Answer to Racism
my experiences as an activist and a champion against racism, I have
learned how important it is for analytical and critical thinkers to
bring to light any organizations, doctrines or philosophies that would
seek to "pimp" Black peoples’ struggle for racial justice and
reparations. It is the moral duty of conscious individuals to expose
anyone that would prey upon people’s desperate hopes for an end to their
oppression. In keeping with that, I would like to discuss a recent book
that disturbs me greatly because the authors are guilty of the above.
The title of the book:
Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism
This book of articles by Alice Bernstein and others claims to have
the answer to racism. Such an improbable claim is akin to hearing
someone announce they have discovered the cure for cancer, only to find
that they are presenting you with a nicely packaged placebo.
In brief, Aesthetic Realism is a philosophy, founded by Eli Siegel in
1941, which is based on, among others, this premise:
The first victory of contempt is the feeling in people that they have
the right to see other people and things pretty much as they please.
For this reason, the viewpoint of Aesthetic Realism that we have an
obligation to see everything as well as we can, is a critical matter.
The fact that most people have felt there is no such obligation, that
they had the right to see other people and other objects in a way that
seemed to go with comfort—this fact is the beginning of the injustice
and pain of the world. It is contempt in its first universal,
At first glance, there isn’t a whole lot to disagree with here.
When you delve into the collection of articles that make up the book,
the predominantly white voices speaking out in favor of Aesthetic
Realism, sprinkled here and there with a few token Blacks, suggests the
same dynamic that exists in our society. How can you have the answer to
racism when the voices of those who suffer most from it are so vastly
Aesthetic Realism’s allegorical approach put forth in this book is
flawed as well. There are too many references to inanimate objects in an
attempt to explain human beings and racism. People are not rugs,
statues, poems, quilts or museum exhibits. As one author attempts to do,
you cannot equate mere skin color, or cellular structure and function
with live flesh and blood people and their experiences with racism. The
so-called answer to racism presented in this book is not dealing with
the effects of racism at all. It doesn’t take into account the pain and
suffering of real individuals. Instead, it deals with some of the
character flaws that make for mean people. I liken these writings to the
early white abolitionists who spoke out against slavery only in the
privacy of their own living rooms and who saw their slave owning
brethren as poor misguided fools who were behaving like spoiled children
that didn’t know how to play fair and who would hopefully come around
after a gentle chiding.
A lot of the Aesthetic Realism rhetoric is disseminated on a childlike
level. The approach seems to be focused on dealing with children. But
children learn racism from their parents and their immediate
surroundings. As for adults, it would seem to me that unless a person is
easily duped, you aren’t going to be able to convince them to cease and
desist with racist attitudes and behaviors by telling them a story, as
another article does, about the green brush stroke who didn’t like brush
strokes that were other colors. Nor can this one story combat rhetoric
that is repeated in the home. So this information only works for those
who’ve bought into Aesthetic Realism. What about the rest of the world?
In Alice Bernstein’s article "Words, Truth and the Confederate Flag,"
she quotes the leader of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss, speaking about
the racism that the confederate flag represents. However, dealing with
symbols is one thing. Dealing with the realities upon which those
symbols are based is something else entirely.
In his article "Contempt: the Cause of Racism," Edward Green cites
Ellen Reiss’ statement that people who set fire to Black churches feel,
"Black persons have no right to see themselves as related to the biggest
thing there is: the cause of the world, or God….worship of God should
not be for them because they are so much less valuable than oneself is."
First of all, Black people were bought over to this country from
Africa and told that they were savages because they did not
practice Christianity. Second, Christianity was used as a justification
to enslave Black people. So Christianity was literally forced down the
African’s throat to begin with.
Second, Black churches in the South were bombed and attacked because
they were usually the site for planning actions against oppression.
Since their enslavement, Black people have long used churches as safe
houses, or strategy bunkers to develop ways in which they could fight
for their freedom. They weren’t just happy Negroes content to rejoice in
the Lord. This statement by Reiss is once again the voice of a
disconnected white person attempting to oversimplify Black people’s
experience and ability to comprehend and deal with the racism they live
with every day.
There are some very good, noble people who have within themselves
varying levels of contempt. They have contempt for racism, for violence,
contempt for those who practice and preach hatred. But do these same
individuals engage in the systematic brutalization of people of color?
The behavior of the white man extends beyond contempt. This is the
mindset of a rabid conqueror and suggests that the white man’s deepest
desire is not to know, love and respect the world around him, but to
conquer and subjugate it, thereby securing his own future and feeding
Subjugated people desire to survive and to be free.
The pictures throughout this book of happy darkies who have been set
free by the teachings of Aesthetic Realism, or who unwittingly practice
them without being taught, belies the inherent racism of the authors.
Bernstein even commends a Black man with well-founded reasons for
mistrusting whites for "putting aside his misgivings" and entering into
a contract with a white man.
I almost didn’t comment on (yes, because it filled me with contempt)
the fact that Bernstein actually idolizes Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and
the way he just tap danced his happy self through life, and that his
dancing feet and smiling Black face filled her with hope. For what I
Nowhere in this book did I read one article that dealt with the issue
of reparations. No one talks about righting the wrongs that have been
committed against people of color. So how do we combat the effects of
racism? Do we simply try to prevent it from happening in the future?
What about the millions of people who are victims every day? What hope
can they have for their own futures? Aesthetic Realism hasn’t answered
any of these questions.
The truth is that it is Black people who have the answer to racism
because only Black people will be able to hold white people accountable
in the way that they need to be held accountable—in ways that
they can see and touch and feel. Only Black people can define what they
are owed and convey the suffering they’ve had at white hands. It is
arrogant for white people, such as the ones authoring this book, to even
suggest that they have any such answers. What they are saying is merely
that somehow a wrong was done, not necessarily that they are
accountable, but that they will define racism, define the
victim’s experience of racism, and define and dictate the ways in which
it ought to be dealt with. The only thing that white people must do is
renounce all the things that allow for their privilege. They must stop
saying the things that perpetuate an imbalanced society; they must stop
assuming that poor colored folk need to be enlightened by them and
rescued by them. They must stop subjugating, objectifying,
rationalizing, brutalizing and oversimplifying.
Our value as human beings lies in what we can do to help the next
man, what we can do with our two hands—not only our lips or our
pen—to make the world better.
Only then will racism truly end.