ARTIST TALK: Sharyll Burroughs – October 17, 2019

It is my pleasure to introduce Sharyll Burroughs,
an amazing artist and thinker. Sharyll Burroughs is a multidisciplinary artist
and dialogue facilitator who is interested in transcending conventional beliefs about
what identity means. She utilizes art, Buddhism and the practice
of self inquiry to explore identity beyond racial, cultural and societal definitions,
and unorthodox approach which cultivates dialogues embodying our common humanity. She attended the Santa Monica College of Design
Art and Architecture, a school founded by MacArthur Genius Fellow Joan Abrahamson. Her work has been featured in solo and group
exhibitions in Los Angeles, California and in Portland, Oregon. And it is with a lot of pleasure and enthusiasiasm
that I welcome Sharyll. Thank you. Thank you very much. I really appreciate that you all come out
on this sort of typical Brooklyn… I’m sorry, Portland evening. My son’s visiting me from Brooklyn so I have
Brooklyn on the mind. So I’ll start again. I’m very happy that you’re all here. And I’m really thrilled to be part of this
Artist’s Talk series that is happening here at the museum. I would like to just tell you a little bit
about my philosophy about art. I believe that art is life and life is art. I don’t separate the two I do my best to live
my life as art. I don’t compartmentalize it, that we are all
here together gathered in this room, with the common intention, I think is a very powerful
form of art. Art gives us insight into the world and our
place within it. But more importantly, it helps us to ask different
questions about what it means to be human. And because it doesn’t judge, it creates a
spaciousness in which we can feel our emotions talk about things that are meaningful, as
well as confessed what shames us. The human condition is great interest to me. My practice as an artist and a thinker, as
Jaleesa said, is to contemplate the concept of identity. What forms a self? What is it that influences the ways in which
we define ourselves and our beliefs about who we are? I’m going to speak on this wonderful work
of heart here in a short while, but first, I’m going to give you some context and background. We’ll talk about the piece then we’re going
to take a detour actually a couple of detours, come back around to the work, and then I’ll
finish up. And I am hoping that we have plenty of time
for questions and answers when I am finished. We’re going to be looking at identity through
the lens of scarification. And to stay within the context of Mr. Thomas’s
work, the African American experience. I’m going to show you some images from Africa. What is the definition of human being? Cultures all over the world practice scarification
before, like I said, the purposes of this talk, we’re just going to stay within the
context of Africa. There are different methods and versions of
scarification but what you are seeing are patterns that were cut on the surface of the
skin with a sharp instrument. When the cuts heal, they leave raised well. These patterns on the body are quite beautiful. I think there are forums in and of themselves,
but more importantly, they communicate in individuals’ story within a tribe or a culture. Scarification transmits complex messages about
identity such as rank, family lineage, beauty or strength. Some tribes believed in the presence of spirits
good and evil. Facial scarring was used to make a person
less desirable to the spirit of death. Scarification of women could indicate signs
of fertility and a willingness to bear children as well as celebrate femininity within a society. Anyone unwilling to participate in scarification
were generally not included in group activities. Group members lacking characteristics consistent
of the group were not considered in full standing with no capacity for meaningful behaviors
such as commanding or greeting. Scarificasion served as an identity card on
the surface of the body a very important, very important commodity. It transformed members into normal states
which were recognized and accepted. So in other words, people conformed to the
expectations of a cultural system, which dictated knowledge about where they fit. And I think this is a little inflexible in
terms of thinking about identity just in general, because it is solely based on the values of
the collective rather than an individualistic connection to one’s self. What is the definition of human being? Some… Just going to layer this on top of what I
just shared with you. We’re in the United States. This is Gordon. I’m sure this photograph is familiar to many
of you. The photo is also known as “Whipped Peter”,
it now resides in the permanent collection of National Portrait Gallery in Washington
DC. Gordon was enslaved the property of John Lyon who owned a 3000 acre plantation in Louisiana. In 1863, during the Civil War, Gordon escaped,
running for 10 days until he reached the Union’s 47th Massachusetts Infantry which is was camped
outside Baton Rouge. This photo was taken during a medical examination
before Gordon enlisted in these colored second Louisiana Infantry Regiment. And then it was given to abolitionists to
distribute throughout the United States as well as internationally to show the abuses
of slavery. I would like to read something that Gordon
said in his own words: ” Overseer carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed from the whipping. The master was not present. My master come after I was whipped, he discharged
the overseer. I don’t remember the whipping. In the two months, my sense began to come. I was sort of crazy. I tried to shoot everybody. They said so I did not know. I did not know that I had attempted to shoot
everyone. They told me so. I burned up all my clothes, but I don’t remember
