Black Lives Matter – Statement of Support

Black Lives Matter Protest
Washington, D.C.

This is a public statement in support of the global protests seeking justice for George Floyd and countless other Black Americans who have been unceasingly victimized and brutalized in this country for hundreds of years. I write this to make my position clear because neutrality is a weak and unacceptable position to take during this global demand for the end of the oppression of our Black friends and family. Furthermore, silent complicity to gain a vote or a like or an extra dollar is reprehensible. 

I saw the video of George Floyd, but I could not watch the whole thing. I saw that he was outnumbered, unarmed, pleading for his life, calling for his mom, and that he was terrified. I saw that he was being murdered in public without mercy or an ounce of compassion. I do not understand the callousness of heart that causes police or anyone else to terrorize and murder people. I do not understand any person who defends the current system and status quo as if such acts of brutality upon humans are justified. I could not watch the entire clip because it was graphic and heart breaking. But, I am old enough and have seen enough that I did not feel shock. That was not the first or the last time a Black person was murdered by white people. 

My daughter is biracial, my second mother is Black, my girlfriend is Black. These are some of the people that I cherish and defend. These are the people that I worry about every day, in part because their skin is brown. Police brutality is only one of my concerns for their safety. According to The Washington Post, Black people are more than twice as likely than white people to be shot and killed by police. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/?itid=lk_interstitial_manual_11)

Last week I saw that there had been car-jackings in the area and that the suspects were Black men and I suddenly became worried that police might assume that my girlfriend was breaking into her own car to go to work that morning. I asked her to please wear the pink mask instead of the black mask, since no one has ever associated pink masks with car-jacking. I should mention that my girlfriend is also Deaf, so, if the police yell at her from behind and she doesn’t put up her hands because she doesn’t hear them or notice them, what are the chances that encounter will end well for her? This is just one example of the type of thoughts that ought to strike one as being unreasonable and absurd. I would welcome such sanity. There is a metal bar barricading our door when we sleep at night though, since this is the world we live in.

Recently I got my DNA test done with Ancestry.com. I had a not-so-secret desire to find non-European ancestry in my blood so that I could say that I was not really white after all. Being white is an embarrassment at best. To my dismay, my test results showed that my DNA is mostly English, Scottish, and Irish with a tiny bit of Finnish mixed in. Moreover, my research showed me that most of my ancestors have been here since the 1600s and 1700s. There were many poor immigrants who had huge families and lived in shacks in the Kentucky mountains. There were also colonizers, Revolutionary war vets, Southern land-owners who held Black people as slaves, and no short supply of confederate soldiers. I am a descendant of all of the evil that shaped this society as it is today. This is not a reason for pride. I am a descendant of terrorists who massacred Native people and enslaved Africans. Recently I saw a Black woman wearing a t-shirt that said “Not Today, Colonizer!” I thought that shirt did not refer to me. But, unfortunately, I was wrong.

For years I have yearned to make this world better but have felt absolutely powerless in the wake of a system that continues to profit off of oppression (aka capitalism). I have felt there is no possible way to right the wrongs of my ancestors, especially since I have been chronically poor and have often lacked anything but the basic resources for survival. I admit that I am not well-versed in politics, have not read enough about Black history and racism, and that social activism has not been my focus in life. I have not had much hope in our government to right the wrongs that it created, especially since year after year the majority of white people who do have resources and platforms to create change have been perfectly content to dismiss the racism against and oppression of Black people while chanting that they are not racist.

But something has changed. I went to the protests in DC a few days ago and I felt absolutely shocked by the number of white people there! When did this happen, how? I’ve seen the videos of so many white people in this country and all over the world standing up against police brutality for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and other recent murders and by this I am shocked. This is something different. I hope they will use their power to make lasting changes. I hope they will listen to the lived experiences of Black people and that new policies will be made in collaboration with leaders in Black communities who have been fighting this fight for years and years. I hope they will continue to stand up for equity and justice when the conversation is uncomfortable for them.

I voted for Obama. I voted for Hillary. I will vote for Biden. Black Lives Matter. Those who do not stand up for justice for Black people have buried their hearts for the sake of ignorance and conversations with them are probably a waste of time. However, that there are so many white people who have a conscience and are willing and ready to listen and learn gives me hope that we can finally move forward together to build a better world.

2020 Credo

Me 2020, Photo Credit: Elicia Varnado

As per the advice of Colum McCann in the book “Letters to a Young Writer,” I’ve decided on a credo for my writing:

I am not the two-dimensional propaganda carefully crafted by those who wish I’d never been born. Nor am I any mythical heroine burdened with limitations of virtue, or vice. Imagination attempts representation but should not subscribe to theories of knowledge. I, like any character, breathe beyond the page and die without an ending. Predictable skin-deep desires may dance us through the script but truth is touched only when the heart can be felt screaming beneath the tripe.

