Zen Buddhism and Martial Arts


Author of this essay:

Ven. Ming Zhen Shakya
July 15, 2012

By Ming Zhen Shakya

"Happy white people's Independence Day. The slaves weren't free, but I'm sure they enjoyed the fireworks."

Chris Rock's bitter comment about the Fourth of July cannot be dismissed as an attempt at humor or a slur we ought just to accept without responding "in kind" (whatever that "kind" is). A Zen Buddhist is required, by the terms of his religion, to consider the context of the "bitterness and pain" inherent in the remark and to deal with it.

No group of American citizens has been conned by the bait-and-switch tactics of "well meaning" policies as much as poor black kids. If Chris Rock has this segment of the black population in mind, then his comments are on the mark. If he has black U.S. servicemen and women in mind, he also is on target.

There are some states of the psyche that require no psychological explanations to understand. Disillusionment, betrayal, ingratitude, and the sure and certain agony of rejection are the reasons that people who are bereft of hope take their own lives. Sometimes they are so poisoned by disappointment that they succumb to slower forms of self-destruction by drugs, or by the inevitable punishments inflicted by law enforcement for committing crimes, or by turning on each other, as can be seen in the staggering rate of black-on-black ghetto crime.

That poor black young men and women have a disproportionately higher percentage of membership in the military than their percentage of the total population carries over into the group of servicemen and women who take their own lives or are at risk of doing so. We need to know why so many choose to serve and why young black men and women have a disproportionately high representation in U.S. prisons, and why they are less educated and drop out of school at disproportionately higher rates and, when employed, are employed at disproportionately lower skill levels and have disproportionately higher rates of unemployment even at those lower level jobs. All these questions need an answer. And there is one, an ugly joke of an answer; and its punch line is "Affirmative Action."

In 1961, when John F. Kennedy introduced the term "Affirmative Action" which mandated that businesses that held federal contracts had to ensure that race was not a factor in evaluating job applicants, the race that he was talking about was Black.

It took the country a while to assimilate exactly what was meant by Affirmative Action. It became clear that what was intended was remedial action, an official acknowledgement that Blacks were the victims of generations of unfair and unconscionable actions by the white majority; that this perpetual victimization had created a cycle of inequality had to be broken; and that only a draconian act could break it. It may have required the finesse of a bulldozer to level the playing field, but it was time that the field was leveled.

As it was originally presented, Affirmative Action meant that black applicants for a job or a place in college should be "cut some slack" and given a measure of preferential treatment. Black kids may not have scored as high on the SAT tests, but that test was culturally skewed in favor of white culture. The test used words and references that were alien to ghetto kids who often spoke a "black english" variant of english. This cultural difference was significant. (There was a time I could kick-ass answering questions on Jeopardy. Now, age having changed my interests, half the questions are about people, places, and things I've never even heard of.) Cultural reference matters.

That ghetto schools were overcrowded, understaffed, run down, and totally lacking in academic performance didn't seem to matter since the kids who attended them didn't need much of an education to do the kind of jobs that were available to them. A high school diploma from one of them did little to enhance the chances for admission to a university. Since school construction was tied to property taxation, "White Flight" to the suburbs only worsened the differences in preparation for higher education.

Government contractors were ordered to hire blacks at a rate that more resembled their percentage of the general population. But union contracts conflicted with that noble aim. Unions would not accept Blacks as apprentices. I recall hearing one union leader explain in perfect candor that membership in a union is exactly like a legacy admission to Harvard. A person receives special consideration if his father and grandfather went to Harvard.... or any other prestigious school. People inherit stocks, he said, and nobody objects to the way this wealth is acquired. Union membership had its own inherited rights. Blacks could not compete simply because they had not inherited the right to do so. They did not have fathers who were union members. End of story.

Most of us looked at our brother-in-law and shuddered to think of having to let him do the electrical wiring or plumbing in our house because nepotism determined that he was qualified to do the job.

Affirmative Action meant that even though a black kid could not measure up to his white counterpart when it came to applying for a place in a college or a union or in any other academic or commercial or industrial pursuit, he had to be given a break so that he could catch up and acquire that vocabulary and those basic academic skills and one day become a plumber, a carpenter, a teacher, a cop, a fireman, a doctor. And when enough of these kids... who had high IQ's but who could not compete on application forms, got into respectable positions, the cycle would be broken. We were told that it would likely take one full generation of giving such breaks to black applicants to get that playing field level, but it was little enough time to compensate for centuries of slavery and racial abuse.

