notion of forgiveness is multi-dimensional in that it is a response to a transgression that is dependent upon one’s perspective and personality disposition in addition to the social context in which it occurs (including the nature of the relationships and the transgression), and its intended purpose.

Yet this very inclusive view of forgiveness can be expanded even more.  For example, in his speech, The Psychology of Forgiveness, (2008) Dr. Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, approached the subject of forgiveness through a scientific lens, by which he offered insights into the healing powers of forgiveness.

Dr. Luskin’s understanding of forgiveness is inclusive in that it is an intersection of the forgiveness ‘types’.  To him, forgiveness is a response to harm, such as interpersonal unkindness, human failings, life’s unpredictability and difficulties, or simply the horrors experienced as part of being a human being.  The response is that the victim of harm alters a negative disposition by practicing the elements of forgiveness such as goodwill, patience and compassion.  This practice results in a transformation toward an agreeable and positive disposition and it has many benefits including the reduction of harmful stress and the improvement of emotional, physical and relational health and wellbeing.  Therefore, Luskin understands forgiveness to comprise of each of the three types:  forgiveness as a response, forgiveness as a disposition, and forgiveness as a characteristic of social units, but he also understands forgiveness in another sense.

Theoretically speaking, to Dr. Luskin, forgiveness is a psychological therapeutic approach to letting go of the stress of un-forgiveness as a way to regain and maintain emotional, physical, and relational health benefits.  What Dr. Luskin proposed in his speech is that the ‘practice of forgiveness’ can be taught to individuals (and groups) such that as they apply the elements of forgiveness to their daily lives, they will realize the associated health benefits such as cardiovascular health improvement and breathing improvement, and therefore live healthier and happier lives.  In this way, Luskin’s theory concerning the purpose of forgiveness is much like Tangney’s:  Forgiveness is a transformation of one’s own way of thinking and feeling that frees oneself from a role of victimhood and restores health and wellbeing to the individual(s) who practice forgiveness.  Luskin’s approach to the subject of forgiveness is also broad and inclusive and in this way, he also aligns with the theories of Thompson, who understood forgiveness as a way for anyone to heal from any type of harm.

To Dr. Luskin, the act of forgiveness is one of purposefulness.  His intention is to teach a method of forgiveness in such a way that anyone may use it in order to receive the emotional, physical and relational benefits that it has to offer.  His broad and inclusive approach to the subject of forgiveness has the primary focus of teaching others how to use forgiveness as a means of releasing stress that is caused by any type of harm in order to increase one’s own emotional, physical and/or relational health.  Dr. Luskin’s very inclusive view on the subject of forgiveness is that it can help anyone heal emotionally, physically, and/or relationally from any type of harm.

My own perspective concerning the subject of forgiveness is that forgiveness is purposeful, personal and multi-dimensional or multifaceted.  I can see this by the different lenses with which I view forgiveness:  The different dimensions (purposes) for which one chooses to forgive, and how the ‘types’ of forgiveness intersect.

For example, I discussed the emotion of anger in the subject of forgiveness as it relates to a nonviolent social change ideology, explaining that anger toward an injustice may used in a purposeful way in order to fuel a thoughtful response, such that situations of greater social justice may result.  I also related forgiveness as a kindly and healing response to harm when I explored this concept in Zora Neale Hurston’s short story The Gilded Six Bits (n.d.).  I also related forgiveness to process that takes place over time, and may even be an ongoing practice.  I explored this when writing about Albert White Hat’s story of forgiveness, Native American Survival Challenge:  Forgiveness v. Anger (One Sky Above Us, 1996).

In these examples, I viewed forgiveness as a purposeful response to an injustice and/or a harm (depending on the social context), plus a change in attitude and action (personality disposition), and as a characteristic of social units in that the initial harm may be transformed into a greater social good either by improved personal wellbeing, improved social relationships, or greater social justice in general.  For this reason, I tend to think of forgiveness as layered or multi-faceted rather than being of different distinct types.

