I could explain the tortured logic that led me to finding Black on Black: interview with Ralph Steele with introduction by William Poy Lee, but I doubt anyone else would find it terribly interesting. The interview, though:
You served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner, acquiring a heroin habit in the service. When you returned to the states, you became a member of the Black Panther Party, moti-
vated by fighting racism and social oppression. Looking back, how does the Dharma help you to understand the choices that you made? How can the Dharma help todayís young inner-city African-American males who feel the same anger and frustration and face equally unattractive and self-destructive choices?
Being born in a particular culture leads to a particular kind of suffering. My own cultural beginnings were unique and powerful. Through them, and through experiences ranging from war to highly disciplined religious training, I have learned the path of personal freedom from suffering.
The main understanding is the recognition that suffering exists, as it is stated in the first noble truth. After that, then itís about how to eliminate that suffering. That includes practice, reading books, and running things by your teachers. Then, you have to confirm the validity of that practice against real life. How does the dharma check out for me as an inner-city African American male?
When I first studied the dharma, I challenged everything. I would encourage any African-American studying the dharma to become the ultimate warrior. Challenge everything you hear and read in Buddhism. Challenge your teachers. Challenge the books. Just because itís in the book or because some elders said it 2,000 years ago, it doesnít matter. Challenge everything and make sure itís real for you. As an African American man, I am from an oppressed culture. I donít have that kind of luxury. The dharma has to walk its talk. Itís got to make a difference in my life and that of other African Americans.
That's worth a look. Ralph Steele is a fascinating individual in his own right:
I was born on Pawley's Island. The real island, off the coast of South Carolina, was all white people. No blacks were allowed. We lived in the swamps, in the woods on the opposite shore. But we called it Pawleys Island anyway. Our community was made up of villes-Parkersville, Maryville, Plantersville-like African villages.
We spoke Gullah, a mixture of African languages, French, and English, and our customs, like our speech, contained whole pieces of Africa that had made the long journey over to the slave ports. We had no phones and no doctors. We did have a TV, but the only things we watched were the fights and "The Little Rascals." We lived off the land.
[. . .] Everyone knew that Sister Mary was a different kind of person. She had a garden that was quite unusual: Everything was huge, irregular. It was like something out of a fairy tale. As my brother and I worked pulling weeds for Sister Mary, she would sing and pray. Those vegetables were brought up on songs like "Precious Lord" and the vibrations that woman put into the soil as she tended it. One ear of corn would be sixteen inches long. One leaf of collard greens might be two to three feet in length. Tomatoes were like grapefruits. When people drove by, they would often stop just to look, or take pictures. She also had a magnificent flower garden. And she tended the yard like a Zen master. It was raked every day, not just the garden but the path you walked on.
Mentioned the Gullah dialect here a lifetime ago, on the off chance you want to know more.
And looking for that old entry brought me to one mentioning Lumpen, the current issue of which features an interview with The Noamster, if you're into that sort of thing, and have Acrobat Reader installed -- it's in part 2 of the online version.
There was a big media campaign with political figures - we needed to destroy Saddam this winter or we'd all be dead. You've got to kind of admire the intellectual classes not to notice that the only people in the world who are afraid of Saddam Hussein are Americans. Everybody hates him and Iraqis are undoubtedly afraid of him, but outside of Iraq and the United States, no one's afraid of him. Not Kuwait, not Iran, not Israel, not Europe. They hate him, but they're not afraid of him.
In the United States, people are very much afraid, there's no question about it. The support you see in US polls for the war is very thin, but it's based on fear. It's an old story in the United States. When my kids were in elementary school 40 years ago they were taught to hide under desks in case of an atom bomb attack. I'm not kidding. The country is always in fear of everything. Crime for example: Crime in the United States is roughtly comparable with other industrial societies, towards the high end of the spectrum. On the other hand, fear of crime is way beyond other industrial societies. . .
Suppose one could look into whether support for the war is/was lower among African-Americans because of lower levels of fear about what Saddam Hussein could do to fuck up their/our lives, but that would take considerably more brainpower than I'm running on at (glances at clock) 1:30 in the morning.
Can't even think of a decent way of connecting these subjects. Race, language, culture, politics, insomnia, . . .
Update: For the non-Acrobat enabled, or those who just don't want to download the somewhat large files from Lumpen, Adobe does offer Adobe PDF Conversion by Simple Form, if you just paste in the URI for the document you want, um, conversioned.
It ain't perfect, and you lose some lovely graphics in the process, but low-tech beats no-tech, no?