If that same spirit of determination is not in you, you're going to have a tough time making it in this changing, demanding world. The only way you can move forward through this life is with a passion for what you do, a lifelong commitment to develop your skills, and an ethic of hard work. Eventually, I would return to Whitesboro a changed, more enlightened man. In the interim, I learned much more about the psychology of racebased thought and race-based exploitation. I have been visiting Africa annually for years. On one such occasion, I was with a U.S. group visiting an impoverished village, accompanied by members of a charitable organization, who were mostly white. As we waited in a van listening to a member of the organization talk about the pathetic state of some of these poor, malnourished African kids, one of the folks said, "It is sad how the people in this region are so poor." I remember replying, "Let's talk about where this poverty really came from. Consider all the rich farmland that was once in this part of the world. If all those people from everywhere else around the world didn't come in and feed off this land, mine the diamonds, and take all the minerals out of the ground without putting anything back, it wouldn't have happened. They plundered all the resources.
Before you knew it, the whole continent was divided up like a pile of treasure. They weakened the foundation when they did this. They left no infrastructure behind for the people whose resources they stole. That seemed to be their plan all along. It was a setup. Then people came over trying to help and ended up taking control. What we need to do is create opportunity and move forward -- to leave something meaningful behind. People here couldn't even farm their own land or feed themselves. They couldn't benefit from the wealth of their country because of this negative outside influence. Isn't it a shame that we have all these starving children now?" As the folks from the charity sat there listening, their eyes sort of widened, and one said, "You know, you're right. That is what happened." When you realize what your legacy is -- and frame it in a way that helps you understand how you got where you are -- you can achieve perspective on your life, I came to understand. Instead of feeling diminished by the past, I position it this way: "What can I learn from that past that can propel me beyond it?"
That's the first step toward transcending -- moving past the constraints that others have imposed on you -- and transforming into a more productive and accepting human being. I realized that this challenge was twofold for me: I needed to reprogram how I felt about myself and see myself for my own unique qualities, not someone else's stereotypical view of me. As a rule, people don't tell us how to do this. Too many of us just look at past oppression and mistreatment and say, "Woe is me."
Of course, struggle is not unique to people of color. Almost all of us have endured some sort of major struggle. We are the same in that way. What we all need and want is love and respect and someone to care for us. That binds us. We just come from different cultures -- be they Whitesboro or White Plains -- and many of us see our lives only from that vantage point.