Seven Whys

I picked up this trick from Dean Graziosi’s book, Millionaire Success Habits. To get at the deep truth in answer to your Big Question, whatever it may be, he recommends you answer the question seriously, then ask yourself why that answer makes the sense it apparently does. Then, after answering, ask it again, and again, recursively until you’ve asked “Why?” seven times.

Dean swears seven is the magic number, and I’m inclined to agree. I’ve tried this on a few occasions, and the insight developed after the sixth ask has always felt more ominous than satisfying, while the seventh has felt like an epiphany. I’ve never been interested in an eighth.

Yesterday I was considering the question of my overarching purpose, especially important since I’m working to organize my entrepreneurial life. I asked myself, “What’s my ultimate aim?” Here’s what I came up with:

I wanna help people get along with each other.

Why?

So we can play together, show each other the cool sh!t we’ve found, and find more more effectively.

Why?

Because the world is a fascinating place, and being human is a fascinating experience in it. Basically, I’m diggin’ the trip.

Why?

Because it feels good—exciting and empowering—to discover new insights into what this is, what and who we are, and how it all works.

Why?

Because it seems circumstances, social institutions and systems, and sometimes specific people conspire to make broad experience and understanding difficult as a means to consolidate control over me.

Why?

Because the cultural lessons of my childhood (Black, American, Christian, poor-ish) cast me, in my own mind, as the underdog.

Why?

Because I wanted to excuse myself for my inadequacies; I felt I needed an excuse to fail.

Why?

Because, consistently enough, I was punished for falling short.

And there it is.

With the layers and their relationships to each other exposed as they are after this exercise, I’m better equipped to go about my work of helping people get along together, because I know better what all is at stake for me.

Seven layers beneath my superficial understanding, I discovered I’m still playing out the consequences of my earliest formative experiences. I wonder how much of this is true for you too.

You can reach me at kwame@kwamekamau.com if you’d like to continue the conversation.

No Losers

No one loses when we undo racist policies and practices that target black people in America.

As we learn to reject our exclusionary habits and attitudes towards black people, we actually qualify ourselves to create a more just society. We pave the way for fairer treatment of all marginalized classes of people—Asians, the Indigenous peoples, women, and even poor and working class whites, who are steady getting pushed out here to the margins with the rest of us.

Fun fact: the total value of all goods and services worldwide is expected to double over the next 10 years, as global wealth continues to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (as discussed in this article from The Brookings Institute). Our social, political, and economic systems, along with our shared cultural wisdom, are our best (only?) protections against the tyranny of the wealth which has been a central influence in our attempts at civilization for as long as we can stand to remember.

When you work right now on behalf of your black brothers and sisters (Sally Hemings, folks), fellow citizens, co-creative spiritual beings sharing this human experience—however you see it—what you’re actually doing is rooting our culture in the high-minded rights and responsibilities we have been so proud of.

No one loses (well, no one except the folks invested in the practice of systematically excluding people from fully equitable participation in this culture).

Do Our Non-Profits Realize #BlackLivesMatter?

Change is a process. Having experienced the protest gatherings downtown this past Sunday (5/31/20), it seems our Muskegon community has had an essential moment of initial catharsis in response to the recent flare-up of racist policing (whether by officers or our fellow community members). What’s next?

Since we’re all here and have each other’s attention, I believe now is the time to begin taking stock of our situation together, before we resolve back into our respective silos of well-meant, but disjointed, change-making on our own old familiar terms.

I came across this article, from Vu Le at nonprofitaf.com, in the comment thread of a post which called out Grand Rapids non-profits—in general, not by name—for substantially missing the mark in their support of the black and brown communities they mean to serve. The post challenged folks to pay attention to what these organizations are doing, and what they’re not doing, right now.

It also included a list of local GR non-profits that the OP was more comfortable working with.

This is Muskegon, not Grand Rapids. I don’t want anyone to be confused on that point. There are significant differences in the actors and the circumstances of our respective situations. Still, the following article, presented as part of that GR conversation, resonates with me as I consider our conditions here in Muskegon.

I see the major theme of the article as well worth considering as we make our moves to respond to the present crises and the systems that engendered them. That doesn’t mean I know exactly the extent to which it pertains to each person or each organization that serves Muskegon. I do know it pertains to each of us in different ways and to different degrees; we will each have to make our own determinations.

I know many people in the local non-profit community who are doing commendable work. I have worked with some of them on occasion, and I have witnessed phenomenal sensitivity, creativity, intelligence, and simple kindness again and again. I consider many my friends.

Please understand I am in no position to judge those who have committed their daily energy and attention to this work of making our community a better place for all of us. I don’t present this article as a judgement, but as a question. Are we doing enough? Are we really getting to the heart of it? Can we be sure?

I’m asking for a very simple reason: we need your help.

We need your help coordinating conversations with the law enforcement community and policy makers. We need your help protecting our place in a community where we are not universally welcome, and not always able to withstand the forces that work to put us down and push us out. We need your help locating, accessing, and developing data to inform a more equitable reality. We could also use your help developing systems of our own for employing, educating, and nurturing the many talented people we bring as gifts to this world.