When Affirmative Action was formally called Civil Rights, the southern states would have none of it. They had their own ideas about racial equality. During Roosevelt's wartime administration, by executive order defense contractors were once again told to apply fair standards to the hiring of workers. That, to them, was offensive; but when Harry Truman integrated the armed forces, the southern states withdrew from the Democrat party and formed the Dixicrat Party and pushed their "Segregation Forever" agenda. The party did not last past the midnight of political reality.

The southern states had long interpreted the 1866 Civil Rights Act, which required that all citizens be given equal standing before the courts, as being satisfied by the "Jim Crow" "separate but equal" interpretation of the doctrine. And, indeed, in 1896, the Supreme Court considered this interpretation and affirmed that "separate but equal" adequately met the requirement.

De Jure is not De Facto. Separate but equal meant sitting in the back of the bus; using public toilet facilities the likes of which existed only south of the Rio Grande; being limited to playing lazy idiots in film, radio, and TV; being barred from playing major league or college sports; attending schools of such substandard quality that only todays public high school students, thanks to organized teachers, can match in inability to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. Brown versus Board of Education forced schools to desegregate. Racial balance had to be achieved even if that meant busing students. No one will forget the southern states' response to this ruling... the dogs... the fire hoses... the civil rights marches and murders... the single black kid walking the gauntlet of spitting segregationists... the Church burnings. Dwight Eisenhower sent the troops in. The sky did not fall. The South regained its vaunted gentility.

And then, something funny happened on the way to Affirmative Action. Suddenly it was not a remedial effort to help correct years of racial abuse, a way to give those poor black kids a little push up the ladder. No. No. No. The Civil Rights Act of 1967 tossed those kids right under Rosa Park's bus.

First, women had to be included in those Civil Rights. Years of denying women equal treatment could not be erased or excused. They deserved Civil Rights. Sure. But not in the same way or for the same reasons as the black kids did. So now, a black kid who wanted to go to college was part of a "minority" that included females of every race.

And then, if this were not grievous enough - and it certainly ought to have been - persons of every minority had to be included in those unmentionable "quotas." A black kid who wanted to go to college became part of a huge group of "Rainbow Coalition minorities" (a favorite theme of black leaders) and from this pool of minorities selection committees and personnel directors were free to choose. Say, what?

Black leaders completely failed poor black kids. Instead of saying, "Stay with the Program! This is about redressing the injuries of slavery and centuries of racial prejudice!" they welcomed into the "deserving of a little extra consideration group" all women of every race, creed, etc. and every non-white person known to man. Thanks to their ineptitude and gullibility (which still goes on today) what should have been a bonus for poor black kids became just another hurdle.

We could not recall a single instance in which people from Malaysia were rounded up and chained and shipped to the United States to become cotton field slaves. Yet they were given the same opportunities to compete as "special consideration minorities" for admission to college as the black kids.

We had not sneaked into Vera Cruz and shanghaied Mexicans, loading them, chained, in the grotesque hulls of merchant ships. Since when did we enslave Mexicans? Yet hispanics of every kind were given the right to compete with the black kids in that great Rainbow minority fantasy, a fantasy that was breathed into and given life by black leaders. White leadership thought this was a great idea. They didn't live in ghettos. Their kids went to private schools. As long as Jesse Jackson was so in love with Rainbows, what the hell?

And the cruelest act of "kindness" was in the Aid to Dependent Children program that perpetuated the fatherless way of life that was endemic in ghetto existence. This particular minority of Americans had experienced a long and painful history of mother and father separation. A hundred years before Kennedy's Affirmative Action, a husband and father could be (and many were) separated from their families and sold as property. And when a man could not get a job or an education - or a job even if he had an education - his life became hopeless. He gave up trying. He was defeated and ripe for all those self-destructive acts we've all come to know and arm ourselves against.

Other minority groups did not endure the destruction of family life. The State Department went to great lengths to keep immigrant families intact. Yes, by all means keep the fathers in the home! So where other minorities knew the stability of having a dad as the role-model head of family, black kids largely came from families that by law could not have a dad as the role-model head of family. Not since the Stone Age did a family unit consist of a mother and kids with different absentee fathers who were no where in sight. The kids in the family were related to each other only through their mother. And Black Leaders who liked all that ADC money coming into their communities pushed hard for the government handout. They did not think having dad at home was more important than having a pregnant fourteen year old girl whose pregnancy made her the family breadwinner.