that. They told me I tried to shoot my wife. I never was this way before.” End quote. So on a positive note, Gordon remained within
his regimen and was promoted to sergeant, but nothing else is known about him unfortunately. So what does this pattern of scarification
communicate about Gordon’s identity? Well that his black body was a commodity to
be exploited for the financial gain of the white majority power structure. His life was not his own and dehumanization
was the norm. So we have a system of oppression and a system
of capitalism that are not mutually exclusive. They’re basically one in the same and they’re
joined together in a very toxic communion. All that was valued was the black body and
how that bodies work, translate it into revenue. So an enslaved person’s identity was assigned
by their owner. He or she. And there were few opportunities to cultivate
a life of autonomy and authenticity. So the trauma of slavery and its legacy, sharecropping,
lynching inequality, racial profiling and police brutality is embodied in the DNA of
African American experiment… just excuse me experience the present day African American
experience. And it’s a psychological and spiritual scarring
that has defined an entire culture. What is the definition of human being? Another layer I’m going to be doing this a
lot tonight. Another layer. “Branded head” by Mr. Hank Willis Thomas and
magnificent black and white photograph of a beautiful bald, black head, featuring a
horrifying scarificasion. To say that the African American male experience
in this country is actually not describable. So to say that they are marginalized is an
understatement. This is a quote from the author and activist
James Baldwin, “If you’re born into that situation, the nature of the trap is you’re not even
knowing it acquiescing. You’ve been taught that you’re inferior so
you act as though you’re inferior and on the level that it’s very difficult to get it you
really believe it. And of course, all the things you do to prove
you’re not inferior only really proved you are. They boomerang. You’re playing a game according to someone
else’s rules. And you can’t win the game until you can step
out of it and understand that this particular game after all, it’s not worth playing. Once people know what they know, they make
the unconscious assumption that they were born knowing what they know, instead of understanding
that they have to learn everything they know.” So he’s saying that this external society
projects a lot of things on to us. And because we don’t have anything to contradict
these stories, they become inhabited and embodies as truth within our bodies. So it’s like a fish in the fishbowl. It’s a cliche example I’m going to give you
but, you know, little fishes in water, the waters in the bowl, little fishes swimming
but it doesn’t know what’s in water and it doesn’t know that it’s in the bowl. So this is how we kind of walk through life,
which is sort of accepting whatever is handed to us and then taking it and making it our
own when that is not necessarily a wise or smart thing to do. So excelling at sports playing for a professional
sports team has long been viewed within the African American culture as one of the few
opportunities to make one’s way out of poverty. We live in a capitalist system. I believe that money is perceived as a normalized,
not an equalizer, but a normalized. It transforms citizens into normal states
recognized and accepted by other citizens. So how might this impact identity and how
identity is formed? So we’re going to take a look at the NFL. I don’t know anything about football. All I know is what that beautiful person over
there my son told me he listened to all my stupid questions, and helped me sort of figure
out how to fit it into what this presentation is. The NFL from what he says is an extremely
dysfunctional organization. Not only are they dysfunctional, they do not
want to look at their dysfunction. Contrary, the NBA understands that it has
issues but they are actively trying to address these issues, especially camp. But the NFL doesn’t mind the dysfunctional
so we’re just going to go with the NFL. There are 92 teams in the league, only two
of which are owned by persons of color. Neither are African American. However, in 2018 70% of NFL players were black. Yes, they’re paid a lot of money, a lot of
money, but they have no agency or power to control their experience. So a recent example is Colin Kaepernick. He knelt to protest racism, and police brutality,
and NFL blacklist. So players are expected to conform too and
represent the league. And that’s it. So for all intents and purposes, the NFL is
operating as a modern day plantation. They don’t seem to mind. Black bodies or commodities exploited by the
white majority power structure for financial gain. So we have a system of oppression that dehumanizes
just as I described in Gordon’s case, and this is a reliving of history. It’s like it’s mirroring history. So however, conversely, and I am a contrarian,
so I always try to flip flip it and see what’s underneath. The NFL is an exclusive club. Membership normalizes an athlete’s societal
status so that their identity is defined as being not only somebody but in some cases,
Gods to be worshiped. So the stigma of blackness is redefined as
something more valuable. And the redefinition by default reflects upon
the African American culture as in one of us, one of our own has made it. Next layer, Nike, a system of capitalism. A Nike deal. That’s another exclusive club. It boosts an athlete’s status and income exponentially. The Nike brand was embodied into the African
American culture in 1985 when Michael Jordan signed a deal with Nike to create the Air