Additionally, in the examples of forgiveness that I examined, I found that the purpose of forgiveness might include healing oneself, to heal others, and/or to heal relationships from any harmful situation or event, depending on context.  For this reason, my ideas concerning forgiveness align with Tangney’s theories (as cited by Snyder and Lopez, 2007, pp. 279-282.):  Forgiveness is a transformation of one’s own way of thinking and feeling that frees oneself from a role of victimhood and restores health and wellbeing to the individual(s) who practice forgiveness.  I also understand forgiveness with a broad view, attempting to take in many perspectives.  Therefore, my ideas concerning the purpose of forgiveness also align with the theories of Thompson (as cited by Snyder and Lopez, 2007, pp. 279-282.), who understood forgiveness as a way for anyone to heal from any type of harm.  And my ideas of forgiveness also aligns with Luskin, in that forgiveness can be a purposeful method of healing oneself, others, and relationships.

To me, forgiveness is a personal choice, and sometimes relational response to any possible harm, such that an ongoing process of moving toward an increasingly positive attitude (and perhaps actions) occurs in a way that brings about greater emotional, physical and/or relational healing to those harmed, to the transgressors, to relationships, communities and even societies, depending on the context of the transgression and the social relationships in which it occurred.

References:

Hurston, Z. N. (n.d.). The gilded six bits [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.bhscpa.org/0708HW/bells/bellamlit/thegildedsixbits.pd

McCullough, M. E., & Witvliet, C. V. (2002). The psychology of forgiveness. Handbook of positive psychology, 2, 446-455.

One sky above us: The West, a film by Stephen Ives. (1996). Films On Demand. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from http://digital.films.com.library.esc.edu/PortalPlaylists.aspx?aid=1667&xtid=44418

Snyder, C. R., Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

“The Psychology of Forgiveness”. (2008). (Theology Institute Annual Conference: Forgiveness ) [Audiovisual Material]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlo26PwfcL

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

If One has Forgiven, Why Might it Then be Necessary to Forgive Daily?

Sometimes, forgiveness is an ongoing process.  For example, in Native American Survival Challenge:  Forgiveness v. Anger (chapter 12 of One Sky Above Us:  The West, a Film by Stephen Ives, 1996), Albert White Hat (1938-2013), a Lakota man and teacher of Lakota language, at 16 years old, went to St. Francis Jesuit Mission School, a boarding school.  (Before then, he grew up in his traditional Lakota culture ‘of stories’.)  The boarding school system killed the native Lakota language stories, and their culture, and for Albert White Hat, shame resulted.

The policy and laws, of which Albert White Hat spoke in this short film, were those imposed by the white-man’s government and the white-man’s schools upon the native people.  These policies and laws systematically exclude(d) Native-Americans and their culture and history from mainstream U.S. culture and society.  The policies and laws were/are imposed by the dominating culture and were/are unjust and they were/are intended to destroy native people and their culture, and appropriate native people’s land and resources for capitalistic gain and to the benefit of the rich, property-owning (property-stealing) capitalists.

The impact to Albert White Hat, as a result of these injustices to Native-Americans and their culture, was an overwhelming anger where he felt that he had no choice but to kill in order to honor his ancestors.  Yet, he wanted to live and be happy.  He felt that he deserved to live and be happy.  He knew that he had to forgive in order to do so.

For the Lakota people (as is the case with other Native-American people) it is a daily reality to forgive what was done/is currently being done to their people, their culture, their land, and their entire way of life.  Because Native-American people live daily with the injustices imposed upon them by mainstream U.S. culture and its government and policies, forgiveness is an ongoing process that will not end for hundreds of years.

References:

One sky above us: The West, a film by Stephen Ives. (1996). Films On Demand. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from http://digital.films.com.library.esc.edu/PortalPlaylists.aspx?aid=1667&xtid=44418;

One sky above us: The West, a film by Stephen Ives. (1996). Films On Demand. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG7hEVUCwiU

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Gilded Six Bits: A Complex Story of Forgiveness

The Gilded Six Bits, a short story written in 1933 by Zora Neale Hurston, is tale about forgiveness.  The story takes place in a small African-American town of Eatonville, Florida, in the early 1930s.  It is a complex tale of love, desire, indiscretion, anger, fear, uncertainty, disappointment, bewilderment, need, reconciliation, and finally, acceptance.  The main plot is that Joe Banks reconciled with his wife, Missie May, who betrayed him and bore him a son, which may not even be his child.  In this story, a complex process of interdependence and forgiveness is revealed.  Yet this simple plot contains many subtle layers.

