I think that slogan has been meant to serve and I think is serving a very important aspect of our attempt to get at humanity. You are challenging the very deep roots of the Black man’s belief about himself. When you say ‘black is beautiful’ what in fact you are saying to him is: man, you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being. … So in a sense the term ‘black is beautiful’ challenges exactly that belief which makes someone negate himself.
—Steve Biko, from his book I Write What I Like
Steve Biko founded the Black Consciousness Movement as a student leader. He was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 70s, and became a martyr for the movement after dying in police custody in 1977.
Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu spoke in memory of Biko in 2006:
“That is what Steve diagnosed in us as our illness and black consciousness was meant to exorcise this demon, to make us realise that as he said, we were human and not inferior as the white person was human and not superior. I internalised what others had decided was to be my identity, not my God-given utterly precious and unique me.”
Former president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki said of Biko in 2007:
“Steve Biko understood that to attain our freedom we had to rebel against the notion that we are a problem, that we should no longer merely cry out -Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?, that we should stop looking at ourselves through the eyes of others, and measuring our souls by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
Musician Peter Gabriel wrote a tribute in a song titled “Biko”:
You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
Oh Biko, Biko,
because Biko Yihla Moja,
Yihla Moja - The man is dead
South African supporters hold a vigil in honor of the anniversary of Biko’s death. (photo: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images)
A Universal Human Rights Logo Delivers a Message and Meaning Inside the Image
by Susan Leem, associate producer
The Human Rights Logo Initiative chose Serbian artist Predrag Stakić’s entry as the winner of its competition to design the Universal Human Rights Logo.
“Free as a Man” evokes the peace dove and the five fingers of a hand reaching up to be counted and acknowledged. Have a look at the other finalists’ entries for more great concepts around this project.
I’m wondering how having a logo to represent universal human rights changes the way we think about that complex issue? What gets lost in translation when reducing an international struggle to one logo? Is this image able to function, as Utne Reader suggests, as “a new peace symbol?”
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Jailer” by Asa
by Chelsea Roff, guest contributor
The story of how I discovered this song really isn’t all that interesting. I was just riding in a car with a friend listening to his iPod on shuffle when the lyrics caught my attention. I remember asking him to play it several times, and each time I heard it I gathered a different meaning from Asa’s words.
For me, the song speaks to being liberated from both personal and collective oppression. Some days when I close my eyes and listen to it, I see the images of Egyptian men and women standing together in the streets in peaceful protest; other days I think of a little girl shedding off her insecurities and telling the voice in her head that says, “You can’t. Yes I can!”
When I hear this song, I hear the words of Mother Teresa and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Jesus and the Buddha all rolled into one.
“I’m in chains, you’re in chains too. … Let he who is without sin be the first to cast the stone.”
The message is a call for compassion. It’s a call for the oppressor and the oppressed to join one another on level ground, to stand together rather than exist in a power-over, power-under dynamic. At least that’s how I hear it. Whether you’re a greedy dictator, a violent abuser, or the bully at the playground, you are no different than me. Get off your pedestal; I won’t be slave to you anymore.
I hope you decide to share the song with listeners. Definitely one of my favorites. :)
Chelsea Roff is managing editor at YogaModern.com, where she is active community-builder and a contributing writer. She recently helped found a yoga service organization called Studio to Streets that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Want to recommend a song for our Tuesday evening melody, submit your suggestion and a little bit about the tune. We’ll take a listen for possible publication on the Being Blog.
The Conscience Behind the “Idea of America”
by Krista Tippett, host
It’s easy to forget, especially around U.S. Independence Day, how much trial and error went into the creation of American democracy, how much of what Americans now take for granted wasn’t fully formed for decades after 1776. The warm and wise philosopher Jacob Needleman looked back at the American founders with this in mind for his book The American Soul. He took apart the ingredients that grew up our democracy. And he found that every iconic institution, every political value, had “inward work” of conscience behind it. Every hard-won right had a corresponding responsibility.
It feels important to me, right now, to revisit the 2003 conversation I had with Jacob Needleman about this, and have been formed by ever since. In our historical moment, it is as clear as ever before that the American republic is an ongoing work in progress. And at the very same time, young democracies are fighting to emerge across the world and are looking for instruction and models.
To rise to this occasion, I believe, we need to remember and pass on this inward work as much as the outer forms of government that were long in the making. As we created this week’s show, we also pulled in words Jacob Needleman points to — of founding voices of “the idea of America.” These include George Washington and Thomas Paine, but also Frederick Douglass and Walt Whitman.
For this commentary, I offer excerpts of Jacob Needleman’s insights from our interview — and a little Walt Whitman — for remembering and reflection.