Jordan sneaker brand. But this set a precedent because it defined
blackness as agency and authonomy because he had total control over his brand and his
identity. And this blueprint continues. Any athlete not just African Americans, but
any athlete that signs with Nike has control over their brand, what they communicate about
their identity, and we the consumer purchase it and inhabit. We inhabit whatever their identity is. That’s sort of the point. And there are lots of people purposely wanting
to do this. So I find this to be extremely interesting,
I… its identity as paradox… Swalling, the way I’m thinking about it. Because when people conform to the expectations
of a cultural and societal system, it’s a type of programming. You know, we’re inundated with lots of information
about who we’re supposed to be, where we’re supposed to go, what we’re supposed to do
when we get there, we should be wearing a blue dress, a silver, a red dress, you know. So all that information have absorbed and
forms a set of beliefs within us which become the truth that’s embodied knowledge. So the Nike brand is a valued commodity, not
only within the African American community but also just in society at large. So the people who use the swoosh… they use
it as an identity card. It’s an identity card that’s on the body. And wherever they go, it makes this announcement:
“Here I am.” And that’s a language that’s understood by
other people. It’s a recognition. Here I am, and you’re with me and I’m with
you. So they are normalized recognize and know
where they fit. You know, if I wear this I’ll be accepted. So we have two exclusive clubs. The NFL a system of oppression exploiting
black bodies. And Nike is system of capitalism, enabling
black bodies to sell themselves. I think that’s a really interesting irony. So we have oppression that capitalism joined
together in a very messy, sticky, awful, contradictory form of communion. What happens to a player when they are no
longer a viable commodity? It happens all the time. People age out, they get injured. They kneel. Devon tells me that an NFL career only last
three years and that’s not very long at all. So it comes as no surprise that they are abandoned. And there are huge losses money, attention,
a sense of belonging, but more tragically, there is a loss of identity. They were football. And they are no longer so there was this huge
void and there’s nothing to fill it with. So they’re left with a psyche that is scarred
a scarification defining them as what they are not. Now they are nothing. Unfortunately there is no awareness of an
authentic self that is defined by more than football. What is the definition of human being? Another layer, we’re going to take a detour. We’re in Texas now. Talk about cultural DNA. Texas High School Football is the heir of
a Texas Bry. Nothing else exists. Nothing. Every Friday night during football season,
millions of eyeballs are either watching games in person, or on TV or their devices or listening
on the radio whenever there was a famous book called “Friday Night Lights” that was written
about this culture and then it was turned into a TV series. So Texas is swimming in money. We all know that. Much of it’s spent on high school football,
especially at the varsity level. Teams compete in state of the art stadiums
that rival anything that NFL players play. Some of them seat 19,000 people. Some of the teams are put on charter jets,
traveled to games on charter jets, and then there are police escorts waiting for them
when they get there to take them to their destination. So not only is there great privilege, the
other side of that is that racism hasn’t gone anywhere in Texas. Nowhere. So now only is there this kind of conundrum
of we have all this privilege over here there are still lots of black people that are being
hurt for no reason. So anyway, but all things being equal. Thousands of boys are indoctrinated into the
system. Some of the teams look like this. Or like this, more look like this. So they’re high school kids, and they’re not
paid. So they are white bodies exploited as commodities
for the financial gain of the white majority power structure. But here’s the wrinkle. Since whiteness in and of itself constitutes
the definition of white privilege, can Texas High School Football, the system be defined
as a system of oppression? So, layer Nike on top of that. Nike is throwing staggering amounts of money
into high school football, staggering amounts of money. Each year 162 soon to be seniors from across
the country participate in an invitation only football skills and training event called
“The opening” which is held in Beaverton. In conjunction with that 11 or 12 quarterbacks
from the 162 vie for a spot in the elite 11. A feeder I guess, into the NCAA, or the NFL,
Nike covers airfare lodging and food for the four day event. One player said he received 10 different types
of concurrent compression gear, three pairs of cleats, shorts, sweats, gloves, casual
wear and jackets… not jaked, jackets. So not only did he participate in this exclusive
event, he had all this stuff that he was going to put on his frame in blazing a scarificasion
saying: “I am somebody.” He went home as somebody… he left as somebody
because he’s on a football team, but he really came back as somebody. So he was essentially assigning himself and
identity. So similar way to what I spoke about with
an NFL player who’s no longer viable, what happens to athletes, high school athletes
who don’t make the cut to the NCAA or the NFL, especially when there’s some from some
teeny little podunk town who rallies to make sure that their local team has a spot at glory,
big sales, raffles, car washes, you know the whole town invest its identity in this team. This is an excerpt from Friday Night Lights. For a lot of these players, they have sort