The Gilded Six Bits from Frank Scallo on Vimeo.

When thinking about Missie May’s betrayal, it is important to question, “How could an African-American woman buy her husband the sort of gift that (presumably) white-skinned women provided to their loved ones during that time and place?  Where did any woman find paying jobs during that time and place?  What kind of jobs were they?  Who were the type of women that got hired?  What sorts of jobs were offered to uneducated African-American women at that time? Were good paying jobs available to African-American women who lived in isolated African-American communities?”  The situation is very complex.  Embedded into the story are social dynamics (and inequalities) that are connected to economics, race, and gender.  I think it would do us well to not apply our own contemporary standards of ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ to Joe and Missie May’s actions.  Instead we can learn from their responses to the injustice that existed all around them.

Consider the injustice in the intersection of gender/economic inequality.  At that time in history, it was a social norm that women depended on men to provide income for the household.  Consider also, how Joe Banks treated his wife under those circumstances.  Joe Banks initiated a game with his wife each week after he was paid.  The game was that he would throw money at her and she was to chase him and catch him and search him to find the gifts he was hiding in his pockets.  This resulted in a playful sparring and displays of affection and love.  Yet, in a way, Joe Banks bought his wife’s affections and set the stage for future outcomes.

I wonder if Joe was truly aware of what his actions communicated?

Joe would throw money to the floor (to the floor ! ! !) for Missie May to retrieve and place next to her dinner plate.  Missie May would say,

“Who dat chunkin’ money in mah do’way?” . . . “Nobody ain’t gointer be chunkin’ money at me and Ah not do ’em nothin’.”

Why did Joe do that?  What message did that send to Missie May?  Joe treated Missie May like she was for sale and he was buying her affections.  Was he aware of that?  Perhaps not.  I suspect he was just living life in the way that history and society shaped it for him.

I believe that Missie May was coerced into positions of prostitution because of a situation of desperate poverty.  Remember, this story took place in the southern U.S. in a very poor African-American community during the Great Depression.  This was only 70 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and 31 years before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s success with the Civil Rights Movement.  This context indicates the level of oppression and poverty that these folks endured.  Consider the description of the community, the house, the yard, and the rather bleak disposition of that time and place.

It was a Negro yard around a Negro house in a Negro settlement that looked to the payroll of the G. and G. Fertilizer works for its support . . . But there was something happy about the place.

This was an impoverished place during a time of great austerity.  Missie May relied on her husband to provide for her, and he treated her like a prostitute in return.

Joe degraded Missie May in other ways, too.  Consider the way he encouraged a game of touch-me-here and touch-me-there search-my-pocket-for-trinkets.

“Unhhunh! Ah got it! It ’tis so candy kisses. Ah knowed you had somethin’ for me in yo’ clothes. Now Ah got to see whut’s in every pocket you got.”

Joe smiled indulgently and let his wife go through all of his pockets and take out the things that he had hidden for her to find. She bore off the chewing gum, the cake of sweet soap, the pocket handkerchief as if she had wrested them from him, as if they had not been bought for the sake of this friendly battle.

“Whew! dat play-fight done got me all warmed up!”

Isn’t that the sort of grooming that dirty old uncles do with their nieces and such?  I see no love in this, only manipulative behavior.  The actions speak, “If you want what I have – then give me what I want in return.”  Joe bought his wife.  He owned her.

Joe not only treated his wife, Missie May, as though she was a prostitute and for sale, he also dominated over Missie May in other ways.  He controlled what she was allowed and not allowed to eat.  Consider how he denied Missie May of the spicy potato pudding that she made.

Missie May reached for a second helping of the tater pone. Joe snatched it out of her reach.

After Missie May had made two or three unsuccessful grabs at the pan, she begged, “Aw, Joe, gimme some mo’ dat tater pone.”