On the rights of the individual
“Individualism and individuality have to be separated. Individualism can take a turn where it’s a kind of egoistic, selfish thing: Me, me, me, me, and what I want and what I care, what I think and what I like. Oh sure, we need to have the liberty to express all that, but a real individual is a different thing. And to be truly one’s self is to be truly in contact with this great self within, this divinity within. And the paradox of true individuality is that the more you are in touch with what all human beings have in common under God, the more you are uniquely what you, yourself, are. And that’s why I say we need to bring back the obligations that go along with the rights in order to understand the depths of what the human rights really mean.”
“A democratic citizen is not a citizen who can do anything he wants. It’s a citizen who has an obligation at the same time. And just to give you an example, if I may, the freedom of speech, what is the duty associated with it? Well, if … I have the right to speak, I have the duty to let you speak. Now, that’s not so simple. It doesn’t mean just to stop my talking and wait till you’re finished and then come in and get you. It means I have an obligation inwardly — and that’s what we’re speaking about, is the inner dimension. Inwardly, I have to work at listening to you. That means I don’t have to agree with you, but I have to let your thought into my mind in order to have a real democratic exchange between us. And that is a very interesting work of the human being, don’t you think?”
For the founders and for all spiritual teachers — and by “founders,” by the way, I want to broaden the founders to include people who came later, including such people, of course, as Lincoln and also — one people may find strange — Frederick Douglass and people like that who spoke very powerfully of conscience. Conscience is an absolute power within the human psyche to intuit real values of good and evil and right and wrong. We are born with that capacity. It’s not just socially conditioned into us. This is what the great traditions teach. This is what I think. But it is covered over by a lot of the egoism and chaos of our un-free inner life.”
On the importance of “thinking” in public, political life
“Shouting is not thinking. ‘Come let us reason together,’ the prophet says, God says to Isaiah… I think the moment you start thinking together with someone, immediately their eyes light up… I must confess I spoke to — I won’t say who, but I spoke to some members of Congress not long ago. We had a very quiet evening together and we started opening up, just what you and I are doing now. And they said, in effect, you know, ‘We never get a chance to do this. We’re in there trying to, you know, speak to television cameras or make points with electorates or with lobby groups, but we never…’ I said, ‘You mean you never come together and just reflect together?’ And they said no. To me, that’s the dirty secret of America at the moment. That’s the problem.”
From Walt Whitman’s essay Democratic Vistas, which Jacob Needleman also includes as part of the long tradition of the foundational “idea of America,” and which ends our show.
“I say the mission of government, henceforth in civilized lands, is not repression alone and not authority alone, not even of law, nor the rule of the best men, but higher than the highest arbitrary rule, to train communities through all their grades beginning with individuals and ending there again to rule themselves. To be a voter with the rest is not so much. And this, like every institute, will have its imperfections. But to become an enfranchised man and now, impediments removed, to stand and start without humiliation and equal with the rest, to commence the grand experiment whose end may be the forming of a full-grown man or woman — that is something.”
I would rather live the revolution now than write it — it’s still fresh, newborn, untainted by additions and blind custom. It is a Libyan-flavored revolution, a mixture of spice and salt and light that smells like the blessings that come from the lanterns of saints.
Kashmiri Definition of Freedom Shifts with Young Population
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
Wikileaks has been the latest entry point into examining what freedom, in practice, really means. It’s a discussion that has been taking place as long as people, and nations, have been in conflict. No place is this discussion more alive than in the Kashmir Valley, where a bulging generation of Kashmiri youth is redefining azadi.
With the recent protests of young Kashmiris demanding independence from India, the current generation of leaders are struggling to understand and address those needs. As op-ed in The Hindu illustrates, this definition of azadi may be shifting and becoming more complex with a change in demographics:
“For Kashmiri youth, their lack of freedom hangs heavy in leading their lives in the shadow of a heavy military presence. ‘All my life, I have known only guns, bullets, curfews, checkposts. Mine is the fourth generation of Kashmiris living in this uncertainty. I don’t want to pass this on to the fifth,’ said Tawqueer [Hussein].”
Since this summer, according to Sumantra Bose, a professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, Kashmir has experienced “the most severe unrest … since the early 1990s,” which is primarily instigated by young men.
Subramaniam examines whether these youth under 30, representing at least 64 percent of the population, are in fact looking for financial freedom. The unemployment rate is over 50 percent, despite high levels of education, and the Indian government has tried to quell the riots by promises of jobs. But some youth think that’s avoiding the issue. He quotes a post-graduate journalism student as saying:
“Did you hear anyone raising slogans on the streets that they want jobs? Our aspirations are entirely political, it is not an economic issue or a social issue.”
