Why Black Power?

February 9th marks the inaugural episode of SOL System Radio on the Living Aligned network at http://www.blogtalkradio.com. We are starting something new with the blog in that (hopefully) every weekly episode of the radio show will be preceded by a related blog post. Readers will get a chance to hear some of our thoughts on the upcoming show topic and have questions and comments ready to go when the show airs Monday nights at 8pm EST.

Our first three episodes of SOL System Radio will be on the topics: “Why Black Power?”, “Why Tantra?”, and “Why Polyamory?”…In this blog post we’re dealing with the first topic of Black Power. Many people look at this term and the idea behind it as some old outdated wanna be Black Panther ass foolishness. Why are we still talking about this in 2015? Don’t you know we got a Black president?

Yeah, I know. (sigh) The election of Barack Obama was supposed to mark the beginning of a post-racial era in which everyone can truly be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. But, apparently not everyone got the memo on that. The news has repeatedly shown us that Black people, especially young Black males, are viewed as dangers to society. At first glance. Across the board. Whether it’s a slender 17 year old in Florida or a big 18 year old in Missouri or a little 12 year old in Ohio, Black skin in Obama’s America means you are a threat to be neutralized. Fuck your character.

And the Black community is powerless to do anything about this. That’s what I wanna talk about in this writing. Why are Black people not able to make this unfair treatment stop? What tools give a group of people that kind of ability to control their reality? Why don’t Black people have those tools? How do Black people get those tools?

We define “power” as the ability to determine one’s own reality, and/or the reality of others. An alternative definition of “power” that we like is “Organized People + Organized Money”. Cash Rules Everything Around Me. When we look at how much money Black people are able to organize relative to their peers from other communities, it quickly becomes clear why the Black community is not commanding the highest level of respect.

White people have a whole lot more money than Black people do. There are questions about what exactly the numbers are depending on who is gathering the statistics, but it is clear that the wealth of White households was between 13 and 18 times the median wealth of Black households in 2013. According to one source, the median wealth of White households in 2013 was $141,900 compared to $11,000 for Blacks. That figure for Blacks is quite generous compared to some other estimates.

And, to add insult to injury, this wealth gap is growing under the first Black president. According to the Pew Research Center’s tabulations, White wealth was 8 times that of Blacks in 2010, shortly after Obama got in office, and 13 times that of Blacks in 2013. However, these numbers have little to do with Obama’s performance in office and more to do with the situation he inherited.

The Great Recession between 2007 and 2010 hit Black people especially hard. This is mainly true because housing constituted such a large percentage of our wealth, leaving us deeply exposed when the market crashed. Higher unemployment rates and lower incomes among Blacks left us less able to keep paying our mortgages and more likely to lose our homes. Before the recession, housing wealth accounted for 49% of Black household assets, compared with 28% for the average White household. But the average home value was far lower for Black households: $75,040 versus $217,150.

Discriminatory lending practices were also a factor. “We know that communities of color, their rate of subprime or predatory loans was twice what it is in the overall population,” said Tom Shapiro, the director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

Black families also suffered bigger hits to our retirement savings, the Urban Institute found. On aggregate, the value of Black families’ retirement accounts shrank 35 percent between 2007 and 2010, while White families’ accounts actually gained 9 percent over the same period. With lower earnings and higher unemployment rates leaving us with a thinner safety net to begin with, Black families were more likely to take funds out of the market when it was depressed, leaving us out in the cold as the market recovered.

“That reservoir of what you can dig into for emergencies and contingencies is a lot shallower in communities of color,” Professor Shapiro said. “That pushes black families to sling off assets, like I.R.A.’s or stocks, that you might have had another goal in mind for.”

Something similar may be happening as the housing recovery takes hold. “Some people talk about it in terms of a land grab,” said Professor Hamilton of the New School, as mainly white investors are buying foreclosed homes from disproportionately minority owners. “As the housing market starts to appreciate, some of those minority buyers might not be back.”