“Nope, sweetenin’ is for us menfolks. Y’all pritty lil frail eels don’t need nothin’ lak dis. You too sweet already.”

“Please, Joe.”

“Naw, naw. Ah don’t want you to git no sweeter than whut you is already.

He also controlled what clothes she would wear and what activities they would enjoy.

We goin’ down de road a lil piece t’night so you go put on yo’ Sunday-go-to-meetin’ things.”

Missie May protested that she did not want to be objectified, but that she wanted to be treated with respect, instead.

“Don’t you mess wid mah business, man. You git in yo’ clothes. Ah’m a real wife, not no dress and breath. Ah might not look lak one, but if you burn me, you won’t git a thing but wife ashes.”

Yet, Joe insisted that she go, and he paraded his wife as an objectified showpiece to a known womanizer, “Mister Otis D. Slemmons, of spots and places–Memphis, Chicago, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and so on.”

“Go ‘head on now, honey, and put on yo’ clothes. He talkin’ ’bout his pritty womens–Ah want ‘im to see mine.”

Missie May had no interest in meeting this man, or in his money, but it was Joe that insisted that she go.

“Joe, Ah hates to see you so dumb. Dat stray nigger jes’ tell y’all anything and y’all b’lieve it.”

All throughout this story, Joe was in control, manipulating Missie May, leading her to where she would go and what she would do, even sometimes against her will.

Missie May had no interest in the man or the lifestyle of Mr. Slemmons.  It was Joe who desired riches, and recognition.

“Good Lawd, Missie! You womens sho is hard to sense into things. He’s got a five-dollar gold piece for a stickpin and he got a ten-dollar gold piece on his watch chain and his mouf is jes’ crammed full of gold teeths. Sho wisht it wuz mine. And whut make it so cool, he got money ‘cumulated. And womens give it all to ‘im.”

“Ah don’t see whut de womens see on ‘im. Ah wouldn’t give ‘im a wink if de sheriff wuz after ‘im.”

Missie May did not want the gold coins for herself; she wanted them for her husband.

The impression I received was that Missy May was raised the daughter of a prostitute, and it was feared by her mother-in-law that Missie May would follow in her mother’s footsteps.  Joe’s mother said, after the baby was born,

“You ain’t ask ’bout de baby, Joe. You oughter be mighty proud cause he sho is de spittin’ image of yuh, son. Dat’s yourn all right, if you never git another one, dat un is yourn. And you know Ah’m mighty proud too, son, cause Ah never thought well of you marryin’ Missie May cause her ma used tuh fan her foot round right smart and Ah been mighty skeered dat Missie May wuz gointer git misput on her road.”

Missie May might very well have come from a home where her mother lived a life of prostitution.  If so, this is the way that Missie May learned to survive.

It is a fact, that for millennia, women have sometimes used the only way they could see possible to earn an income.  One reason that they do this is because society excludes them from other forms of gainful employment.  They want or need to provide for their loved ones (or even themselves), but see no other way to do that.  It is also a fact, that for millennia, men dominate over women.  Many women learn that it is safer to submit quietly, as then they are less likely to experience a violent reaction from a rejected man.  Additionally, women are expected to submit to a purity culture, and men are not.  Women who do otherwise are many times stigmatized and penalized.

Consider also the injustice of the intersection of racial/economic inequality.  Joe was impressed with the display of wealth and braggart personality of Mr. Slemmons.  Joe desired what Mr. Slemmons had.   Because Missie May loved her husband, she wanted him to wear fine gold decorations as Mr. Slemmons did – and Mr. Slemmons explained that white-skinned women gave their loved ones gold coins.  So Missie May devised a plan so that she could give a fine gift of gold coins to her husband, but her plan backfired when Joe arrived home unexpected.  If Joe had not been so impressed with the trappings Mr. Slemmons displayed, perhaps Missie May might not have made the choice that she made.

I wonder if Missie May would have chosen different actions if life was different for African-Americans in that time and place, than it is was.  If Missie May wanted to provide her love with fine gold coins (as she was told that white-skinned women did) where would she have access to such?

