Thursday, October 19, 2017
The Esteem of Self
By Darryl James (Columnist)
Published April 22, 2010

The Bridge: The Esteem of Self

By Darryl James

For many of the stupid Americans who look down on impoverished African Americans, they claim that people are “choosing” to do worse than anyone else. Such a thought is simpleminded and evil, but popular nonetheless. 

Some of those stupid Americans compare Blacks to Whites who are born with the privilege of America’s legacy to the former slave owners, or to other Blacks who are also born with a certain privilege.

Some of those stupid Americans compare impoverished African Americans to other immigrants.

But African Americans have a different history.

Even Sidney Poitier acknowledges that his self-esteem had already been established by the time he encountered Jim Crow in Miami.

For the African in the United States, the self-esteem is under attack from the beginning of life, especially for the African American male.

Some manage to wade their way through the worst of circumstances, but the constant thread in any of the Black rags-to-riches stories is a person or people who delivered self esteem.

And the thing that is a similar thread throughout most of the world where Whites came to dominate while subjugating African descendants is the system of class.

“There was this whole race/class thing in the Bahamas,” wrote Poitier in his book, “The Measure of a Man,” “and among Blacks, the class thing was prevalent and vigorously administered. If you were really poor, you were without leverage and powerless, and that was the majority of the people. Also, there was a class of Blacks who felt they were above you. They mimicked the colonial value system and saw themselves at the top of the Black community.”

But in the Caribbean, particularly in nations such as the Bahamas, Blacks are the majority, and so even amongst the racism and classism, there is a sense of self that is very different from the United States.

Poitier said that his self-esteem was shielded from complete destruction by “the fact that I was a member of the Black community that was indeed the majority of people in the country. And when that kid got to Florida and Florida said, ‘Let’s sit this kid down and explain to him what the rules are,’ it was too late.”

Still, there’s something Poitier referred to as the “Poverty Syndrome,” which he was subjected to just as the impoverished anywhere else.

“You can’t have been subjected to poverty at one time and ever live free of it again,” he explained. “It can be subdued, but external circumstances can bring it right out of its dormant state.”

The thing is that in America, the African descendant is bombarded with negative images of himself and negative perceptions of his entire experience.

I remember as a child reading a poster that went something like this: “What if White people were held captive and beaten for 400 years and shown a Black Jesus with nappy hair?” Well, of course the result would be a poor self-image and poor self esteem that would be hard to shake, even after some decades of relative ease.

That’s why I fight so hard and rage so viscerally against Black myths. I know the destruction they can wreak. For example, Black boys who hear that there are more Black men in prison than in college can either choose to be the exception to the rule or simply to follow the rule-the choice will be made depending upon the circumstances they are subjected to and the image of self as well as the esteem of self already acquired.

Many American morons believe that making such choices comes easy and is open to all individuals. But these are fools who have no idea how some children are bombarded with negativity to the point where the image of self is twisted and the self esteem is destroyed.

Back to my childhood–I realized that on the south side of Chicago, where most of the Blacks lived, there were different opportunities and different lifestyles from those found on the north side of the city, where Whites lived. And, because I knew what they had, my determination was to have some of it for myself.

But I also knew that some of the kids in school with me knew nothing more than the depressed conditions in which they lived. They weren’t shown other worlds and they weren’t reading with the fervor I was, so they didn’t even get to imagine themselves in other worlds.

And finally, I knew that because I had good grades, I was being exposed to much more than some of the kids with average or poor grades, creating a mental segregation, which affected self-esteem. Same conditions of poverty, but different exposure made the world of difference.

At the end of the day, even our conversations with the people in our families were different. I had most of the people in my world telling me what a great man I could become and even showing me great men who looked like me, while some other kids had most of the people in their worlds telling them what pieces of crap they were and showing them other crappy people who looked like them.

A child’s mind is so easy to shape and mold.

Some kids were pushed into sports and fighting and street crimes.

I was pushed into books and lofty goals and dreams.

And this is the reason why I want to beat the snot out of people’s noses who suggest that opportunities are open and available for everyone and that when people fail to take advantage of opportunities they are simply “choosing” not to be successful.

Those are evil ignoramuses who have no idea how human nature works. No one simply makes a choice to fail, because we all want to succeed and to have the trappings of success. The choices we believe we have for ourselves are determined by the concept of self.

I am reminded of two such ignoramuses-one large and one small.

The first one, the large one is Bill Cosby, who laid the blame for everything bad at the feet of the “lower economic people,” as if they made a conscious choice to be impoverished and to become failures.

Recently, on Meet the Press to promote his new book, “Come On People,” Cosby again indicted the “lower economic people” for making poor choices, even after admitting that there is systematic racism. Come on Cosby.

The second one–the small one–is a so-called reverend named Jesse Lee Peterson, who runs an inane radio show designed to press his lips firmly against the ass of White America. This Black-hating moron insisted that only Black people have an “affirmative action” mentality, in which they expect the government to take care of them when they “choose” to be lazy.

Petersen is too much of a White-loving coon to realize that many Whites, including the retarded president, are the result of Affirmative Action. So are the airlines who received billions in corporate welfare.

This dead-brained coward also claimed that the homeless were also “mostly Black people” who are on drugs and alcohol and “choosing” to seek government support so that they don’t have to work.

I point out these two examples, because when people are bombarded with these kinds of messages, without many positive messages, the esteem of self can be diminished. Even the most highly esteemed would be diminished if facing roadblocks and told repeatedly that they were downtrodden because of a “choice” they made.

None of us are islands. We are all connected and the sum total of the things that we are exposed to. And those things we are exposed to can easily affect our self-esteem, which will determine how far we are able to go in life.

So, the next time you find yourself looking down on someone who you think has simply made bad choices, ask yourself, what if they simply have poor self-esteem?

 Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” Now, listen to Darryl live on every Monday from 7-9pm, PST. View previous installments of this column at Reach James at

Categories: Opinion

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