Purushartha and Hindu Philosophies

Symbols of Hinduism and India

In the article, “Morality and Moral Development: Traditional Hindu Concepts.”, authors C. Srivastava, Dhingra, Bhardwaj, and A. Srivastava address the issue of moral development and a perceived moral decline that could be remedied by adherence to principles advanced in Vedanta, or, core teachings in ancient Hindu philosophical literature.[1]

The authors compare concepts of morality found in Vedantic texts to modern moral development theories to establish equivalency and relevance in the field of Psychology. They claim that morality is a social construct and conclude that the world would benefit by understanding the principles contained within traditional Hindu scriptures.

Srivastava et al. (2013) summarize various theories of human motivation and make a direct comparison between Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the four purusharthas, or human goals, as set forth in several key Vedic texts. The purusharthas are Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. The authors claim that Moksha, translated by them to mean the identification of one’s self with the consciousness that is the basis of creation, is the only need not considered by Maslow. Presumably, however, they might argue that this is a primary reason to advance the study of Vedanta.

A similar comparison of Maslow to the four purusharthas is made by Rajasakran et al (2014) in the field of Anthropology in consideration of marketing and product design. However, they claim the concept of Moksha is defined as liberation from all earthly desires and that this is the highest goal. They argue that controlling desires is necessary, in part, for environmentally safe product development and suggest that by meditation one can attain Moksha, insofar as the term may mean the control of excessive desires.[2]

Rajasakran, like Srivastava, argues for the necessity and relevance of traditional Hindu philosophical concepts as an answer to modern global ethical dilemmas. Interestingly, however, Hindu spiritual literature spans thousands of years and there are six distinct schools of thought with sometimes contradictory interpretations of the principles. Since it is unclear that either article is committed to any particular school of thought in Hindu philosophy, an analysis of terms used differently in reference to the same scriptures is necessary.

Both articles considered in this essay seem to have similar interpretations of the concepts of the goals/motivations of Artha (wealth), and Kama (pleasure), however, Moksha, defined as the knowledge of the nature of existence and oneness of creation, is a much different goal than simply harnessing one’s desires. It could be argued that the definition of Moksha also significantly changes the import of the other purusharthas. Most importantly, at least for the sake of persuading the world of the value of Vedanta for its merit as a guide in the development of ethical societies, the concept of Dharma is also interpreted differently for both. Srivastava equates the term with ‘morality’ while Rajasakran uses the term ‘social virtue’. Still, others translate the word as ‘duty.’ 

Finally, Srivastava also considers the term Dharma as it appears in the Bhagavad Gita and offers an interpretation of Arjuna’s moral dilemma which I will analyze in a separate post. It is enough for this essay to show that there are fundamental differences of opinion among proponents of Hindu philosophies and that applications of these concepts to particular ethical issues can be problematic especially without also advancing a particular school of Hindu philosophy with regard to the nature of reality.

Although I agree that Vedanta has merit worthy of our time and attention especially with regard to ethical matters, being overly simplistic in comparisons between Hindu philosophy with modern theories of moral development is problematic and unlikely to be persuasive.

References:

  1. Srivastava, Chhitij, et al. “Morality and Moral Development: Traditional Hindu Concepts.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705697/.
  2. Rajasakran, Thanaseelen, et al. “Purushartha: Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Revisited.” KRE Kamla – Raj Enterprises, KRE Publishers, 2014, http://krepublishers.com/02-Journals/T-Anth/Anth-18-0-000-14-Web/Anth-18-1-000-14-Abst-PDF/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T-Tx[20].pdf .

Bibliography:

Maslow, A.H. “Classics in the History of Psychology — A. H. Maslow (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation.” Classics in the History of Psychology, Christopher D. Green, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Aug. 2000, psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm.

Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1899, Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies, Cologne University, http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/2020/web/webtc2/index.php.

Rajasakran, Thanaseelen, et al. “Purushartha: Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Revisited.” KRE Kamla – Raj Enterprises, KRE Publishers, 2014, http://krepublishers.com/02-Journals/T-Anth/Anth-18-0-000-14-Web/Anth-18-1-000-14-Abst-PDF/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T-Tx[20].pdf .

Ranganathan, Shyam. “Hindu Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/hindu-ph/.

“श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता – ShrImadbhagavadgItA : Sanskrit Documents Collection.” Sanskrit Documents – Bhagavad Gita, https://Sanskritdocuments.org/, sanskritdocuments.org/doc_giitaa/bhagvadnew.html?lang=sa.

Srivastava, Chhitij, et al. “Morality and Moral Development: Traditional Hindu Concepts.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705697/.

The Bhagavad Gita. Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust, 2012.

“Timeline of Hindu Texts.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Hindu_texts.