Through Study of Aesthetic Realism
Racism will never be understood and stopped until people can criticize their own contempt -- and only Aesthetic Realism explains contempt as it exists in every human being.
Eli Siegel was beautiful on the subject of race. He saw man aesthetically, as a oneness of opposites. He was thorough, deep, and kind. I will quote just a single statement of Mr. Siegel for now and hope it can represent for a moment the whole way of mind needed by the world -- from his lecture "Poetry Is of Man," September 8, 1974: "Somewhere man began: maybe in hundreds of places at the same time. How did we get man in all his diversity from a few elementary states? That is poetic. Anything that has to do with getting manyness from oneness, or oneness from manyness, is of logic and poetry."
Mr. Siegel saw people truly. When the hope to be seen rightly is thwarted, as it is most often, a person has pain, which is usually taken out on other people.
Contempt for What Is Different
In 1971 in a New York City community college, I began to teach anthropology, including to people who looked different from me. Certainly, I had studied the subject of race in many anthropology courses and had been pointed toward fairness by anthropology; but neither I nor any other anthropologist had learned about our own desire for contempt. By 1971 Eli Siegel had criticized mine, and as a consequence I had learned how to be aware of it.
I knew contempt for what is different from oneself was the cause of all the ill will my students would meet; it is the cause of the pain that man inflicts on man. I had learned this from Eli Siegel. The opposites of difference and sameness are seen in a corrupt, inexact way when we have contempt. They are seen truly when respect is present. It is from this point of view that we study the subject of race, or human diversity, in the workshop for teachers, The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel As Teaching Method -- as well as in the courses I taught at Queensborough Community College, and the anthropology course I teach now at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. People simply have to see truly how they are the same and different from other people and things for racism to end.
In the workshop for educators, we teach what Aesthetic Realism explains and no other thought does: the greatest fight in everyone, going on all the time, is the fight of respect and contempt. This principle, too, was my basis as I taught about race at Queensborough.
I would quote from an important United Nations statement: "Scientists have reached general agreement in recognizing that mankind is one: that all men belong to the same species, Homo sapiens" (UNESCO, 1950). I would ask, "What do you think of belonging to the same species as everyone else?" This, by Adolf Hitler, would be read: "Almost all the peoples of the world are composed to-day of different racial primary elements ... characterized by different mental abilities (The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922 August 1939, trans. N.H. Baynes, 1969, 1, 464). I would ask, "How do you think you'd feel if a government official said in a public speech that your race was superior?" Sometimes I would see a dawning look of enlightenment and horror as students realized they might like it, even believe it.
This view is more current than we may know. I saw it expressed in the Barnes and Noble text Educational Psychology, by Professor Rudolf Pintner, for many years of Columbia University, who says, "Most psychologists are inclined to believe that the individual inherits something basic in his nervous system upon which the future development of his intelligence depends .... We find the highest average I.Q. among children in professional families; then follow business or clerical, skilled workers, semi-skilled, and unskilled" (1970, pp. 30, 28).
This implies, if you are born into a professional family your inborn intelligence is higher. Students would ask me, "Is it true?" They were afraid it might be. It is not. It is sheer contempt, and I once believed it, being born into such a family. "Are you more interested in being as good as you can be or better than others?" Eli Siegel asked me in 1968. I wanted to be better than others, and this hope in man is the one cause of racial prejudice.
Students loved to hear it said straight: There is no inborn difference of intelligence between races. Had I not been questioned by Mr. Siegel, I could not have seen it as clearly and liked it as much as I did. I had been too in love with Perey superiority.
My largest experiences in the classroom came when I would read from Eli Siegel's "The Equality of Man," published in the Modern Quarterly, 1923 -- before the rise of fascism in Germany and before much pain of the past sixty years. If only it had been listened to. I regret once having felt threatened by its beautiful meaning:
Now this is a plain fact: Whatever the reason, no attempt has been made to bring out all the powers of mind that are in each man at birth, by giving it conditions that would fit it best. Worded differently, men have not had an equal chance to be as actively powerful as they might be. And if they had been given an equal chance to use all the powers they had at birth, they would be equal. [The Modern Quarterly Beginnings of Aesthetic Realism, 1969, p. 28]
When students heard the kind, strong music of Eli Siegel's sentences, even after the United Nations statement, there would be an electric quietness in the room. Eli Siegel was sure.
For teachers to be truly useful to their students they have to see how contempt works in themselves. For this purpose, an assignment given in our workshop is, Write three ways you are like a student you may be having difficulty with, and three ways you are different. Do not, we caution, write how the student is worse; try to see a real person. As teachers begin to apply this new way of seeing, students respond with the desire to learn. Where contempt, including prejudice, infected the classroom, there is now more respect.
One teacher wrote this: "After I had [written] the ways we were alike and ... different I started to see [the student] in a different way .... Now ... he is learning at a rapid pace. This student hated school with a vengeance. I am making inroads in this attitude."
Another teacher wrote that her students had stopped cursing and calling one another insulting racial names and had begun to learn: "I had my students ... list all the ways that they were SIMILAR to one another .... Well, it worked. Similarities came up: similar feelings, goals, thoughts, family problems .... They began to start liking each other. Things are not perfect ... but there is more respect now in my classroom than there was before I [began] this course and, I might add, more learning!"
That is what occurred
in the classes I taught at Queensborough Community College. I remember,
for example, a tall black student who said to me, "If everybody read Eli
Siegel we'd have less prejudice and injustice in the world." A black student
who had been quiet for some weeks walked up to me after class and simply
shook my hand and said, "Thank you." And I felt a large gratitude at the
end of my Introductory Anthropology course when a young woman who was to
return home to Ghana soon, said that Aesthetic Realism was needed by the
world. She is right.
from The Right of Aesthetic Realism
to Be Known, No. 724. Updated.
See Ellen Reiss's description of the cause of racism. Ms. Reiss is the Chairman of Education of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. It's in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, issue #1264 titled "Racism Can End."
You can see the Aesthetic Realism understanding of racism in action in my novel Gwe, Young Man of New Guinea—A Novel Against Racism, on the website of the same name (click here) and also on Amazon.com where it can be purchased directly.