of a glazed look in their eyes saying: “What happened?” What happened to the crowds what happened
to the attention? Because no one is more lonely and isolated
than a former player who goes back to the locker room. There’s a pat on the back and the coach says:
“Hey, man, it’s great to see you.” But then nobody cares. Nobody cares. They get shell shocked. Well, they’re shell shocked because they no
longer know who they are. And again, all of their identity was invested
in being football. So there’s a scarification scarification of
the psyche, but to be scarred at 17, I think is unconscionable. Because their life hasn’t even begun. And it’s over. And there’s no support to try to help them
understand that their football and this was just a teeny tiny component of their humanity…
as a teeny tiny component. But I don’t think many conversations happen
very often. What is the definition of human being? Another layer, where a modern day Africa specifically
Burkina Faso, a tiny country on the west coast of Africa. Today, the art of scarification has changed
primarily due to fears of HIV AIDS transmission as well as a migration of populations from
rural areas into towns and cities. I would like to share what a few people have
to say about scarification in their own words. “We are not like others. In the past, when you had a smooth face you
were rejected. I used to like my scars, they were beautiful. We used to brag about them. Now in the city it is definitely out of fashion. You’re called names like torn face, and it
hurts. Children no longer want to have it done in
the village. It was acceptable but here it’s embarrassing. If we could remove them we would because one
is so different from others. I was a kid but I still remember the wounds
on me. When you didn’t have them your friends would
laugh at you and put you aside. It was a way of recognition I wear my identity
on my face. This is the reason why people did it to recognize
one another. Now this is over. We can no more be recognized. So we have three identities that were obliterated
in a millisecond. They went from through no fault of their own,
being accepted and recognized to being cryos. That’s a big gap. That’s a big cast.” And I think it’s a very poignant example of
what I often think about. The culture is great until it’s not. Everything’s groovy as long as you fall in
line with what is expected, but the second it decides to change it does so and if you
can’t keep up, oh, well. In the late words of the late author and philosopher
Terence McKenna, how many times have your sexual desires, career aspirations, financial
dealings, and aesthetic inclinations been squashed, twisted, rejected and minimized
by cultural values? Cultures for the convenience of culture not
you or I. Societies are for the convenience of societies not you or I. But in my opinion, cultures place so much
emphasis on the external manifestations of our humanity rather than the developing a
relationship with and to belonging to oneself. We’re conditioned to push everything outwards
instead of looking inward. Here are a few examples of what 21st century
scarification and identity look in some parts of Africa. Uganda, Senegal, this is the 2018 Women’s
National Basketball team, and Kenya. Gordon has joined us again, I would like to
just say a little bit about history and identity. I think that history is great for reference,
you know, we can look back and make sure we don’t keep making the same mistakes in the
future that hurt people in under certain circumstances, you know, a long time ago, or to rectify past
wrongs. I recently listened to an interview with a
spiritual teacher named Neelam. And she had some very fascinating things to
say about history. She said when the past arises, we’re sometimes
triggered. The path feels like it’s happening in the
present moment. So you know, we see Gordon’s photo and we
react. How can we not react? So there is this rush of momentum, this rush
of emotions, and the feelings are very sticky. Guilt, shame, rage. That’s what I feel when I see that photo rage. And our nervous system is switched on because
we’re feeling his emotion so intensely. So not only is this switch on it locks that
momentum in place. So every time we feel this, it’s recharging
history, and we are reliving history at the same time. So when this happens a lot we become familiar
with it, and we become defined by it. So for instance, when Michael Brown was shot
by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, I think in 2014, the past was recharged and
relived. When Colin knelt on the field and then was
blacklisted by the NFL, the past was recharged and then relived. So because it feels so president It feels
like it’s in the moment we get tangled up in it. And it feels impossible to sort of find a
way out of it. But this is what caught my attention, she
said: “What makes the past so compelling is the repetition. The repetition keeps the past alive. If we continue to experience history this
way, as something that defines us, there isn’t any room to consider new possibilities that
lead to positive transformation and healing.” Because we’re stuck and it’s a kind of a vicious
cycle. So I think “Branded head” really reflects… I’m sorry, well, really reflects this. How is this any different than… hopefully
I can go backward… that they’re intertwined. Because it’s taking on an identity This was
forced on him. The Nike emblem isn’t necessarily forced on
us, but people feel compelled to inhabit it because they feel that’s what they’re supposed
to do. And if they don’t, they’ll be left out. So, in thinking about how this impacts all
of us? It’s embodying identities and brands that
