There is a vacuous liberalism that would have us believe that we can claim our human right to Freedom while slighting our communal call to Responsibility. This is especially true in the cliched analyses of what is wrong in many communities, and specifically in African American life.
On any given day we can tune in to various media, and read and listen to the arguments that basically posit the view that the reason peoples' lives are the way they are has to do with the overarching influence of some other entity flexing its cultural and economic might to the disadvantage of those perceived as victims in this dynamic. Any contradicting critique of this way of seeing this issue is usually greeted with the reflexive liberalism that we are "blaming the victim for his/her victimization"? Any serious analysis of the socio-economic disparities in our society must account for and acknowledge that such disparities have some roots in the victimization implicit in the liberal critique. It is true that greed and a corrupted sense of being are afflictions in the pathology of our societal dysfunction; but we would be incredibly amiss to end our analysis there.
We cannot ignore the fact that corporate compensation has outpaced the value placed on labor to an extent that a moral society will find abhorrent. This, in some cases, acts as a disincentive to pursue work, especially where the reality is that becoming a welfare recipient is a better option due to the accrual of certain necessary benefits. The current ongoing political haggle over raising the minimum wage highlights much of the impoverished logic that go into objections to doing what is right for workers and their families. Moral voices must continue to insist on doing the just thing over the loud objections of those who have a stake in maintaining the status quo. Let us note for the sake of History that those objecting to the demands for a livable wage were the same voices against the 40 hour work week, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, the ACA, and other programs designed to make this a more just and economically secure society.
Having acknowledged the persistent inequities in our society, we must nevertheless not ignore the most fundamental consequence of our claim on Freedom. That consequence is the need to assume responsibility for our present circumstances, and for our futures as individuals and as groups.
I speak as a descendant of a once enslaved people. I was raised by a grandmother who was born in the year 1900. That happens to be one generation removed from the Emancipation Proclamation. I grew up in a house in which the absence of "modern conveniences" was immediately obvious. My children look at me with a pronounced incredulity when I tell them that for most of my primary school years I walked the five or so miles to and from school... barefooted over mostly unpaved roads.
We did not have much in terms of the stuff that many now take for granted, but what we did have were parents (in my case Grandma, and Mother) who inculcated in us, sometimes through harsh means, a sense that we were expected to "do right" regardless of the challenges around us. Remember that dictum about "sparing the rod and spoiling the child"? Disrespect was never tolerated. Laziness was always discouraged. We were taught that "cleanliness was next to godliness", and that went as much for our garbs as it did for the floors of our oh so humble abode. Despite the scarcity of opportunities, we were nonetheless raised to have great expectations.
Through a connected effort between home and school and church, we got not just an education in the "three Rs", but in the Ten Commandments which we were expected to live out in our relationships. Don't kill. Don't steal. Don't covet. Don't bear false witness. Honor your mother and father so your days may be long...and so on. My Grandma, and in my teenage years my Mom, would ask us "What did you learn in school today?" When they did not go to church with us we had to tell "What the preacher preached about today".
My Mom knew nothing about Pythagoras' theorem, but it was enough for her to hear me trying to explain something about the square on the hypotenuse being equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. The idea that “the shortest distance between any two points was a straight line joining those two points together” made perfect sense to them as folk who walked almost everywhere. They couldn't help with homework, but they did what they could to make sure that we were doing as we should. We kept the house and our yards clean. It was our duty. No allowances either! We participated in growing and harvesting the food for our sustenance. We were taught to respect our elders. By these means my granny helped my mom raise seven children, all of whom are upstanding productive citizens to this day. What I got from those experiences was a solid foundation for my own life, and a template for raising my own children.
Without belaboring the point, I will put before us the reality that we need to return to some basics. Whether we live in cities or wherever, there are basic acts of living and growing up that we are ignoring. They are acts of industry. The inculcation of moral and ethical values. Acts of basic decency. Cleanliness. These are the foundations which we are ignoring to our peril. With regards to the business of being free, we have come to the bank of our lives without the collateral of assumed responsibility. By so doing we are complicit in the impoverishment of our own circumstances.
And oh yes... I remember spending part of a summer with my father in my preteen years - but I never met saw him again until my brother and I and our mother went in search of him just before my twenty first birthday. My brother was a year and a few months younger than I. We still remember the tears he shed when he finally realized who these two young men standing beside the woman he once knew were.
We loved our father, but his tears were his. He chose to act out his freedom by ignoring his responsibilities to two sons that he helped bring into this world. His pain is demonstrative of the peril of claiming his freedom while ignoring his sacred duty to be responsible... Kinda like walking barefooted over a perilous path.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
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