Like thousands of others, I was horrified seeing the video of the beating of Nathaniel Jones. And I was also very moved reading the article about the high school students’ march to City Hall (Seen and Heard, issue of Dec. 17-23).
While the circumstances of Jones’ death are being investigated, racism exists and is deadly. I want people in Cincinnati, my home town, to know what I learned about its cause from Aesthetic Realism, the education founded by the great poet and critic Eli Siegel. Human cruelty, he showed, including prejudice and racism, arises from contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” Contempt is ordinary — it makes for everyday sarcasm and meanness — and also helps a person become brutal to another because that person’s skin color is different.
“As soon as you have contempt,” Siegel explained, “as soon as you don’t want to see another person as having the fullness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person.” I’m sure that if contempt is studied and understood, tragedies like this — and racism in cities across this nation — can end.
I grew up in Glendale, and though my family didn’t see ourselves as prejudiced we took it for granted that being white made us superior to persons with darker skin. This narrow-minded, deeply ignorant way of seeing hurt each of our lives — as it does every person who has it. When I was able to learn about my own contempt and see how it weakened me, I changed in many ways. I became much happier and more the person I hoped to be through wanting to know other people and honestly try to be fair to them.
Humanity will not be civilized until the contempt that begins quietly in all of us is seen for what it is and criticized straight — as I’m grateful mine has been — and people learn to see the difference of others as truly adding to them, making them more.
It is urgent that people all over America learn to see each other this way. Anti-racism workshops given by consultants and associates are being presented at schools, libraries and college conferences. You can find out more by contacting the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene St., NYC 10012, 212-777-4490, http://AestheticRealism.org
— Nancy Huntting
New York, NY