again really don’t belong to us. It’s one step forward and 100 steps back. Every time a black man is killed by a white
police officer, it’s a high hundred steps back. But it keeps happening again, and again, and
again, and again. I’m leaving Gordon up for a second, I just
would like to have a little teeny chat about how I feel about this photo. This photo was taken for a purpose and the
abolitionists used it for good reason to try to end the abuses of slavery. However, this is how he is out there in the
world. You can go on Google, if you type “whipped
Peter”, are you typing “Gordon” and “whipped Peter”. This is what comes up. Now I’m sure the father did, you know, some
good, maybe plantation owner had a come to Jesus moment and said: “I’m going to free
all my slaves just from seeing the photo”, I don’t know. But this photo was taken the same day. It’s not a great resolution, but you can see
him and I’ll tell you what I see. I see intelligence. I see courage. I see spirit. Something is coming through him. It’s a tangible something is coming through
him. He’s a human being. That other picture is not a human being. It’s a circumstance. So I would just like to invite all of us to
find another word for slave. That was a circumstance. It wasn’t who they were. And it’s part of the lexicon and I don’t know
how we’re going to get rid of it. It describes millions of people who experienced
the unimaginable and it reduces their humanity to continue calling them a slave. So I don’t know what could replace it. I am open to any suggestions. But if we could all just kind of keep that
floating in our mind every time we hear that word every time we read it or whatever, what
else could… how else could they be described? And how can we celebrate them? People are so stuck in the actuality of slavery. The, the… I don’t know how many years. I’m terrible with all of that. But I know that the New York Times recently
did the big magazine that… I mean, I was I was infuriated. Because it’s not celebrating these people
who went through this horrible experience for our benefit. We haven’t learned anything from what they
went through. And I want to try to find a way to celebrate
them and keep them lifted, as opposed to redefining them as this thing. So anyway, I’m done. My rant is over. Identity is absurdly complex. I hope I have been able to map that out for
you this evening. Human and identity are intractably bound together. Apparently one does not exist without the
other. We’re all human. We’re African American. We’re Irish. We’re Catholic. I’d like to know who made that rule. Why can’t they exist without one another? It doesn’t make sense to me. So what is the definition of human being? What is the definition of human being? I don’t really know anymore. And in my opinion, I think these labels have
long outlast that they’re welcome. I think it’s time for them to go away because
it’s a flawed language. Whiteness, blackness capitalists are fears,
assumptions, delusions, illusions. I’m curious about who we are without them. What happens when we drop all of that what’s
left? And the what’s left is where the exciting,
meaningful dialogue can begin. Because it’s not about the constructs. And it’s not about the frame. And it’s not about all of this out here. Who are we innately? What is the essence of our humanity, and why
is it we cannot talk about that? That’s what’s important to me. So is all of this that’s been constructed? Is that a constriction of our humaneness? I think that’s a very important question. You know, is blackness a constriction of humanness? Is whiteness, a constriction of humanness? I don’t know. But it’s worth a conversation, because we
can rethink what human needs. We can make it whatever we want as long as
say, if it’s a, a version that represents the truth of who we are as opposed to what’s
been projected to us. So it’s a necessary conversation, it’s not
going to be an easy conversation, in fact, will probably be a horrendous conversation. But we have to happen. So I would like to share one more thing from
James Baldwin: “We are not obliged to accept the world’s definitions. We have to make our own definitions and begin
to rule the world that way. Because kids white and black cannot use what
they have been given. It’s a very mysterious endeavor, isn’t it? And the key is love.” End quote. So humans are not just one thing. We need a new language which values and accepts
a whole multidimensional person. I believe that an individual who operates
from an interior landscape is no longer enslaved. Because they’re not taking their cues from
what’s out here. It’s not about external society. To quote Terence McKenna one last time: “When
you turn your eyes inward, you discover your birthright.” End quote. So I believe that it’s time to dwell within
the deepest regions of who we really are, and then live that as an unwavering truth. It’s going to be different for all of us. But this is what I believe will save our humanity. I began this talk by stating that art helps
us to understand the human condition. In closing, I would like to say that I am
very grateful for the extraordinary work of Hank Willis Thomas, because his work keeps
me conscious. It helps me remain conscious. It says then whack. It strikes us across our psyche, to refocus
our attention on not only how broken our society is, but that we have to wake up to the travesties
of inequality in justice and divisiveness. It’s time to wake up in this 19th year of
the 21st century as tribes, clans, factions, governments, corporations, institutions, congregations,
and families continue to diminish and dehumanize one another because of who they are and who
they are not. It’s time to do better, it’s time to be better. So I wonder what emancipation would look like. Imagine a world whose standard operating system
