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Dignity

August 01, 2019

by Chris Arnade

(on religion...) even after I had come to see how useful religion was, I still attended services as an outsider trying to understand why faith drew so many people to it. Why it seemed to comfort those who needed it the most. In the language of the church, I wasn't saved yet. In the language of my friends, I was a scientist trying to understand religion.

Viewed from a distance, Crystal's and Andrew's decisions to stay and attend a small community college don't make much sense. Everyone is supposed to want the best education to make the best career. That is the message everyone hears, and it is how we reward people. We repeat over and over, "Get the best education you can, go to the best school you can." Yet do we really want to be a society that stigmatizes a daugher or a son who stays to help their parents.

(a man on living in Milwaukee...) It's people's minds that cause the problem. Man cannot enslave man; man enslaves himself. "In the south you knew where you stood. Here they are smarter about their racism. They never show you their hand, like a snake in the grass. They talk one way and act another. They told me it was integrated here. Hell it is. Wasn't no such thing as integrated. You couldn't go north of Center Street if you were black. If you did, you weren't coming back. We knew our position then and could do something about it, unlike the young people today".

It is rigged against people who find meaning from place and from faith. It is a system that says you cannot reject anyone based on the color of their skin, but you can and should reject those without proper credentials, and minorities rarely start with the proper credentials. It is a system that offers only an extraordinary narrow path to success, requiring one to be uprooted from family and home, and then buy into the front row worldview.

People respond to humiliation in different ways, but the most common response is to find a source of pride wherever possible, even if that means in places the status quo doesn't approve of. It means trying to find a community or activity that values them. For those in the back row, that means a place that doesn't demand credentials. Drugs are one of them. Bars, drug traps, and crack houses offer communities that don't care about your past, your failures or the color of your skin. As long as you join in, shooting up or taking a hit or swallowing the pills, it is all OK. They offer a numbing salve from the pain of humiliation.

We have said that education is the way out of pain and the way to success, implying that those who don't make it out are dumb, or lazy, or stupid.