And for those poor inner city kids? Their father figures were the men who "made it," who ate well and looked snazzie and drove fancy cars - i.e., the drug dealers and pimps who ruled their mean streets.

And why shouldn't the black girls take advantage of the program? Thanks to poor education, a home life that was inimical to academic excellence, and all that minority competition, few of them could get a regular job - unless it was as a whore, a drug mule, a kitchen worker, or a cleaning woman. Nice. Decades after John F. Kennedy addressed the inequality problem and proposed Affirmative Action most black girls, whose mothers should already have had college degrees, were lucky to escape drug addiction or drive-by shootings or gang violence. (As to the ADC program, we can all thank Bill Clinton for putting that diseased program out of its misery.)

Affirmative Action had come a long way. We paid young black girls to have babies which ensured another generation of ghetto kids. We prevented black kids from knowing a father's stabilizing force by denying ADC benefits to any mother whose mate was living "in the home." The states had social workers whose job was to spy on ADC recipients to make sure no man "lived" at the address of that government check. (Were these bureaucrats fools or knaves? Were they just stupid or did they have some cynical agenda in enforcing this outrage?) While black comedians are trying to think up holiday jokes, they might try to find the humor in all those black leaders who pushed hard for ADC and the "no father in the house" rule. I do not find it a bit funny. Richard Nixon, of all people, wanted the program to keep the fathers in the home. But having Dad around might have had a dampening effect on all those lucrative pregnancies, and he was hammered for proposing it.

But wait! These youngsters are going to be shafted again.

President Obama has just effectively given green cards to 800,000 hispanic youngsters, freeing them to work because it is not their fault that their moms and dads broke the law by illegally entering the United States. Think about this! Let's give them a break because they are the descendants of people who committed the criminal act of illegally entering the U.S. And by giving them a break, we further increase the competitive disadvantage of the descendants of people who were the victims of crime.

Who will suffer for this? Who will compete with those 800,000 job seekers? The answer to that is: those same poor black kids whose ancestors somehow managed to enter this country "legally" through the diplomacy of chains. And also among that group are the poor kids who grew up and joined the U.S. military as their only way of learning a trade or getting a college degree through the G.I. Bill.

And guess who is delighted with this "Dream Act" largesse? Yes... black leaders are actually happy about it. Think of all those Democrat hispanic votes.

Why are our inner cities so filled with poor black gangs? That there are hispanic gangs of non-english speaking immigrants is one thing. We have known Italian gangs... and Irish gangs... and Puerto Rican gangs... it comes with the assimilation territory. But black gangs? Long ago prosperity should have created "Black Flight" from the inner cities. It did for other groups. Why has there not been a mass movement away from black ghettos?

Not included among the 800,000 recipients of the president's political re-election largesse are the thousands of hispanic men and women who are granted citizenship by virtue of serving in the U.S. military. They did not need this political ploy. They served and earned their citizenship.

But when they come back from serving and are U.S. citizens, they, too, will have to compete with the thousands of illegals who found no need to earn their citizenship the hard way... not in an election year. Returning Veterans will find it very difficult to go to college and next to impossible to get even a part time job. Evidently black leaders are also enjoying those Independence Day fireworks. The Dream Act has become a reality.

Few of us today can imagine being the victims of the racial bigotry American blacks endured or of feeling the fear and loathing that pervaded the white community in those pre-Affirmative Action days. We remember specific people and events: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, murdered by KKK members who lived very well indeed and were not brought to trial until they were so damned old they had to enter court in wheel chairs with oxygen masks. We remember Billie Holiday who saw the photos of lynched men hanging from a tree and, despite being warned against it, dared to sing Abel Meeropol's poem, Strange Fruit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OqnDXbmg3U&feature=related

One event that has a peculiar irony stands out.