In the face of their imperfect responses to the gender and racial economic injustices, the husband and wife spent some time in anger, fear, uncertainty, disappointment and bewilderment over what had taken place.  Yet their dependency upon one another kept them together.  They each filled a need for the other.  It was the recognition of their need for one another that allowed them to reconcile and realize a new place of acceptance in their lives. Both Joe and Missie May learned to accept their imperfect responses to the oppressive situation and desperate poverty in which they found themselves.  They came to a place of acceptance that each of their actions rose out of situations of great poverty and the racial injustices that had shaped their lives.  They learned to forgive their individual and collective responses to unjust social systems.  One was not ‘more guilty’ and in need of greater forgiveness than the other.

Social pressures shape an individual’s actions. Recognizing a larger perspective may soften the hurt and open the door to a process of forgiveness.  It is easy to rush to a judgment concerning Missie May’s guilt and Joe’s good heart.  It was good that he was able to forgive Missie May and he even pointed out to Missie May that she should forgive herself too.  I believe that the main point of the story was that these folks should forgive themselves and each other for the very difficult situation in which they currently found themselves.  Their actions rose out of situations of great poverty and the racial injustices that had shaped their lives – people for sale !  They learned to forgive their imperfect responses to an unjust economic system.

Applying this teaching to our own lives, we can understand that none of us are perfect and that we depend on one another for our own wellbeing and survival. When we realize our own imperfections, we can find it easier to accept others’ imperfections. Additionally, other’s actions may be the result of how we treat them. Joe and Missie May came to terms with each other’s imperfections. Joe forgave Missie May for her indiscretion and accepted the gift of a son. Missie May forgave her husband for paying her for affections with the gilded coin when she once again joined in with the playful payday routine of coin tossing and searching for gifts. Forgiveness is being able to see beyond one’s own and pain and suffering and being able to take in the perspectives of others.  Forgiveness is about recognizing that we need each other, and its about acceptance of human imperfections in both self and other.

By this tale, Zora Neale Hurston communicated the complexity of human interdependence and relationship.  Perhaps one of the author’s intents was to explore the social injustices that take place where the intersection of racial, gender, and class inequalities meet.  These are all evident in her very short story.  Perhaps another intent of the author, was to also examine the injustice in the systems so that an individual’s imperfect responses and actions to an unjust system can be forgiven.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thinking About the Nature of Forgiveness

 A forgiveness quote that resonates with me at this moment is by Lewis B. Smedes,

Healthy anger drives us to do something to change what makes us angry; anger can energize us to make things better.  Hate wants to make things worse.

Thinking of this quote as a ‘forgiveness quote’ (although there is no mention of the word forgiveness) suggests that perhaps forgiveness can have something to do with a desire for social change. This sentiment mirrors an interest of mine, that of Nonviolence as a strategy for social change.

Nonviolent social change ideology insists that one cannot bring about peace through violent means.  This parallels the notion that “hate wants to make things worse”.  Hate in response to an injustice will not result in an improved relationship or personal well-being.  The strong negative emotion of hate will only bring about more negativity.

While hate begets negativity, the feelings of anger can act in the opposite way, as a force for reconciliation.  This may, at first, seem counterintuitive.  Yet if an injustice does not stir any strong emotion, it is unlikely to result in changed actions.  The strong emotion of anger can act as a sort of fuel, to propel one into action, perhaps to take a risk – or as Allan G. Johnson named it in his book, Privilege, Power and Difference, to get off the path of least resistance – and do something that will effect change.

An example of how anger can be used as a force for good, is when Mahatma Gandhi used his anger toward racial injustice to fuel his Nonviolent action (Nonviolence) that led to India’s eventual independence from the rule of Great Britain.  This independence was achieved through nonviolent means that also allowed for reconciliation and a working relationship between these two nations.  Gandhi recognized that the best way to ‘fight back against the enemy’ was to make him your friend.  This required forgiveness.  Anger was the fuel that motivated Gandhi’s creativity in developing a means for achieving peaceful reconciliation.