“What azadi actually means beyond ‘freedom’ is not always clear to everyone,” Subramaniam writes, “and perhaps this is where an opportunity still remains for building bridges with Kashmir.” Perhaps this thought is applicable beyond the borders of India as well.
Finding Freedom within Chosen Constraints
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
“Is my life any different since I became a Jesuit? Oh, yes…The rules of obedience, from the structure of the day to this assignment at the Vatican, have put me under constraints I did not have before, but they’re constraints of my choosing, which, like the rules of a sonnet, give me a framework to create a wonderfully fulfilled life.”
These lines from Brother Guy Consolmagno’s book, Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist, and his ideas about constraints being a catalyst for greater happiness echo the work of Sheena Iyengar, a business school professor and author of The Art of Choosing. Ms. Iyengar was born legally blind and grew up in a traditional Sikh family in the United States — both to which she attributes her enduring fascination with choice, limits, and possibilities.
She says she’s always been aware of the tension between honoring traditions and expressing individual preferences. In a recent interview, Iyengar discussed finding a sweet spot between choices and limits:
“I think that choice can be beautiful. It’s really the tool that enables us to create. But if it’s allowed to run wild, if we don’t have any direction and it doesn’t have any limits we can become really undirected…if you look around us today with the barrage of both information and choices we have…you’re seeing people struggling to hold on to focus.”
Iyengar’s research suggests that we’re happier and feel more satisfied with our choices when we have fewer options. And, in a recent post on Sightings, theologian Martin Marty cited her work as it relates to “choice in religion.”
As I consider Iyengar’s ideas about “the art of choosing” and Brother Guy’s reflections on his happily constrained monastic life, I’m reminded of an iconic passage from Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar. Published in the early 1960s, the book’s bright college-aged protagonist envisions her future life choices — motherhood, career, travel — as plump figs on a tree. She can’t choose among these inviting figs and so she’s paralyzed:
“I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
For Plath’s heroine, choosing means shutting down possibilities. It’s a kind of death. I relate to this bleak way of experiencing choice as deprivation, particularly when I’m making financial decisions and my resources are constrained.
I wonder how you manage choice-making in your own life. Do constraints help? Does it matter if you’ve chosen the constraint or if it’s imposed on you? What kinds of constraints have you adopted? I look forward to reading your comments.
(The image above is a painting by Ivette Guzmán-Zavala, which was inspired by Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar.)
Thank You, Eleanor Roosevelt
Trent Gilliss, online editor
A sleepless night wandering about the Web delivered this 1949 photo of Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered her greatest legacy:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
After the act was passed on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly urged all nations “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions.”
I don’t recall a poster of the Declaration ever hanging in one of my classrooms. Ashamed to admit it, I know I’ve never even read the full text of this historic document — even though I’ve watched these videos from Andy’s 60th anniversary post. So I did, and it took me less than five minutes. Five minutes! And I’m 40 years old.
I’m struck by the richness of its language — “human family,” “universal respect,” “spirit of brotherhood,” “security of person” — as I read the news about Haiti and its people, the tumultuous debate about the rights and privileges extended to homosexual couples, or the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are a few articles that especially resonated with me:
Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 15. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
Article 16. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. … The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 26. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Article 29. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
Eleanor Roosevelt, chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, visits with Nasrollah Entezam, president of the fifth session of the General Assembly and Marian Anderson, American contralto, on Human Rights Day in 1950. (United Nations)
Liberty as Inner Work
Trent Gilliss, online editor
As I mentally prepare for the annual Fourth of July parade in Mandan, North Dakota that will last hours, I remembered Krista’s enlightening interview with Jacob Needleman, a philosopher who spoke about the spiritual and moral ideals of the American founders — and how these ideals resonate in our culture today.
Democracy, Needleman says, is inner work, not just a set of outward structures. And, as we as a society reassess our priorities during these uncertain economic times, his conversation from several years ago seem particularly prescient, and wise:
“It’s become so trivialized, freedom. It’s wonderful to be able to go where I want and do what I want and buy what I want, buy and buy, and get and get, and talk and talk, and I have no constraints. We certainly need external liberty. God knows that’s one of the most precious things this country has to offer the masses of humanity who have come here. I don’t mean to put that down in any way. Without that, without that, the rest is just academic. But without the inner meaning of freedom and liberty, we have to ask, ‘Well, what is this freedom for?’ It’s not just a freedom to get a big house and a big car and a lot of goods. So inner freedom is an idea that has gone out of our conversation. Inner freedom means inwardly to be free from these egoistic, selfish cravings, which make our life turn around into chaos. It’s an interior freedom which maybe you can say is mystical or certainly spiritual, but without that dimension to the idea of freedom, the idea of freedom becomes purely external and eventually selfish.”