is benevolence, hope and compassion. Where boundaries dissolve. And it’s no longer about us and them but about
we. What would that look like? And I will leave that to you to come to play. Art is life, life is art. Thank you very, very much. Any questions, comments? Yes. What’s your name? Josie. Hi, Josie. Amazing. Thank you. Thank you. Oh, I came here. And, God, that’s exactly what I hoped for. And thank you so much. Oh, you’re so welcome. One of the things that I’m sort of obsessed
with right now is that what I see sometimes in conversation about identity has to do with
suffering, historical suffering, based on whatever the identity is, or whatever the
circumstances. And I wonder if that isn’t part of the challenge
that we face is that I feel… Israel Catholics… so this way, explain some
of that. But suffering is just so framed, that there
isn’t a hierarchy of suffering. But as human beings, we tend to want to put
everything in a hierarchy. And then we get into this competition about,
well, my suffering is worse than yours. So I have friends say: “Well, at least you’re
not in such and such a place having this or that happened to you.” And I have a daughter who has been homeless
at times for years at a time because she suffers from alcoholism. And it’s terrible suffering. But in the hierarchy of suffering, and you
know, grace that place because of course, it’s all this blame and guilt. So became involved in these hierarchies of
suffering, it seems like that just adds to the division of things. And of course, it’s all tied up and injustice
and the terrible things that human beings do to each other, but I’m just kind of curious
what you think about that? Anything. If you do! If you think about it. Well, I know a little bit about Buddhism. So the whole… philosophy of Buddhism is
that, there is suffering. That’s it. And it’s not about changing what’s out here. It’s about changing your relationship with
the suffering. And when you change that relationship with
the suffering, it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be perfect. It doesn’t mean everything’s going to be wonderful. But you’re not, as I mentioned in my talk,
enslaved by it. So you know that in this moment, and also,
we’re really supposed to be living moment to moment we’re not supposed to be projecting
forward and not supposed to be projecting backward. We’re supposed to be in the moment right now. So whatever’s happening right now is all that
is relevant and all that’s important, but because people are pushing all their stuff
everywhere, and then literally we are being pushed around, buy a bunch of stuff, our own
stuff, other people’s stuff. It’s really hard to manage. So it takes a practice to think of the world
not as something that is against you. But as something where you can learn about
yourself. Something happens to you. So it’s not what happens to you is what you
do with it. And that’s a lot of work that many people
don’t want to do. Because they want somebody else to fix it. They want somebody to fix their suffering,
when in fact, you can’t address other people’s suffering until you address your own. Because all you’re going to be doing is projecting
all your stuff onto them, expecting them to absorb it, and then everything’s great because
now you’re simpatico whereas before this person was a full of what you work, but this is what
people do with one another. They just want other people to fix it. And there’s also this concept of looking to
other people for the meaning of who we are. Like we get our cues about whether we’re okay
or are we good enough? It starts with our parents, you know, and
that’s just how we’re conditioned. But there is a conditioning where we do look
to other people to be the validate or… and, and help us understand our own worth, when
in fact, we should be the ones deciding what our worth is. So it’s very difficult. And again, it’s sort of like what I said about
the fishbowl. You know, we’re in this and people don’t realize
that they have other options. They don’t know that they can change their
lives, because they’re looking at other people to fix it. So I don’t know if that answered your question. Yeah, you’re welcome. I think for me, it’s it’s easy to understand…
one way or the other, like either you are self sufficient and you can project and make
your own identity. And I can also understand people that are
so worried about others projecting their identities so they just instantly conform. But the hard part is when the two simultaneously
like, are coexisting together and that for me being a black child living in New Orleans
and going to school and not wanting to wear Nike in the 80s you know, and watching people
get jumped for their sneakers. Because of that, and then the two coming together
at that turning point where that seeing that line of demarcation in the black youth community
as to what you have on the outside dictates how we treat you. How, how does one coincide with that the other
and like trying to live in that and telling young people that it’s okay, you don’t look
like the kids on social media like you are still good and then helping them to build
that sense of self because they don’t have the right building blocks within themselves
at that time. Just how do you help somebody that is suffering
and so many different forms of identity and this day and age to be able to stick with
that it’s going to get better and they’re going to form that later and to teach them
that their 60 year old self is not going to be worried about their say 13, 14, 15 year
old self? I don’t really have an answer. But I would like to ask you a question. Because what you’re actually asking is how
can you help other people not suffer? Is that sort of the gist of..? It is just knowing what that feels like when
