Part of Buddhist and African spirituality is reverence for your ancestors. In both frameworks, ancestors provide guidance and assistance. In addition to the help they can provide, people that adhere to these spiritualities use ancestral reverence as a way to recognize and thank our forebears for their sacrifice. The practice allows for a person’s ancestors to move through them. Reverence for ancestors will also aid in coming to grips with yourself as part of an unbroken continuum of experience. The continuum stretches back to the beginning of time and forward until the end of time. The continuation happens whether an individual has children or not. The ancestors will help a person to integrate aspects of their personality.
My ancestral reverence practice occurs after my daily meditation. After meditation, I bow, the Buddhist term is half-prostration, and imagine how my ancestors looked. In meditation, a person should move away from using words and attempt to concentrate on first order sensations. I chose as my ancestral image to be a slave. For me, a female image is more natural and more soothing. I am not sure why.
I feel Black Americans need to come to terms with our slave ancestry. The first step for us was coming to grips with our African ancestry. Black Americans were told the pre-colonial Africans were primitive and lacked culture. Those myths have been debunked, and most blacks understand that African civilization was advanced.
I viewed my slave ancestry as something I have to overcome. My slave ancestors sacrificed for me to be here. I now owe them being successful. If I am unsuccessful, their sacrifice was for nothing. I suspect many other people feel the same way.
What I was missing was slaves had full lives in spite of the oppression. The slaves sought wisdom, savored the few pleasures they had, and found love. I am a product of them finding love. When I came to grips with that, I could allow myself to live a full life. My life doesn’t solely have to be about being successful. My slave ancestors showed me how to have a full life in spite of oppression. I owe them being happy, not successful.
Anyone that follows my blog knows I have completed extensive research on the Pullman Porters. While doing research, I stumbled across many stories of the abusive treatment the porter’s received. Porters were called every racial slur. One of the most frequently used was calling all porters “George.” The name came because a man named George Pullman owned the Pullman company. During slavery, slaves were named after their master. Most passengers, especially from the south saw the porters as slaves and treated them accordingly.
These stories triggered me emotionally. Many times in my career I did not speak up when I or someone around me suffered a racial injustice. Many of my black co-workers expressed that I was extremely passive. I had a rocky start to my career and felt I needed to concentrate on the “nuts and bolts” of the job. I avoided unnecessary conflict because I had very little experience and could be replaced easily if things come to a head. I was fired from my first job due to having a racial conflict, and I did not want to repeat this pattern.
I often second guess my decision on this job. I regret not standing up for myself and others more. I have a few instances, in particular, I regret very much. I justify it to myself by saying I had to take care of business. I needed to hold on to the job and gain experience. Deep down I feel not only did I not stand up for myself, but I also did not stand up for my race.
I contrast my struggles with what the Pullman Porters accepted from the company and what they were able to accomplish in the field of Civil Rights. Even if a porter was completely passive, he was part of an organization, if he joined the union, which laid the foundation for the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. If he was kowtowing, he kowtowed for the struggle. If a few racist white people laughed about making a spectacle of a porter, who cares? The porter laid the foundation for me.
I am not saying I have accomplished anything anywhere near as significant as the Pullman Porters. However, progress is not about individual achievement. Progress is about community achievement. I could get the opportunity to redeem myself, someone in a future generation could redeem me. Everyday I decide if the cumulative affects of my actions are positive or negative. Being black is not about winning every fight; no one wins every fight. The goal is to have a larger balance of positive action than negative actions. Your positive action balance is tallied every day. In each moment you create your legacy.
I recently, re-read Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries. In the book, he recounts a story of meeting a black man in Peru that reported the murder of his friend. Below is the quote:
“Until this point, we had been traveling in the same truck as the black guy who had reported the murder. At one of the stops along the road, he bought us a meal and throughout it, lectured us on coffee, papaya, and the black slaves, of whom his grandfather had been one. He said this quite openly but [in] it you could detect a note of shame in his voice. In any case, Alberto and I agreed to absolve him of any guilt in the murder of his friend.”
The man from Peru had an intellectual understanding of the history of his people. The man did not have emotional acceptance, hence the shame. A person must foster both the intellectual understanding and the emotional acceptance. I feel that we as black people have a difficult time with the fact we have had to and still have to acquiesce to injustice. It is a survival method forged by our slave ancestors and is often still useful. Black people hate to admit that they had to acquiesce and others around them had to acquiesce.
The shame of acquiescence causes black people to vilify many our mainstream Civil Rights leaders as Uncle Toms. Many hate that A. Philip Randolph had to say the racist American Federation of Labor leader and L. Johnson was a greater friends to blacks than Lincoln. He was able to accomplish more than any other Civil Rights leader. Randolph was not a dogmatist; he was a pragmatist. He built relationships and allied with those he needed, not those with similar views. He separated the needs of the group and race from his personal need for pride. The same goes for Ed Nixon who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Nixon was also pragmatic and extremely successful. He is now often viewed as a Tom. These men should be revered as examples of successful leadership.
I think the vilification of Nixon and Randolph would lessen if black people came to grips with their issues with acquiescence. Once a person accepts they did not directly confront the racism they encountered they can accept the behavior in other people. When can then realistically evaluate the sum of all actions and determine if the leader was successful or not. It is true many leaders acquiesce and get no benefit to themselves and the race at large. Acquiesce without results should be vilified. However, if you can prove the leader made the material conditions of black life better, then give the leader the credit they deserve.
To recap, ancestral reverence will help to integrate various aspects of a person’s personality. Once a person has a better understanding of themselves and their psychology, they will reevaluate many leaders from a more logical standpoint. Often we don’t like in leaders aspects of ourselves. As a community, doing shadow work will help us to choose the most suitable leaders.