Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Allies or Enemies | February 16, 2018

I had some interesting feedback on my last post.  To one commenter I was a sort of closet Trump-er angling for Administration support (perhaps hadn’t read my take on the 2016 election).  Another called for a reframing of resilience – I’ll write more about that in a later post.

I want to take this opportunity to respond to the first commenter because his comments strike to the heart of achieving more resilient communities.  The heart of his comment is

Praising the resilient behavior of those who bounce back from disasters without acknowledging what got them there is analogous to celebrating those who survived slavery without taking steps to dismantle the system that put them in slavery. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was the epitome of recognizing the strength of a people while doing what was necessary to tear down systems designed to destroy or weaken their will to survive. Resilience is a two-edge sword that cuts in both directions–one emphasizing individual change and the other systemic change. It appears [you are] moving in a direction that finds it easier to expect more from those trying to survive than those that often create the conditions that place them in survival mode.

While I don’t want to overly repeat myself, much of my response is implicit in the last post.

•  The Master Narrative is not the same as the Call to action.  The Narrative has to be all about us, the community, working together to make things better.  If the intended action is to eradicate the residual racism in our society, then – in the Narrative – I want to acknowledge our racist past but emphasize that, working together, we have come a long way from that past.  If there isn’t a Narrative, e.g., for a neighborhood, the ABCD method is a great way to build one.

•  In the call to action, I want to emphasize both the better Future we can achieve and the actions we need to take to achieve that Future, in the context of Today, and avoid casting blame for past sins – acknowledge Today’s problems (that’s what we’re trying to fix) but don’t play to the gallery by trying to assign blame.  Quite simply, we must decide whether we want acolytes or action.  We must decide which we need more, allies or the accolades from other Believers.  Do we want to admire the problem, or solve it?

•  As I stated in the post, we have to be careful that acknowledgement of the problem doesn’t devolve into the Blame Game.  In several previous posts I have explored the potentially dark futures of those I’ve dubbed the Scarred Generation, especially those facing young Black  men.  I recognize their plight and want to see it improved.  Those of us who know our Nation’s history will acknowledge that some whites and African blacks conspired to bring black slaves from Africa to become slaves in America.  These slaves and their families were often subjected to some of the most horrible conditions one man can impose on another, in too many cases almost approaching the Holocaust.  I freely acknowledge that.  But while I deeply regret that it happened I feel no guilt for it – my grandfather came to this country in 1905 with $5 in his pocket.  He worked hard like many other immigrants to first bring his wife and kids to this country, and then to build a better life for his family.  I am proud of what he accomplished. For exactly the same reasons, I  admire those brave Black men and women who left the South and built better lives for themselves and their families in the North before and during the Great Depression while segregation was rampant.  If you want my help, please appeal to my better angels – make a compelling case for the actions you want to see taken, but don’t rely on some vague sense of guilt you think I should feel for the sins of others (It’s all some of us can do to accept blame for our own sins! – see Harvey Weinstein.).  The Blame Game drives us apart; we can only make progress by working together.

•  The commenter seems to see things in an “either-or” Zero Sum Game kind of light.  Neither CARRI nor I are “moving in a direction that finds it easier to expect more from those trying to survive.” Rather we believe it is imperative that those trying to survive and thrive are empowered to take greater control of their own lives.  That requires increasing individuals’ ability to improve themselves AND changing the system.  Our experience indicates that education is of paramount importance in achieving that.  Education enables and empowers the voiceless in a community to speak; and those once insulated from power to influence power’s application, i.e., to change the system.

I hope and believe that the commenter and I disagree about the means to improve our communities and not the ends.  Personally, I have little faith in Bigness’ ability to make change – Big Government, Big Business, Big Unions, Big Education…Big Anything.  Conversely, I have great faith that people of good will can work within the confines of Bigness to make things better.  But to do this, we need to work together, and not build barriers to divide us.  To me (I’m not trying to speak for CARRI here), this means that efforts to achieve greater community resilience are more likely to be successful if they empower and strengthen all of us, especially those at the bottom. The role of the call to action is to motivate people to take their communities to a better Future.  The role of the Narrative is to remind everyone that they can, indeed, achieve that Future.  If our goal is action, then we want allies, not enemies.