just being a kid at the time knowing like, instantly the next day, everybody’s got like
Nike head to toe, including the sneakers, and then they’re cool. And all the other kids that weren’t are not. And have you… you know, you’re not resilient
by the age of… Well, that’s an interesting, that’s a that’s
a great word “resilient”. And that’s a whole talk by itself, because
I don’t understand why some people have resilience and others don’t. Some people just don’t have it. They just don’t have it. And there are also other people who can’t,
and I’m really trying not to make a broad sort of big brushstroke. I’m not you know, I’m really not trying to
generalize people because obviously there’s billions of people in the world and everybody’s
got their own story and their own thing. But the truth is, you can’t help them. The only thing you can do is address your
own suffering. So whatever way you want to help another person,
whatever way you want to direct another person, do you do that with herself? Are you asking me? Yeah. Oh, hi. Hi. Oh, I mean, I was that kid, but I was the
kid… I mean, now so you know, the idea of whatever
you want for another person. Yeah. Flip it, pivot it back towards you, literally. So whatever it is that you want to accomplish
for that person. Flip it and bring it back towards you, and
really ask yourself at a very deep level, are you addressing your own suffering? It may not be like within the context of a
Nike thing or looking like everybody else or all of that. But there’s some version of something because
whenever we want to really be of service for other people. Yeah. Often this kind of… Well, you can’t pour from an empty cap. You can’t but you also have to understand
that there needs to be I’m not saying this to you personally. But there needs to be some recognition, awareness,
inhabitation of what kind of person what kind of human being do you want to be? And then all you can do is be that to the
best of your ability, and then by default, it’s going to impact other people because
other people are going to see your autonomy. They’re going to see your authenticity. They’re going to see you not reacting to things
when they come, you know, everybody else is going crazy. And you’re sitting here just kind of like
with a lot of calm and thoughtfulness and I will guarantee you, people, some people
will pay attention. Yeah. And for me, that’s, that’s not a problem. But… Right, but you can’t, you can’t flip it the
other way because you can’t help them. Even if you want it to and they were willing,
it doesn’t mean that they’re going to accept your help, because they’re still caught in
what they think they’re supposed to be doing. And this is this is addictive stuff. And this this society is set up as a competition. Yeah, It’s survival of the fittest. And it’s easier to have that, that that were
with all with another adult, but when you’re dealing with, you know, with children, or
you’re mentoring, or I’m not a parent, but I would assume even as parents like how do
you instill these values and sense of identity and to someone that is living in a whole different
sort of sub society of ourselves being adults? I’m not a big believer in talking. I’m a big believer in being. You just be. You are who you are. That’s the most powerful form of political
activism anybody can do is to just be themselves, because it is dangerous to be yourself. Because you’re going to have all these people
running at you telling you, why are you doing that? Because it’s making me uncomfortable. And I don’t recognize you and I don’t see,
you’re not fitting in my group, you’re not, you know, it’s a language that people don’t
understand. Why you’re not joining their version of when
they think is the way to be. So I understand your question and I know that
it’s really difficult to watch kids suffering. But there’s always going to be an opportunity
for them to be able to sort of see what’s really going on. I really believe that there’s some ability
for kids to understand what’s the truth and what isn’t the truth. And the difficult part is not realizing that
it’s the truth, that difficult part is not losing that because it’s so intense, the peer
pressure is so intense. And it’s very hard to resist it, because you
don’t want to be shunned. Just like the gentleman said, you know, everybody
did it, everybody, but you know, your friends would laugh at you if you didn’t have scars
on your face. And you know, it’s really, really difficult. So all I can just say is, I think it’s really
important to just be solid in who you are. And you’d be surprised surprised how that
sort of energetically affects other people. They don’t know. It’s not like a conscious thing. They just know that like, there’s something
I like about what’s going over here. And then maybe they’ll want to take the extra
step to say: “Oh, well, you know, what are you interested in? What are you doing?” So that’s when you do the work. But when you try to sort of, just offer it
to them, it’s just going to bounce bounce off, and it’s not gonna because they’re listening
to their friends and they’re watching TV, and they’re, you know, I mean, it’s, it’s,
it’s kind of a lost battle. So I don’t know if that answered your question. But you just have to allow them to go through
what they need to go through. And some of them make it and some of them
don’t. But the ones that make it, you know, I mean,
that’s cause for celebration. Yeah. Hi, actually just kind of want to do piggyback
off of that a little bit. In terms of… This is my son everybody. Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m a little biased. But I’ve basically lived this system. This is what I grew up in. This is how I was raised. And I think if you’re looking for something