Toddlers, for example, usually copy the speech patterns of their maternal attendants. A friend of mine, for example, grew up in a house presided over by her mother, an Austrian immigrant, who pronounced the word "straight" as "shtraight." My friend grew up, obtained a medical degree, became a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and frequently lapses into the pronunciation shtraight instead of straight. Another friend was raised by a grandmother who pronounced "suPERfluous" as "superFLUous" which is what she responded when asked, during her doctoral dissertation, her opinion about a group of statistics. Black kids are often raised by mothers who pronounce the word "ask" as "aks." Given the generations of stay-at-home black mothers and grandmothers, we have to go back to the Elizabethan era to find that this was the correct way to pronounce it. The word was aks. Since African slaves were not born and educated in England, we can reasonably conclude that they learned this English pronunciation of the word when it was the correct way to pronounce it; and then they passed it down through their maternal generations.

Black slaves came to the colonies during Elizabethan times. They had children who were born on U.S. soil. That is a significantly long lineage as native born Americans... yet -

In 1896 The Daughters of the American Revolution was officially recognized as a non-profit organization of persons who could claim blood relationship to anyone who participated in furthering the cause of American Independence, that Fourth of July in 1776 which Chris Rock addressed. Neither Sally Hemings who bore six children to Thomas Jefferson who, it must be conceded, had a role in the Independence movement, nor her descendants qualified to join the D.A.R. It was not until 1977 that the D.A.R. admitted a black woman who could claim such ancestry. In 1984 they reversed course and denied membership to another otherwise eligible black American woman. But what is significant here is that in 1939 the great American contralto, Marian Anderson, was booked at Constitution Hall, a building paid for by the tax-exempt D.A.R. She was told that there was a no-blacks policy and her concert was cancelled. Eleanor Roosevelt immediately resigned from the D.A.R. and invited Anderson to give her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people came to hear her sing. Here, from that concert,


she sings the aria Casta Diva (Chaste Goddess) from Bellini's opera, Norma - (which would later become the signature aria of Maria Callas). She also sings Schubert's Ave Maria, (which she would sing again as a prayer broadcast to the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D Day, June 6, 1944.)


Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times called the nation's attention some weeks ago to the wretched state of Veteran suicide. From him we learned that "For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands. A U.S. soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged in every year - more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began."

We know why people who are despondent kill themselves. They feel betrayed, rejected, disillusioned, and instead of gratitude for the tribulations they endured they find ingratitude and the hopelessness of being unable to get a job, raise a family, and live "the American Dream."

The veteran suicide problem will likely get worse when these men and women, who went to war for our political objectives, return home and discover they have even less chance of getting a job or a place in college now that they must compete with 800,000 more politically expedient green card holders.

They will wake up in somebody's Affirmative Action "Dream Act" - it just won't be the Dream Act that black kids were supposed to awaken in.

Finally, years ago my Zen class in a State prison was suddenly besieged by a group of Black Muslims. They had heard that during a Dharma talk I had mentioned that AIDS had originated as a simian disease that had spread to human beings in Africa. The leader of their group became incensed at what he immediately assumed was my suggestion that the AIDS epidemic was started by Africans who had had sexual intercourse with monkeys. And they were going to set me straight about that!

One young man spoke for the others. "You're a liar," he said. "African men don't have sex with monkeys." I remember looking at him and his eager group who were so hungry for a paternal role model that the first fool who came along and had the aura of authority could become a beacon they would follow. I was willing to bet that none of them had known a responsible father-figure. I stayed calm and asked him if he had ever seen a picture of a pasture with sheep grazing on it. He said that he had, and I said, "By definition, there are no pastures in jungles." Then I said that the treetops in the jungle were just like pasture lands, only instead of sheep, they had monkeys; and that as we eat sheep, people who live in African jungles eat monkeys. I asked him to go back and tell his leader that I suggested that it is always better to kill an animal before eating it, and that when an African woman prepares a monkey for dinner, she usually skins and guts it the same way a sheep is skinned and gutted. And if she has a nick on her finger and she is handling an AIDS infected monkey and its blood makes contact with the nick on her finger, she's quite possibly going to become infected with AIDS.

He looked at me blankly. I asked, "Why does such a simple and obvious explanation elude you? A man goes out and hunts an animal to bring home and feed his family. This is part of every civilization's history. And you can't even imagine it. How little you know about African men."

I end this with a note to Chris Rock: Next time you play Las Vegas, drop in on Andre Agassi's College Preparatory Academy. There you will find black kids who are characters in a Dream Come True. Maybe you could talk to Andre and find out how to do something more than overlook the lack of black leadership in making Independence Day humor.

Humming Bird
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