Saturday, September 15, 2007

Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism

In recent news headlines, the case of the 'Jena Six' has sparked much intense emotion throughout the country. That in this day and age we have young people hanging nooses across tree branches without any real sense of the horror of such an act and the depth of emotion this can make for in a person of color, is astonishing. Aesthetic Realism explains the cause of racism at its very beginning in the human self. It is the desire for contempt: "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." It is also important to say that the brutal beating later endured by the young white man was also motivated by contempt. Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism said, "contempt has to be studied if man is to be kind."

As an educator for more than three decades in New York City public high schools, I saw thousands of instances in which student's made less of one another. The thing they have in common is the unjust hope to build oneself up falsely by lessening the meaning of a person. One student calls another "stupid." A student who learns with ease asks another who struggles and who is hiding his or her test paper results, "what did you get?" Cliques form in the cafeteria that are snobbish and exclusive. I've heard students say with great scorn, "it smells in here," after a bi-lingual class had just left! To my great shame I remember making fun in the 1970's of the way my Hispanic students spoke spanish. I would not have admitted then that I was prejudiced because it didn't go along with my picture of myself as a "nice" person.

I later learned from Aesthetic Realism that this prejudice began with a way of seeing the world and a contempt for difference that hurt my life and had me dislike myself. Seeing this made it possible for me to change, to be a critic of myself and have the conscious hope to respect my students. The difference this made in the atmosphere in my classroom was like night and day!

I want my readers to know that there is a book titled, "Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism," written by Alice Bernstein and Others and published by Orange Angle Press in 2004. It is, in my opinion, a definitive text on the subject of racism as it describes what Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism explain about the cause of racism and how it can end. I am proud to be among the authors telling how through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method prejudice is opposed. Every classroom teacher should read this book!