a little more concrete, I do think there is ways that you can for kids, especially you
can help them teach them to question everything. Literally question everything asked why? Why is it that we’re, you know, this is supposedly
cool and we’re supposed to be doing this? Why is it that you know, I have to act a certain
way in order to maintain some standard to please you, you know, why is super important? I think if you can teach them to think for
themselves, and it’s hard, don’t get me wrong, you know, you gotta kind of have that spark
in you. I think you gotta hunger like ask for knowledge,
but if you can teach them to ask the important questions. I think that’s how you actually get somewhere. And that’s just my two cents on that. Yes. Hi. Hi, James. Hi. I’m going to try and put this question into
words, but it kind of came about when you were saying, kind of when the whole identity
thing falls away. There’s this and and we are, we experience
who we are, and we can be in the world as we are. Can… Have you… What I’m trying to ask is, at that point where
the identity falls away, and we can see sort of the push and pull of how identity works
and the pressures in our lives, but then we can actually go into the base of who we are
and being relation to people who they are. It just seems like so much work to drop all
that identity. Can can one begin being who one is and be
in relation to everybody else and discover what that benefit might be? At the same time that these whole identity
things are going on. Yeah, I mean, I don’t have a solid absolute
idea of what that even means. It’s it’s that kind of evolved out of my own
practice and never fitting in anywhere. Anywhere. Not my family, not school, not friends. I just always felt like I just never seem
to fit. And then I realized that a lot of assumptions
were made about me about the color of my skin. And what all of that was supposed to mean. And none of it ever apply to me. It was not me. But I got so much pushback for that I actually
started to conform so that I wouldn’t be bullied. So in thinking about just understanding that
I am a human being so that’s like, the base level that I’m a human being. And then looking at all the other attachments
not, yes, I have this body I look like this. My ancestry is Africa, all of that. But what all that means, the meaning of it,
I never was really interested in because I never felt it spoke to the truth of who I
was. I’m not saying that it’s not important for
a lot of people is very meaningful for a lot of people, but for me it never ment anything. And that wasn’t a negative. It just sort of left me with this quandary
about like, okay, who am I really? And what does that look like? So it was a process, it wasn’t just sort of
like a snap decision that, oh, I’m just going to drop everything. There was a process and it was extremely,
an extremely painful process. Because I kept realizing I would change for
people, I would become something that this person wanted me to be and then they go away. And I’d be left with this persona that it
didn’t belong to me anyway. But I’m walking around with this thing, and
I’m in another person and then this persona I’ve created it doesn’t fit this person so
I have to change to be with this person. You know, it can people go insane from this
stuff. It’s not enough of a big conversation. People go crazy. Trying to just be accepted with dignity and
compassion and caring and nurturing. You know, the human beings just beat each
other up all the time. And I don’t know why. So I don’t I mean, all I can say in response
to your inquiry is that it was a process. And I don’t really know how to track it because
it’s been going on for a really, really long time. But I just got to a point where none of this
was working for me, period. And I said, I get to decide who I am. It might be this today and it might be this
tomorrow. I think the virtues are good place to start. I am patience today. That’s all I am. Is patience. And then somebody cuts you off while you’re
driving. And, you know, that goes all out the window. And it’s like, well, I’m supposed to be patients
today. It’s not working, you know. It’s it’s really I know, this is very ambiguous. And you know, it’s not linear. It’s not literal. It doesn’t make sense. But, you know, I was saying to my other son
earlier today, you know, if you talk to any physicist, they tell you that the universe
is chaos. The universe is not a straight line. Galaxies are not necessarily straight line
there. It’s, it’s chaos all the time. And that’s kind of the human condition. It’s chaotic, but everybody’s trying to line
it up, like all their ducks are wind in a row, and they know what’s coming next. And the big plan five years from now, and
all of that. That’s not how life works, because we’re throwing
curveballs all the time. So how you gotta adapt to whatever is put
in front of you. And I think honestly, we’re just here to understand
that we just need to know who we are. That’s it. And that’s tested all the time. So I’m this today and then you get some crazy
person that says something and, you know, you get angry you check out. You know, I mean, it’s just an ongoing sort
of practice. Do you really want to be the truth? Despite what else is other people are doing? So, again, this isn’t a linear process. So it’s hard to answer these sort of questions. Because I don’t know and what works one day
doesn’t work another day. Thank you. You’re welcome. Anybody else? We have time for one more question. And then if not, there is refreshments down
the cafe. And you can join Sharyll there for conversation. Okay. Thank you, everyone. Thank you being here. Transcribed by

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