Lastly, I’d like to clear up two points I think the article obscures. First, black people can embody that “white moderate” archetype as well. As an example, in my own life I have been at odds with myself over how I show up in and for the black community, and especially how I don’t. How much of my life is spent working (and playing, for that matter) with non-black people? When I am doing work on behalf of black people, or even directly with black people, it’s often under the auspices of organizations run by people who are not black.

And I know the fact that I chose a white woman to marry is received as a slap in the face by many sisters and a shame by many brothers; and I do have some idea why. In considering the road that got me here—and I have had to review and reassess my journey from time to time—I am just so sure she’s a gift tailored for my growth, my work, and my vision…

What can I say? Love is love. 🤷🏾‍♂️

Examining the cultural landscape (perhaps you haven’t realized), it often feels like we may have escaped the plantation, but the plantation’s culture has spread its reach beyond the land where it was born. And it spreads as much in our own minds and hearts as in any police force, municipal system, or business (for-profit or non-profit).

The second thing is that churches are definitely part of the non-profit community too. Churches and church-sponsored organizations are often right on the front line of the service providers in marginalized communities, which is so often where you find us.

So if you’re a church goer or donate to a church, however sporadically, this message is for you too.

And with that, you can follow the link below to see the article for yourself. I hope you enjoy the read. And if you lose track of your joy somewhere along the way, please read on regardless.

Turning the Soil of Race and Racism

It’s not just the times that are changing.

Understanding racism and its impact first became important for me when I was about fourteen. I was riding in the car with my father, who had been playing a taped lecture by Yosef ben-Jochannan—a prolific author and teacher in African history.

I think he was curious about how I was interpreting what I was hearing when he stopped the tape to chat a little. In that conversation he asked me a question that made racism real for me. 

We were a seriously Christian family, and Poppa hit me with an arresting little factoid, “You know Jesus was black, right?” (That wasn’t the big question, btw.)

I most certainly did not know that, and I probably wondered if it was blasphemous to say so. I had only ever seen images of Jesus in his traditional long wavy hair, neatly cropped beard, mournfully resolute eyes—as if praying for all us sinners who know not what we do.

I had never seen nor heard of a black Jesus, but I was not about to directly contradict my father. Besides, he made a good case, quoting the bible and pointing out how many white guys were likely to be hanging around that side of the Mediterranean in those days (not many). Instead I turned the tables and asked—oh, so carefully—why it even matters, since Jesus came to save everybody.

I imagine we are at our cleverest when trying to preserve our view of how we think the world is. To grow in wisdom we must often be outsmarted, and our deepest convictions must be uprooted.

He asked, in return, “If it didn’t matter, why would they change it in the first place?”

🤯

This is the first time I remember recognizing racism was more than just stories from the past, but was actively affecting me personally—and I hadn’t even noticed.

In that moment, I changed. I didn’t yet learn the term, but I understood what it meant to be gaslighted. It took a few years and a few more plot twists, but that was the beginning of my walk away from the religion of my youth.

I got really good at doubting and questioning the sources of what I knew about the world and my place in it. For about ten years, my interest in race and racism was rooted in my need to know myself.

In fact, every interest I pursued was rooted in my need to know myself until, in my middle twenties, I came to realize my self-absorption was complete. Simultaneously, I also realized I needed to understand everyone else better if I wanted to fathom my next depths of satisfaction.

This changed my outlook, including how I looked at racism. I wanted to know how other people saw themselves—whether black, white, or whatever else. And I wanted to know how they saw me.

I think it was in this period that it really hit home that “white” and “black” people were largely invented as corollaries to colonialism. Those labels basically serve to justify European global conquest, and the inherent evils of that process, on the basis of the inherent superiority of white people (definitions of which are adapted to suit the context).

This orientation toward learning how others’ racial lenses work lasted until around the time of Obama’s ascent to the presidency, when my emphasis shifted again to considering how we might resolve this drama of racism. I took some time to consider the “post-racial” narrative that was popular around that time, but dismissed it as being more of a aspirational value some people might choose than a valid description of our shared reality.

I have continued to learn about race with an emphasis on finding our way to a collective resolution. While you’d have no trouble finding folks today who will tell you racism has already been resolved, they certainly don’t represent a consensus. Achieving a true resolution would mean knowing that our individual views on race and racism are like vignettes in a commonly shared story, each shedding its light on all the rest, so that we each could know that appreciating each other’s chapters helps us comprehend our own.

Times change, but not just the times. Our needs change, and so does our understanding. As we embrace this intentional look at issues of race and racism—some of us for the first time—I think we may have reached a tipping point. We may be cascading toward that resolution of all these centuries of strangeness.

Whatever ideas you have about this worldwide anti-racism moment, whatever motivates your present engagement (or disengagement), whatever sense it all makes sense to you now (maybe none), one thing is certain… change is coming.