Let me pause here and reiterate that money makes the world go round. Black people make up about 12% of the U.S. population. In 1860, at the climax of slavery, all the free Black people in this country collectively owned about ½ of 1% of the country’s wealth. As of 2014 that percentage increased to 1.75%. Black people control about $1.4 trillion of the total $80 trillion of U.S. household net worth. 12% of the population, with 1.75% of the wealth, is a perfect formula for powerlessness. Just that stat alone tells the whole story of why Black people are disrespected in this country. Why should anyone respect us? We haven’t demonstrated the ability to make anyone pay for not showing us respect. With over a trillion dollars in annual income and in collective wealth, the most we can do when we are violated is do a march or some other “nonviolent direct action”.

I could spend a lot of time detailing the history of how we got in this position. I could bring up some historical facts that I’m sure most people aren’t aware of. But I think that most people have some basic understanding of the fact that our history in this country has produced our present. That we were held as slaves from the moment the first White people stepped foot on this land in the 1500’s until slavery was finally abolished in 1865, except for when it isn’t…that after slavery the vital period of reconstruction was stopped prematurely and replaced with the Jim Crow system of disenfranchisement and the introduction of the Ku Klux Klan…and the story goes on and on.

I want to bring light to what I consider to be the three divisions of the Black community in the 21st century. There are three separate socioeconomic groupings within the Black community with each having a very different experience from what the other two are having. There are 14 million Black households in the U.S. The median household net worth is between $6,500 and $11,000, depending on who you ask. If we take the average of those and put it at $8,750 then that means there are 7 million households with less than $8,750 and 7 million households with more than $8,750. We can fairly accurately divide these 14 million households up into thirds.

The bottom 1/3 or 33% have Negative or No Net Worth. They have absolutely nothing that they control, no savings, no safety net; if they lose a job or have a sudden illness then they’re scrambling to find some help to avoid becoming homeless. The middle 1/3 are those who have just a little bit of wealth; slightly more assets than liabilities. Some of them own a house that they’re barely affording, some don’t own. They are middle class people who are one bad break away from being lower class. The upper 1/3 are people who are doing fairly well for themselves. They are the ones responsible for the average Black household wealth of around $100,000 as opposed to the median which is $8,750.

Blacks saw our overall median net worth decrease by $3,746 (or 37.2%) between 2000 and 2011. However these decreases were concentrated among the bottom two thirds. That group saw its median net worth decline by about 50% while the top one third saw its median net worth increase by about 50% over the same period (2000-2011). For Blacks in the highest 20% of their community, relative increases in median net worth exceeded those of Whites and Hispanics in the same socioeconomic group over this period. This top one third group is a silver lining in an otherwise bleak picture of where the Black community currently stands economically.

So what can we take away from all these numbers and percentages? Two thirds of the Black community either doesn’t have shit, or is a lay-off away from not having shit. What can be done about this? Let’s consider these words from Dr. Claud Anderson.

We have to learn that economics and politics are like offense and defense in a sport, you have to do both well in order to win, and this is a team sport. Our primary issue is that we have never developed the cultural habits that would allow us to work well as a collective, for our collective benefit. We vote as individuals, we save money as individuals, we open businesses as individuals. If we want to win in life, we have to learn how to operate as a team.

Jewish people make up 2.2% of the U.S. population. The median net worth for Jewish households is $150,890. Only 1 percent of Jewish Americans live in poverty. 24% of billionaires in the U.S. are Jewish. 35% of the 400 richest Americans are Jewish. 18% of Jewish households in the U.S. have a net worth of $1 million or more. For a group that was openly discriminated against in recent history, they’re doing pretty good. There is a lot that the Black community can learn from them. One thing that I want to bring up in this context is that there is one group that speaks for the entire Jewish community in dealing with the President and Executive branch of the government (Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations); and there is one group that speaks for the entire Jewish community in dealing with the legislative branch (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Because of this wealth, unity, and grassroots organizing, their community is able to get pretty much anything they want from the U.S. government.