Another example of anger used as a force for good is that of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of Nonviolence in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.   I read a news article yesterday, in the Daily Kos, that described Dr. King’s  accomplishments in a different way than I have ever before considered.  (I have recently begun to study a U.S. history that has not been ‘white-washed’ !)  What was brought to light in that article was that some folks might think that Dr. King was less-than-effective in his leadership, because there is still a great deal of racial inequality in the U.S. today.  Yet, this is not the only way to see and understand this situation.  In reality, and the thing that is difficult for many folks to see (we may tend to turn away from seeing what we consider ugly), is that the Reverend effectively led a movement that ended a reign of violent terror in the U.S.  In this way, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used his anger toward racial oppression to fuel a successful social movement that brought a greater degree of social justice to oppressed groups of people.

I think that perhaps when we are engaged in feelings of hatred, we have a very limited view – that of our own pain and suffering.  Hatred could be a driving force behind the ‘white-washing’ of history.  Hatred for what was done in the past.  Hatred for the legacy of racism.   Hatred for slavery and violence.  Hatred for the massacre and extermination of so many people.  This hatred can be blinding in that it prevents some folks from looking very closely at the awful truth.  This leads to an incomplete and therefore rather mythical version and understanding of U.S. history (and therefore even ourselves today).  In forgiving, we may be better able to see a larger version of the truth – including the ugly parts – in a way that allows us to respond in thoughtful ways, rather than simply reacting to it.

Injustice can cause strong emotions such as anger and hatred, but these two strong emotions are not similar.  Hate is a destructive force, while anger may be thought of as a force that can motivate one into action that may result in positive social change including forgiveness and possibly even reconciliation.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Was the Notion of ‘Race’ a way to Justify the Morality of Slavery?

I was in a discussion in which we were examining our ideas about what came first, slavery or notions of race.  The question was posed,

“Was the Notion of ‘Race’ a way to Justify the Morality of Slavery?”

Answer:  I am not sure.  Perhaps for some, maybe even in many circumstances, this statement could be true.  Yet, because slavery has been with us humans since times of antiquity (and it is still with us today), I am certain that some humans always have and always will find ways to justify the oppressions of others whether by race, sex, age, etc.

I think that race (I’ll define ‘race’ for this discussion as an assignment of a superiority/inferiority status to certain groups of people based on perceived, yet untrue, biological differences) is not the exclusive manner in which folks justify oppressing others, yet it is clear that ‘race’ was (is) used for that purpose and I believe that ‘race’ is but one of many ‘moral justifications’ for doing so.

The reason that I say this is because we can look at sexism as one example, and the reality of child laborers both abroad and here in the U.S. as another example.  Women have been oppressed for millennia.  They are the first group of people to find themselves owned by others and even sold and traded as chattel.  (Think about how the traditions of dowries and ‘bride price’ originated.)  Also consider the fact that if I choose to drink coffee or tea or choose to eat chocolate that is not fairly traded (there are many, many more examples), I probably had slaves working for me producing that stuff.  The same thing happens in our (U.S.) agricultural system – child laborers – who have no choice but to work – harvest our food.  These examples are just a different form of slavery – and we find ways to condone this reality in our own minds – not unlike the manner in which ‘white privilege’ is perpetuated.

I think of a movie line in Dreamworks Prince of Egypt, when Moses finally acknowledges the enslavement of ‘his people’.  He said, “I didn’t see because I did not wish to see.”  What was his moral reasoning?  Simply that he did not want to know.  This line has stayed with me and keeps returning time and time again.

The moment when Moses discovered that he was family to those he thought of as inferior slaves, he was filled  with fright and ran.  I believe that the fear he displayed was based on the realization of the cold hard reality of his own personal part that he played in the oppression of people (equals – not creatures of lesser worth).  It is a difficult thing to acknowledge because it is against how most folks wish to think of themselves – as oppressors – and therefore because it causes them an identity crisis, they choose not to see.

This helps me to understand why we are ‘stuck’ in our own curent system of hierarchy of privilege and oppression today.

So, is race a way to justify the morality of oppression?  Yes, it is, but it is not the only way to do so.  There are many, and we all do it even as we do it unaware.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.