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Acquiring A New Set Of Eyes


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March 2010, by Alyce Barry

I'm working on acquiring a new set of eyes that can see through racial differences.

I remember reading a few years ago that a study had been done that showed that local news programs across the U.S. report crime differently depending on whether the suspect and victim are white or black. To sum up the results of the study in my own words, the majority of local news programs give the message, "Most criminals are black, and whites are victims of crimes by black criminals."

I'm living in a large, well-integrated city (Chicago) for the first time since my thirties, and it's giving me lots of opportunities to notice my reactions. If I'm walking down a sidewalk and see a black man walking toward me, I generally react very differently than I do if I see a white man walking toward me. I react with a lot more fear.

So it seems I'm doing the same thing as the local news programs: expecting someone who's black to be more likely to have criminal intent.

For me, this is particularly ironic since I was in my twenties assaulted by a man who was white and have never been assaulted by a man who was black.

PROJECTIONS OF CRIMINALITY

It seems to have been Sigmund and Anna Freud who developed the concept of projection, which I define as the tendency of all human beings to see in others what they are not yet ready to see in themselves.

It was when I came across the following passage, published all the way back in 1903 in The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, that I began to think that local news programs and I are only the tip of the iceberg:

Even to-day the masses of the Negroes see all too clearly the anomalies of their position and the moral crookedness of yours. You may marshal strong indictments against them, but their counter-cries, lacking though they be in formal logic, have burning truths within them which you may not wholly ignore, O Southern Gentlemen! If you deplore their presence here, they ask, Who brought us? When you cry, Deliver us from the vision of intermarriage, they answer that legal marriage is infinitely better than systematic concubinage and prostitution. And if in just fury you accuse their vagabonds of violating women, they also in fury quite as just may reply: The rape which your gentlemen have done against helpless black women in defiance of your own laws is written on the foreheads of two millions of mulattoes, and written in effaceable blood. And finally, when you fasten crime upon this race as its peculiar trait, they answer that slavery was the arch-crime, and lynching and lawlessness its twin abortions . . ."
It seems that local news and I, along with who knows how many other white Americans, are projecting on a national scale.

And how do we, as a nation, as a culture, stop the projection? A likely step is to look as closely as possible at what slavery was really like and what it really did to us, black and white, and where support for slavery originated in white European culture, no matter how painful that is, and then figure out how to own it fully. Once we've owned what is ours to own, there will be no need to project.

"GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH"

Once upon a time, I was what you might call a "Thomas Paine scholar," researching the life of this rather troublesome founding father.

While I can attest to Paine's revulsion for slavery, I must also attest to his failure to write the kind of sweepingly-mind-changing book about slavery that he wrote about the need for revolution. It has been said that prior to the publication of Common Sense, two-thirds of the colonies opposed separating from Great Britain, and that within a few months of its publication two-thirds of the colonies supported the separation. The book changed one-third of the minds in the colonies within a few months.

There was no one in colonial America with better credentials for exposing the evils of slavery and persuading Americans to abolish it. It may still be true that if Paine had published such an expose, nothing would have changed because for much of America at the time, including northern cities like New York and Boston, the slave trade was an important part of the economy.

Acquiring a new set of eyes has shifted my view of the American Revolution. A group of relatively well educated, relatively affluent white men crying about their need for freedom while living alongside hundreds of thousands of enslaved blacks seems laughably hypocritical at best and dangerously deluded at worst. Hundreds or more likely thousands of blacks threw themselves overboard during the torturous passage from Africa, yet American children are taught to honor the memory of one well-dressed white man saying, "Give me liberty or give me death."

And I cast this new pair of eyes on the world around me and wonder, In what way is our current culture laughably hypocritical or dangerously deluded? How about the way we dump plastics into the oceans because it's too expensive or too much trouble to melt them down and reuse them? Or the way we treat dolphins and chimpanzees as property when we sell and ship them to zoos around the world when they are capable of using language and their intelligence approaches our own?

 

Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, on Amazon.com's Bestseller list of books about Jungian psychology for more than a year. The book is available in paperback and on audio CD. Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in 2010. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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