There is a fundamental shift that would have to occur in order for the Black community to begin operating in that way. The community must first have a desire to control its own economics, politics, education, emergency services, and so on. When you don’t have a desire for such control then it is no wonder that you don’t have control. When you don’t control the basics in your own community then someone else will control them for you. Controlling these basic aspects of community life is the only way to truly get members of your own community and people outside of your community to believe that #BlackLivesMatter.

Seeking this control is synonymous with seeking power. If and when the Black community decides to collectively seek control over its own community then another word for that is power, Black Power. Black Power is not an anti-anybody philosophy. It is simply for people who have lacked control in the past gaining control over their own lives, not control over anyone else. Black Power doesn’t seek to deny rights or liberties to any other people. Black Power is simply about freedom, justice, and equality for Black people.

Integration into the larger society will not and cannot lead to Black people gaining greater control over their own communities. Voting for the Democratic Party in greater numbers will not and cannot lead to Black people gaining greater control over their own communities. Pursuing higher education at the expense of forming a solid economic base first will not and cannot lead to Black people gaining greater control over their own communities. As Dr. Claud Anderson stated in the above video, business and economics is the foundation of any meaningful advancement for Black people.

Black Power is not a thing of the past. It is the only possible way forward for Black people if we desire to see an end to Mike Browns and Eric Garners and poverty and the various things that we know we don’t like. Reactionary protests are not in our best interests. We must turn with laser beam focus on making long term investments in our collective future. A group of 40 million who earns a trillion dollars every year and owns a trillion dollars in wealth can easily come together with $1 billion to start an economic development fund. We could pool $1 billion overnight. We just have to develop a sense of dignity that makes us believe we deserve to control our own destiny. I close with these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

P.E.A.C.E.

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10 Days of Silence: Part 2

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Soundtrack: Queen “I Want It All”

As promised, this is part 2 of my testimonial about my experience at a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat. I want to get into the theory behind the meditation technique and share my thoughts on it.

To quote the folks who oversee these meditation retreats:

“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.

“Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

“The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.”

This technique and tradition is rooted in the teachings of Gautama, the Buddha. In the discourses that are part of the retreat, there is a lot of discussion about the idea of the cycle of re-birth. In a nutshell, this theory is based on the belief that life is a thing of misery. That for most people, life is a constant stream of disappointments from desires not being fulfilled, or craving more and more of things that are pleasant, or running away from things which are unpleasant. Their belief is that every person who dies with any desires for anything is eventually born again in a different physical form with those same basic desires driving their behavior and thinking in the next life.

According to this tradition, the ultimate goal of life is to be freed from this cycle of re-birth and misery by achieving total enlightenment and therefore being able to stay in The Void. The Four Noble Truths according to the Buddha are:

  1. There is suffering.
  2. There is cause for suffering.
  3. There is cessation of suffering.
  4. There is path leading to the cessation of suffering.

I can’t agree with a philosophy of life that focuses on suffering as the primary quality of being alive. I acknowledge that suffering plays a significant role in human existence, however my focus is elsewhere. My craving for things that I don’t yet have or that I may never get, and my aversion to things I’ve experienced that I don’t like, is far outweighed by my pure Joy over being able to experience the beauty of Creation.

Any time I get to hear a beautiful melody or smell a flower or taste a wonderful dessert (especially bean pie) or look at a sunset or touch a beautiful woman — ALL of my suffering and disappointment is totally worth it. If you told me right now that I would never achieve my main goals in life but I get to listen to Michael Jackson and have sex everyday for the rest of my life, I will gladly take that deal! Sign me up for that shit. The beauty of being alive is indescribably wonderful and joyous.

I have absolutely no desire to be delivered from this cycle of rebirth. If the ultimate salvation is to exist in the spirit or non-material plane forever then I’ll pass. I’m cool with riding out this life of difficulty and striving for forever, forever ever, forever ever.

