Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Killing the Black Body

Herschel Walker's brilliant bio-documentary ESPN's 30-for-30 series is a personal inspiration. He was fat asthmatic kid who was picked on by white kids and beaten up regularly in his town. I felt the same way growing up and struggled with my weight and asthma. Walker literally turned himself into a Superman through push-ups btw commercial breaks. It was hard not to cheer for him when you watch the old footage of him destroying defenders, walking over linebackers. But the superhero dynamic always has a flipside: they're loners, angry, and just as troubled. I think as a boys we like that dynamic of being a Superhero and w/o Black men rolemodels that is the only one to follow. Walker ended up suicidal and destroying his marriages and he admits he was so angry no one could be around him. The only thing which changed him was having a son and thinking 'I don't want this for him.'

I think as Black men in America we have historically over-identified with the body in all aspects. And this has typically resulted in some harmful causes 1) we underdevelop our emotions and meditation and prayer ability 2) we underdevelop our spiritual connections which is why churches aren't filled with six-pac ab brothers. They're filled with women, grandmothers, and kids 3) we overdevelop our sense of temporal physical things: money, body, and women which makes us unhappy, neurotic and paranoid of losing the things which always fade (check rap music's obsession with these things. the best rappers like Tupac, Biggie, Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake all constantly run back in forth between ballin' and how unhappy and paranoid they are) and 4) we compete for temporal status symbols which will never make us happy w/ underdeveloped emotions, spiritual connections and community understanding. This creates a violent lash effect against each other, since we see ourselves so heavily as 'bodied beings' instead of 'spiritual beings embodied."

when we were brought over in this country, that is exactly what was desired. A pure relation to the body and very strong disconnection to any intellectual or spiritual development. We were rewarded for working our body and punished for trying to learn how to read. Our spirituality was tolerated as long as it was corrupted enough with broken families, alcohol, and violent divisiveness to not get us anywhere. Our spirituality thus became a docile taming mechanism of the mind which forced black men to focus even more heavily on body-based development. You look at urban Asian kids working their family's biz or Jewish kids forced to go to Hebrew school (after normal school) and then Black kids hit the basketball court. Who's really winning in this scenario?

There's nothing wrong with working out and it does help the mind ( I love yoga and the gym). The trap is when worship falls over into vanity. Having lots of money enables us to help more ppl but that's now why we have a Fortune 500 list. We have that to worship money. Strong body helps w/ strong mind but I would say that's not why ppl want the Shake Weight or 6-pac abs.

 I'm biased being Buddhist w/ middle way path. The body is very useful, but only as a vehicle to get somewhere. Once one gets to the proverbial other side of the river, you leave the canoe on the shore. Carrying it around saying 'look at how great this thing is, I put 20-inch spinning rims on my canoe' slows one down on the journey. So build a beautiful vehicle that is comfortable, easy to use, and gets you where you want to go in style. But then we all have to leave it on the shore. So how much time would I really invest in putting rims on my canoe if I knew that I was leaving it behind once my voyage was complete?

I'm not dismissing athletics. I was an all-state athlete in football and wrestling, got scholarship offers, etc. My parents also encouraged me to play violin, viola, and become a championship debater (did all of that). Now I enjoy yoga, west african dance, and Tibetan philosophy. Rhodes Scholars are ppl who excel both academically and athletically in line with the Ancient Greek concept of scholar being involved in healthy sports for the body and mind. But as Black men it feels heavily imbalanced. That's why there's ageism: b/c we overvalue the body. This isn't going to be corrected by having 60-year-old men look like 20-year-olds. Ageism is corrected at the roots of our obsessions at the risk of spiritual pursuits. Look at the page the article was written on and is there any question what is the cause of ageism? Obsession with body image leads to this fear and failure which is why Black culture in America has athletic Supermen AND rampant diabetes and obesity. It's a culture so body obsessed that we become polarized as we get later on in life. There is a stable, well-built, (6-pac ab) middle that can be achieved.

It's nice to have a flexible strong body, but it's still a body. It will fail 100% of the time. But we worship the very thing which will always let us down at the expense of developing the one thing which is eternal. Body, money, and power identification are the big lies. They never last and only increase suffering when they begin to fail. Invest in getting the mind of a 20-year-old: strong, flexible, creative, and free.

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