By Dr. Allan Carter. Ph.D, ABPP
These are the stirring words delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he concluded his famous I Have A Dream speech in August 1963. The speech is often considered to be one of the greatest speeches of the 20 th century, because it describes freedom as a world where blacks and whites join as brothers and sisters. Dr. King realized that we are free when we realize we are not separate beings. True freedom means integration with our opposites. And true integration means I and my opposite are one and the same. But Dr. King did not understand the nature of the deep mechanism of the mind that keeps us in separation and hatred, preventing us from recognizing that we are really One.
In 1966, a few years after Dr. King’s speech, a document was being dictated describing this mechanism. It was published in 1976 and is called A Course in Miracles (ACIM). While Dr. King was in Memphis helping the sanitation workers, Dr. Helen Schucman was in New York City recording words from Jesus that described the vision of true freedom. This was a vision that Dr. King would never get to experience for he was conditioned by the belief that the suffering he experienced as a Black man was real.
As a Black man and a Course in Miracles student, I can appreciate the seemingly disparity of Dr. King’s belief and what the Course teaches. I can recall the excitement and sense of freedom I felt when I began studying the Course. I knew it provided a way out of the prison that enveloped me and anyone else who thinks of themselves as separate identities. Yet, my ego always brought me back to the world I experienced: – a world filled with racism, bigotry and prejudice. The age-old question of how to live “in the world” but not “of the world” described my predicament, especially around the issues of racism and prejudice. There seemed to be plenty of evidence that racism and prejudice were real. Hadn’t I experienced Jim Crow schools and been arrested for desiring a hamburger at a White lunch counter? Hadn’t I seen little Black boys and girls assaulted by water hoses and police dogs in Alabama, my home state? Hadn’t I seen one of my most beloved leaders, Dr. King, shot down in Memphis for merely fighting for equality and fairness? Hadn’t I experienced all of this? Wasn’t this enough proof for me that this world was real? What else did I need to know as a Black man? Was I too stupid to wake up and smell the coffee?
But then I realized that all this is exactly what the ego would say. It has to prove to me that I am a separate identity with physical and mental pain. It has to because this is what the ego is: – hurt, pain and suffering. It cannot show me true joy, peace and freedom because it does not know what joy, peace and freedom are.[pullquote3 align=”right”]But then I realized that all this is exactly what the ego would say. It has to prove to me that I am a separate identity with physical and mental pain. It has to because this is what the ego is: – hurt, pain and suffering. It cannot show me true joy, peace and freedom because it does not know what joy, peace and freedom are.[/pullquote3]
As I thought about my experiences with racism, I remembered the teachings of the Course. The Course says I will identify with a thought system that will provide my “reality”. The thought, “I am a Black man”, will produce everything that is associated with being Black – a history of injustice, victimization, discrimination, and all its attendant feelings of rage, hurt and distrust. However, with the teachings of the Course, I knew these experiences were only part of a dream to keep me feeling separate, not only from White people but more importantly from God. With the teachings of the Course, I could rest in the truth that none of the pain and suffering that I and my people had experienced were real. What joy! What freedom! What a release! I knew this was the true reality and I had to share it with my Black brothers and sisters. I wanted them to share in this new found freedom. I wanted them to know the only thing they had to do was free themselves from the real tyrant, the mind. I wanted them to know that nothing they experienced was real.
So I began to share what I was learning from the Course with my Black friends. Little did I know that the responses I would receive would be those of indifference and hostility. My politically minded Afro-centric friends saw me as being politically naïve, unwilling to see and appreciate the reality of racism and oppression. My more traditional Christian Black friends told me freedom and oneness could only be found by studying the Bible and accepting Jesus Christ as our savior through his death on the cross.
These responses filled me with anger and frustration toward my “own people” for not being open to a new approach that could offer real freedom. But as I wrestled with my anger, I returned to the teachings of the Course and realized the ego’s fundamental purpose is to convince me that I have problems which are external to me. Once this is accomplished, it convinces me that the solutions to these problems are also external to me. According to the ego, I have done nothing to cause the problems nor can I solve them. It is always someone else’s fault. As I thought about this and my experience as a traditional Black Baptist earlier in my life, I remembered how important religious beliefs were to me. Being a part of a religious community gave me a sense of belonging, identity and protection. It assured me that I was not as inadequate or as inferior as the White society had taught me. I also thought about my ancestors who lived in slavery and how the Black church served as their sanctuary to protect them from their White slave masters. The church was a safe haven for them and provided them a place where they could have a sense of independence and racial pride. The Black church became the breeding place for almost all Black institutions and political or social movements. The Black church therefore was central to their physical survival and a crucial source of psychological and sociological identification, providing a reason for their existence and hope for a better future.
No wonder my religious friends did not accept what I was saying to them. I was challenging their fundamental belief system. I was threatening the core of their racial, religious and cultural identities. I was asking them to give up generations of teachings that Black identity is based on: – the essential belief in the reality of injustice, discrimination and oppression. To take away these beliefs would be like taking away their identity! Even their savior, Jesus, had suffered pain and injustices also. They could identify with Him because of this. I realized I had to let them be who they thought they were without judging them. I had to stop making them wrong and allow them to be where they were.
In a similar fashion, I had to rethink my approach to my politically minded Black friends. Racism and oppression were real to them. That was their belief and they did not want to be told it was not true. Again, I had to look within and realize the issue was not with them, but it was my need to see separation as real and believe that they needed to change. Like my Christian friends, my Afro-centric friends’ beliefs were seen as being essential to their identity and would be defended against any challenges or threat. They felt that White people did not care about racism.
On the other hand, I would think of the times I was one of only a few Blacks in ACIM classes. Although I felt somewhat free to be – surrounded by people who were more open and willing to question most beliefs, I still felt a degree of distance and separation. It was as if I had a dual perspective and would listen from the point of view of a Black man, feeling that most White people were unaware of their unconscious and subtle racism, no matter how spiritually evolved they were. But I knew that anything that is dual in nature is ego based (not real) and therefore keeps me imprisoned in my mind. Yet, the thoughts would persist and I would wonder why racism, sexism and oppression were never mentioned or why more people of color did not attend ACIM gatherings. The inner conflict was certainly mine, but I was puzzled as to why it did not seem to matter, – or so I thought.
The key words are, “I thought”. The Course teaches us that it is our thinking that produces this world, and within the world I have seemingly chosen to have this form, time and place to have these experiences. My only job is to see that there isn’t anyone out there. There aren’t any White people, Afro-centric brothers or Christian blacks. They are only images that seemingly produce issues for me to make me think I am separate from them and that this world is real. The truth is there is only One and that is the I that I really am. With this knowledge, I can see that I am my own liberator. I can see that it is my responsibility to release myself from my ego by surrendering my will to that which is greater – the Holy Spirit. Now I know the meaning of the wisdom of the ages – that whatever I release I am released from and whatever I bind to me, I am bound by. This knowledge surpasses even the thoughts of Dr. King and makes us know that we are truly free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.