The last Black people in America, Part II

Talk About Race — By George Davis on April 19, 2010 at 07:59

Originally posted on Psychology Today

Does the election of Barack Obama mark a major shift in the Western World from the Faustian dream of always having more? Remember old Dr. Faust, the mad genius who was driven by an insatiable striving for worldly knowledge, power, and wealth, even at the cost of his own soul.

In America the Faustian urge is most often expressed as economic growth. The economy must grow. More goods and services must be produced and consumed this year than last. Economic growth is not only the highest measure but almost the only measure of national success.

Of course, common sense tells us it is mathematically impossible for the economy to grow forever. There has to be a shift. By studying the forces which made Obama’s victory happen, can we come to understand more about the direction toward which the paradigm is shifting?

Faustian civilization began in Western Europe around the 10th century. So great has been its expansion, by the 20th century it covered the entire earth. Only Islam provided an alternative world view, claims Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West.

Spengler might have been correct in his predictions about the largely impoverished masses in the Islamic Middle East, but the royal families of Middle Eastern cultures are as completely corrupted by money as any rulers on earth.

Decline, says Spengler, is inevitable because the uncontrolled striving for money leads to corruption. Our politics, our mythology, and our religion now seem to be terminally corrupted by money, and as Spengler predicted, democracy has degenerated into the rule of the rich.

Rule of the rich leads to Caesarism, which was where we were headed with the claims of unregulated power for the Chief Executive made by the Bush/Cheney Administration. “I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best,” said President Bush.

For a source of a world view opposed to the Faustian dream, Spengler, understandably, did not look to the vast continents of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. And he certainly did not see an African world view was being nurtured inside America itself.

Only Carl Jung, the great student of individual and collective unconscious, could see, as America was becoming the most powerful defender and purveyor of Faustian values, it was also becoming the world’s largest purveyor of “Negro ways.”

My novel, Until We Got Here: From “We Shall Over Come” to “Yes We Can,” dramatizes the steady, peaceful march of black people and “Negro ways” toward the center of American life.

Until We Got Here tells the story of eight African Americans who graduated Howard University in 1965. It explores their everyday lives over a 40 year period as they penetrated deeper and deeper into the mainstream of Western consciousness.

The novel ends with the election of Barack Obama, but leaves open questions. Will the Obama victory mark a shift toward something more Asian and African to replace the totally Faustian/European values that account for the amazing success of capitalism? Or will the Obama Administration bring America’s huge African population fully into the Faustian bargain as both operatives and/or victims?

After Obama had been in office a little less than 100 days, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned students and faculty at Atlanta’s historically black Morehouse College black people had better “strengthen their financial literacy.”

On that same day, at predominantly white Georgetown University, President Obama gave a quite different, more enigmatic speech about the economy: “Is the glass half full or half empty”? What are they being told to fill he glass with. . .money or something else?

There was nothing enigmatic about Sarah Palin’s shouting to a cheering crowd of mostly dispossessed whites at the first ever National Tea Party Convention. “Do you love your freedom”? She chanted.

Because of their racial identification with the once exclusively white wealthy class, anti-Obama Teabaggers generally defend the kind of freedom which created the corruption in the first place.

As for black people. . .more than unfettered capitalism, they seem to cherish social and spiritual equality. Teabaggers call this socialism; but it is not. It is communalism.

I know communalism well. I was raised in one of the thousands of church-centered black communities in the pre-civil rights South. These communities were held together by an almost tribal mutuality of spirit. The aspiration (or perhaps a primal impulse) towards social and spiritual equality created an ingrained requirement: the “blessed” must be responsive to the needs of those “who fell on hard times.”

This was not charity. The communal spirit accepts both its strongest and weakest members as equal parts of itself. “The weakest link is as strong as we are.” The iron law of communalism is: “You are because I am. I am because you are,” on one level; and “we are because I am. I am because we are,” on another level. Those who were poor look back on that life and comment “I didn’t even know we were poor.”

Everyone was absorbed so seamlessly, most did not notice. From time to time other children lived with us in our house. Other people sat at our tables “t’eat.” It was a sin to deny them; and it was impossible for them to refuse without an iron clad excuse.

The benefits of impersonal efficiency and abstract processes were largely absent. Individualism (economic freedom) was often viewed as selfish, non-tribal, and un-Christian However, expressions of individuality were prized.

The feverish push towards racial integration, beginning in the 1960s, sent many of the “blessed” into the mainstream of America, carrying with them the values of the church-centered communities. For many complex reasons the iron law of communalism was twisted or broken. In trying to reclaim communalism in the 1960s, we started addressing each other as “brother” or “sister,” as had been done in our churches.

As consumer driven capitalism encroached deeper into our lives, Individualism unleashed predatory desires on, and within, the left-behind communities unprotected by police, laws, or the capabilities of the “blessed.” Slackers and persistent freeloaders abused the impulses towards social and spiritual equality, pulling the community further into dysfunction. Communalism lost its way.

Nonetheless, I believe we’ll find the last black people in America still struggling, hopelessly or victoriously, to make some aspects of communalism work, to mitigate the Faustian desire for more, more, more.

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Author: George Davis (14 Articles)

George Davis

George Davis’ nonfiction novel, Until We Got Here: From "We Shall Overcome” to "Yes We Can" will be published in 2010. He has taught at Columbia, Colgate and Yale universities and is professor emeritus in creative writing at the Newark Campus of Rutgers University. He is author of the bestseller, Black Life in Corporate America, and the novel, Coming Home, upon which the Jane Fonda Vietnam War film is loosely based. He has been a writer and editor for Essence and Black Enterprise magazines, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

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