One of my favorite quotes from the great Napoleon Hill is “There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.” This explains one of my biggest philosophical differences with the ideology underlying the sect(s) of Buddhist thought which supports vipassana meditation. Their belief is that craving and aversion are the root causes of suffering, that these things multiply themselves and create more craving and suffering.

I agree that aversion is to be avoided. When one focuses on how much one doesn’t like something, it only feeds the existence of the thing which one doesn’t like. One great illustration of this is discovered by most people during the 10-day retreat. Most everyone experiences various aches and pains during the hour-long sitting meditations. And most everyone eventually came to learn that simply observing the pain without reacting to it causes the pain to eventually dull or go away completely. Only a small part of the pain is about what is actually happening inside the body. The vast majority of the torment that one experiences from the pain is really coming from the attention that one is showing to the physical sensation. If you can observe the sensation with equanimity, simply noticing that it is there and keeping in mind that it is not permanent, then it soon goes away. This same principle applies to anything we encounter in life that we don’t like.

However, desire for things that we want is a different story. It is true that a certain kind of craving can be harmful. If you focus on the idea of “wanting” a thing then you reinforce the message to the Universe that you “want” it, making it more and more difficult for you to actually “have” it. However, as Napoleon Hill points out, strong desire is the engine of achievement and evolution. Every “thing” that we enjoy was once an object of someone’s desire, from the car to the airplane to the shoe to the cell phone to the television. Someone had to first see that thing in their mind, desire for it to be real, and then believe in it so strongly that it became real for them. And eventually their physical reality came to match their mental picture.

Some people are ok with the idea of living in a world that never changes. That is the product of people not having desires. Things stay exactly the same from year to year and from generation to generation. Monasteries are like that. I choose not to live that way. I am very comfortable with having a burning desire for things and working hard to achieve them. I have no desire to be liberated from that situation.

The vipassana meditation technique, and meditation in general, are universally applicable. One doesn’t have to accept the underlying theory in order to enjoy the benefits of the technique. Increasing mindfulness and awareness is always a good thing, no matter what one’s motivation for doing it is. My personal reasons for increasing my mindfulness and practicing meditation are included in the entries of this blog and will be fully explained in my upcoming book, The Bliss Booklet. Stay tuned.

Peace.

10 Days Of Silence: My First Vipassana Meditation Retreat

goenka

Soundtrack: Common “Be”

A week ago I walked out of a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat. Early in 2014 my wife informed me that she was going on one of these retreats at the end of the semester in May. At that time, I couldn’t fathom myself doing something like that because 10-12 days seemed like way too much time for me to take out of my very busy schedule. However, things change.

In the months of September and October I felt a major shift happening internally for me. I felt myself changing. And when the opportunity came for me to do one of these 10-day retreats the last week of December 23 – January 2, it resonated with me as the right thing to do (and the retreats are free, that had something to do with it).

In the week after Thanksgiving, my father got very sick, ultimately succumbing to interstitial lung disease caused by rheumatoid arthritis. There is so much that I could say about the impact this had on my relationships with my family members but what I will say is that it contributed to me feeling like I had reached the end of an era in my life. My life can be divided into pre-2014 and post-2014. Everything is starting anew for me right now. Everything has changed.

Vipassana meditation is a meditation technique primarily promoted within Buddhism but practiced by people from all different backgrounds and belief systems. Vipassana means to see things as they really are. That is the goal of the meditation technique. I won’t get into the specifics of how the technique works, but I will say what impact the technique had and is having on me.

Upon arriving at one of these 10-day retreats, all students are required to take a vow of Noble Silence. You are not to speak or communicate in any way with your fellow students or with anyone besides the assistant teachers and the managers of the retreat. 10 days of not talking to anyone other than yourself is bound to have an impact on you, even if you’re not following a meditation regimen.

