At the heart of charity lies a great deal of moral sadism. For many left-liberals who stake the moral meaning and purpose of their lives on relieving black suffering in order for their own lives to have continued meaning and purpose, they not only must see black people suffer, but they must also create policies that perpetuate black poverty and block the initiatives of blacks in their efforts towards self-reliance.
If black individuals dare to reject the victim-narrative on which charity and welfare are dependent in order to gain the Left’s philosophical legitimacy, it means they have not allowed their agency to be expropriated, and instead will rely on the virtues of their own character and their own capabilities for their uplift. Blacks who have the temerity to effect this effrontery against the managerial liberal welfare class have identified the moral hypocrisy of people who pretend they want to help, but whose real purpose is racial exploitation and power lust. These left-liberals need blacks to suffer so they can gain moral atonement and redemption in the amelioration of that suffering. But what if blacks never had to suffer — and don’t need to?
What if poor blacks, former gang members and drug addicts, welfare recipients and prostitutes had a credo and philosophy—superlative guiding principles by which to live such that they would be weaned from the dependency on welfare and from the elitist experts and managerial classes who claim to know how best to solve their problems? What if the engines of change came from blacks themselves, and any helping hand extended to them was not based on charity but, rather, one based on the trader principle? That is, help based on principles of reciprocity that guide the philanthropic exchange just as it guides exchanges in the market. In other words, anyone helping others regardless of background should be told: never do more for them than they are willing to do for themselves.
In his book Lessons From The Least of These: The Woodson Principles, civil rights leader and founder of the Woodson Center, Robert L. Woodson, Sr. has developed such a philosophy for blacks, poor whites, or any racial or ethnic group that has been on the receiving end of state welfare and liberal white dependency. Woodson’s book is a detailed study of the resilience and grit of former drug addicts, gang members, prison convicts and residents of derelict neighborhoods who today, through faith-based initiatives and community building, are living thriving and enterprising lives.
Woodson develops ten time-tested principles ranging from integrity, grace, agency, inspiration and innovation to transparency in order to inoculate anyone, regardless of racial or ethnic lineage, from surrendering their dignity as a condition for receiving help.
The book is filled with myriad case studies of people who have been written out of history — and deemed casualties of life. But Woodson reveals via a universal Christian ethic of love, grace and forgiveness, that no human being who shows a willingness to recover his or her compromised agency should ever be expelled from the pantheon of the human community.
Too often, Woodson demonstrates, self-degradation among the poor has replaced self-determination. Welfare dependency subsidizes poverty and saps individual initiative. He entreats us to look at seemingly decimated neighborhoods as filled with people who have potential rather than with dysfunctional victims.
Equally vital to Woodson’s message is the importance of radical forgiveness. Those whose lives might have been marred by, say, the ravages of racial discrimination of Jim Crow segregationist laws, live far richer spiritual lives by practicing radical forgiveness towards those who oppressed them than they would by seeking retributive justice. This is because an obsession with justice and entitlement shackles the soul in some sense to the compensations of the one who has harmed one. A spirit of aggrievement, paradoxically, places one in a dependent role on the other. One is not free. Radical forgiveness frees the soul from resentment and fosters an ethic of care towards those who have harmed one. Woodson’s book is filled with stories of former slaves who bought the plantations on which they were enslaved, and who took care of their former masters who ended up existing in a state of destitution. Radical forgiveness not only forges radically new relationships, it also heralds a model for a new type of humanity, a new planetary ethic and Christian humanism devoid of bitterness.
The book is also a paean hymn to the untold stories of blacks who made something superlative of their lives during the worst moments of America’s history: from the first ex-slave who became a millionaire, to blacks who, in the grip of Jim Crow laws when they had no political representation and suffered gross income disparities, were able to maintain stable families, build hotels, insurance companies and operate their own businesses.
In the first 50 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Woodson notes how black Americans had accumulated a personal wealth of $700 million. They owned more than 40,000 businesses, and nearly a million farms. As far as the literacy rate: it had climbed from five percent to seventy percent. Woodson notes that the black commercial enclaves in Durham, North Carolina, and the Greenwood Avenue section of Tulsa, Oklahoma were known as the Negro Wall Street.
Lessons From The Least of These dispels a common unspoken myth among the cognoscenti, and it is this: intellectual prowess and academic qualifications are credentials required for one to be let into the future. Woodson’s heroes are ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary feats in their day-to-day lives. The future is theirs because out of their broken pasts and souls, they looked up and saw a vision not just of life’s better possibilities. They saw the other half of themselves that had been left uncultivated and uncorrupted; untouched. Step by step they created a future that was theirs to mold. Hesitantly, confidently, often with great trepidation, they took possession of an American world they were told they could never belong to.
Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. His areas of specialization include ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy and American politics. He is the author of several books, including We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People (Bombardier Books/Post Hill Press). His new forthcoming book is What Do White Americans Owe Black People: Racial Justice in the Age of Post Oppression. Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.