By the end of Day 3 I felt like I could’ve left then and the drive from Houston to Northern Cali and the whole process would’ve been worth it. I felt great. I hadn’t been so relaxed in quite some time. Enjoying the quiet and the fresh air and the woods and the bird watching and the colors of the leaves and the taste of the food; I was in sensory heaven, fully appreciating the experience of being alive. However, on Day 4, the meditation work became more strenuous, and the experience became less pleasant.

My body started expelling wastes like I was sick, but I felt fine. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for me to release that much mucus and bowels without having the flu or some kind of infection. This continued from about Day 4 until Day 10.

On Day 5, I got flooded with ideas. It was like I was swept over by a wave of creativity and all of a sudden I knew exactly what I wanted to do and achieve for the next two years. I was receiving song lyrics and new ideas on how to arrange my thoughts in my book and talking points for lectures and people I wanted to do business with and much more. It was slightly aggravating to not be able to write any of this down but because I didn’t have anything to do other than think, I was able to replay this information in my head over and over until it was burned into my memory.

On Day 6, my face started peeling. Badly. In a way that couldn’t really be explained by the moderately cold temperatures and my skin getting dry. I’ve never experienced anything like it before and I still can’t really explain the WHY or HOW. My face shed its skin like a snake. I left the retreat 8 days ago and my face just got back to normal a day or two ago.

On Day 7, I started getting sick. Normally I can be around sick people with their coughing and sneezing and such and I am completely unaffected. I haven’t caught a cold from someone since probably 2011, before I started studying and practicing Tantra. However, I got sick at this retreat. There was quite a bit of coughing and sneezing in the meditation hall where all the students practiced. I don’t know if that’s the cause, some airborne germs. Whatever the reason, I felt like crap. For all of Day 7 and Day 8 I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. It took all of my will power to go to the meditation hall at the mandatory times.

I believe it was Day 8 when I started feeling some really stupendous results from the meditation. As I said before, vipassana is about seeing things as they really are. Part of that includes really paying attention to what is going on on the skin and inside the body. As my mind became more and more calm and focused, I started feeling the sensations going on inside of my body. In the last few days of the retreat, I felt my lungs moving, I felt my heart beat, I felt the organs in my abdomen doing their thing, I felt the pull of my tendons where my hips and knees bent as I was sitting on the floor, I felt the twitching of my muscle fibers in my legs from walking up and down the hills. All of this was extremely fascinating to me.

One thing that I noticed during this period was that my lungs were hurting. With my stuffy nose making it hard for me to breathe, my lungs had to work overtime to get oxygen to all my cells and throughout my body. And I felt it. They were not happy. And on Day 9 or 10 when I was no longer feeling sick, I could feel the difference in my lungs. The sensation of their inhaling and exhaling was so pleasant. It made me think of all the smoking I’ve done in my life. I’m sure my lungs have done this silent protest on thousands of days in my lifetime and I was never aware enough to notice. I will never put my lungs through that torment again.

By Day 10, I was restless and “rets ta go”. The cumulative effect of 10 days of sitting on my butt on the floor was taking a toll on me. I could no longer get comfortable on the floor no matter what I did. I felt like I wasn’t getting anything else constructive out of the meditations and I was just biding my time until we were able to leave the following day. But the benefits that I got were something that I know I couldn’t have duplicated in any other way.

Ten days (plus the orientation day before and the dismissal day after- 12 days total) is a long time for most people to take off work or set aside in their life to devote to something like this. Which is why I can’t really promote this as something that everyone should do. However, it definitely lends credence to the idea that everyone should have some type of meditation practice in their daily life. You don’t know what you don’t know. And full awareness of who you are and why you do what you do can only come when you get still enough to hear the answers. Meditation is mandatory if you want to maximize the Bliss in your life.

For more information on Vipassana meditation, go here. I will be sharing much more about meditation in the upcoming book “The Bliss Booklet” and in my lectures at SOL System University. Stay tuned.

P.S. There will be a part 2 to this blog post in which I go into the theory behind Vipassana and my critique of that theory.